Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean last night asked the city to withhold her salary until the resolution of allegations that she improperly hired a "mystery worker" and steered a city lease to a building owned by her and her husband.
The request came just hours after Mrs. McLean turned over the keys to her city-owned car yesterday after top officials pointed out that she did not need it while on a leave of absence.
Mrs. McLean has been on an indefinite paid leave of absence since Dec. 20.
The request to withhold salary came in a one-paragraph letter to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, in which an attorney for Mrs. McLean wrote: "Because she believes it is in the public interest and because it was never her intention to create any difficulty for her colleagues or for the city of Baltimore, she respectfully requests that you withhold payment of her salary until this matter has been resolved.
"She fully understands that should this matter be resolved against her, she will be relinquishing all compensation which has accrued," added the letter, signed by M. Cristina Gutierrez, one of Mrs. McLean's attorneys.
The letter was picked up at Ms. Gutierrez's Mount Vernon office shortly after 9 p.m. by City Solicitor Neal M. Janey.
The continued payment of Mrs. McLean's $53,000 annual salary and, to a lesser extent, her use of the car generated a torrent of angry constituent phone calls to City Hall and was a hot topic on radio talk shows.
"This should resolve any concerns citizens have about the use of the car and the continued payment of compensation to Ms. McLean," Mr. Janey said last night.
The city finance director will hold Mrs. McLean's salary in escrow until the allegations against her are resolved, Mr. Janey said.
Like all elected city officials, Mrs. McLean is entitled to unlimited leave time. She can be removed from office only by resigning or by impeachment -- the latter requires action by the City Council on charges brought by the mayor.
Mr. Janey said the idea to withhold Mrs. McLean's salary came from her attorneys.
Mr. Janey said William H. Murphy Jr., another of Mrs. McLean's lawyers, first mentioned the idea to him late last week. Ms. Gutierrez repeated the idea yesterday when he called to talk to her about Mrs. McLean's car, Mr. Janey said.
Mrs. McLean, the third-most powerful official in Baltimore government, gave up her Mercury Grand Marquis yesterday -- nine days after she stepped aside pending the outcome of criminal and ethics investigations.
Mr. Schmoke said yesterday morning that he was surprised to learn that Mrs. McLean still was driving a city car. He asked Mr. Janey to look into the matter and to contact her attorneys. By midafternoon, the blue 1992 model was back in the city's central garage.
Mr. Janey said the car became a policy issue because "having relinquished her responsibilities, there would be no city business for her to be conducting. So she should relinquish the city car."
Mr. Murphy said that Mrs. McLean gave up the car on her own. "It's been given back. She surrendered the vehicle without anybody requesting it."
The car's return stilled a small storm of controversy following a report in The Sun that Mrs. McLean still was driving the telephone-equipped sedan, which she received the day she was sworn into office.
The comptroller is under investigation by Maryland's special prosecutor for hiring a public relations consultant who was paid more than $23,000 but never showed up at the office and apparently did no work.
City officials stopped payment on the last two checks issued to the consultant, Michele McCloud, who used the same address as a Northwest Baltimore hair salon owned by the comptroller's sister. A revised city report says $23,181.89 in checks were issued to Ms. McCloud.
The checks were deposited into two bank accounts under the name of an apparently fictitious women's group -- the first of which was opened by Mrs. McLean herself. Another $2,000 in payments from the comptroller's office went to the group, which is not incorporated in Maryland. It also used the address of Salon Me'Chelle, the Park Heights Avenue hair salon.
State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli is also looking into allegations that Mrs. McLean steered a city lease to a Federal Hill building that she and her husband own.