Schmoke won't veto charter revision


Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has somewhat reluctantly agreed to endorse a comprehensive revision of the Baltimore charter even though it keeps the comptroller's power over city real estate transactions and the purchase of insurance intact.

While saying he still supports shifting the two functions from the comptroller's office to the administration, Mr. Schmoke promised yesterday to sign the charter revision and forward it to be placed on the November ballot. The proposed changes to the structure of Baltimore's government are subject to the approval of a majority of city voters.

Two weeks ago, the mayor said he was leaning toward vetoing the updated charter after the City Council rejected limiting the comptroller's role mainly to the oversight of audits.

However, Mr. Schmoke said he did not want to discard three years of work by a commission that studied the charter.

"I think, on balance, given all the work that was done, and given that only one item was objected to by the council, we don't want to see all that work go for naught," he said at his weekly news briefing.

Mr. Schmoke also announced that the city had won a $3.1 million federal grant to create a jobs training program for high school students and dropouts in the East Monument Street corridor. Baltimore set up a similar program to get failing teen-agers off the streets and trained for work four years ago in Sandtown-Winchester as part of the much-heralded revitalization effort.

Teachers, counselors and employers will work with some 4,000 students between the ages of 16 and 30 to encourage them to finish their high school education and get job training.

The mayor's promise to approve the charter revision drew support from the commission and council members.

"I think he got out of the process almost everything he wanted," said Councilman Lawrence A. Bell III, a 4th District Democrat. "The amendments we made were simply to maintain the status quo. If he had vetoed it, it also would have retained the status quo. So what would be the point of vetoing it?"

Retired Court of Appeals Judge Harry A. Cole, who chaired the 11-member charter revision commission, also said he was pleased.

"This was not being done in a political sense to benefit this mayor or these particular elected officials," Judge Cole said.

The recommendation to strip the comptroller's office of two functions was developed long before any hint of wrongdoing by indicted Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean.

Mrs. McLean, who has applied to retire, has spent the past five months in a psychiatric hospital after her career unraveled amid allegations that she stole more than $25,000 in public funds. She also is accused of trying to arrange for a $1 million city lease of the former headquarters of her travel agency.

Councilman Martin O'Malley, a 3rd District Democrat, led the effort to preserve the comptroller's power after calling the proposed change a "power grab" by the Schmoke administration.

Mr. Schmoke has denied any political motivations and said he had discussed a proposed swap with Mrs. McLean in which she would have assumed control over the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Among the other planned changes to Baltimore's governmental structure are:

* A shorter time frame for approval of the city's annual budget.

* Giving the mayor power to hire and fire the school superintendent and director of the planning agency. Currently, those powers rest with the school board and planning board respectively.

* Allowing the city's Board of Estimates to give preference to neighborhood businesses or nonprofit agencies in competition for city work in rebuilding communities.

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