Pledging a thorough investigation into the troubled $25.6 million program to fix up homes for the poor, Baltimore City Council Vice President Vera P. Hall is calling local and federal housing officials, as well as lawyers and tenants, to a hearing next week.
Mrs. Hall, who chairs the council's housing committee, said she is "trying to cover the waterfront" in soliciting testimony from people involved in the no-bid repair program that has come under fire for shoddy work and inflated costs. The hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday.
But her efforts have been greeted warily by some council colleagues, who fear the meeting will be dominated by a strong defense by housing chief Daniel P. Henson III.
One councilman already has invited federal auditors who investigated the public housing program to the hearing, while another wants to make sure employees of the city Housing Authority attend. A third councilman wants to look into the selection of contractors.
"I don't want the focus of this to be limited," said 4th District Councilman Lawrence A. Bell III. He was one of at least four council members to express skepticism of Mrs. Hall's role because she is an administration loyalist and the mayor's floor leader.
"Frankly, I feel Mrs. Hall has often cast herself in the role of being an apologist for the administration," Mr. Bell added. "I think this issue is bigger than just housing -- it gets to the very heart of how we choose to do business with contractors, and who we choose. A lot were left out."
Mrs. Hall has dismissed concerns over her close relationship with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's administration and has insisted she will run a fair, tough hearing.
The 5th District representative -- who is seeking the council presidency along with Mr. Bell, 2nd District Councilman Carl Stokes and 6th District Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi -- also blamed the maneuvering on attempts to upstage her.
"I wish they would have all been as equally involved when we had a 30,000-name waiting list to get into public housing," she said, referring to the list that helped prompt the repair program.
Among the people she is asking to the hearing are Mr. Henson, a lawyer from the city Housing Authority, residents from some of the more than
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1,000 homes renovated through the program, and William D. Tamburrino, director of public housing in Maryland for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Yesterday, Mr. Henson described the hearing as unusual because the council does not control the budget or policy-making for the federally financed Housing Authority.
"I am not aware of a precedent, but I am certainly willing to make one," he said. "I am certainly willing
and ready to discuss this."
His housing officials met for more than two hours yesterday with federal housing managers to discuss the $725,759 Baltimore has been ordered to repay HUD for inflated costs.
HUD to decide
"The Housing Authority is presenting some detailed information by property and we are evaluating the usefulness of that," Mr. Tamburrino said, adding that another meeting is set for March 9. "The point is, we're talking."
Third District Councilman Martin O'Malley has invited Edward F. Momorella, a regional inspector general who examines agencies for HUD, to the hearing. But Mr. Momorella said it is up to local HUD officials to de
cide whether to attend the hearing.
Mr. O'Malley also is pressuring Mrs. Hall to ask Claude Edward Hitchcock, a Baltimore lawyer who conducted a $50,000 study of the Housing Authority in early 1993, to attend. The findings of that study have never been made public.
Meanwhile, Mr. Stokes, who failed in his bid to have the hearing before the full 19-member, all-Democrat council, has called for reinspecting every home in the program.
The pressuring of Mrs. Hall has drawn sharp criticism from her allies. "It's totally political," said 4th District Councilwoman Sheila Dixon.