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Council proposes disbanding BDC's board of directors


Less than a week after Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke reassigned the head of Baltimore's beleaguered economic development agency, the City Council proposed that he disband the agency's board of directors and leave future decisions up to business leaders.

The council approved with little discussion a measure last night that calls on Mr. Schmoke to replace the board overseeing the Baltimore Development Corp., which has come under sharp criticism for shortcomings in attracting and retaining businesses. Third District Councilman Martin O'Malley, a critic of the Schmoke administration, seized on the impending departure of Honora M. Freeman as BDC president to urge that a "new and more independent" oversight board be appointed.

The board of directors is made up almost entirely of top administration officials, Mr. O'Malley said, although a separate board, including business leaders, administers loans. But the Schmoke administration dismissed his assertions as unfounded.

Daniel P. Henson III, the city's housing chief and a board member, said there are other BDC directors including bankers, the owner of the Senator movie theater, and a partner in an accounting firm.

William R. Brown Jr., the city's finance director, and Lynnette Young, the mayor's chief of staff, also serve on the same board, which sets general policy and administers loan funds, according to Mr. Henson.

Mr. O'Malley's measure followed the mayor's announcement Thursday that he was transferring Ms. Freeman to become his deputy chief of staff, a newly created position.

Mr. Schmoke also has appointed a task force to conduct a "top to bottom" evaluation of the $3 million-a-year agency and recommend changes within five weeks.

"The task force is made up of some pretty independent-minded business leaders themselves," Mr. Henson said last night. In a tough retort to Mr. O'Malley, he said, "Wouldn't it be better for a guy whose total business experience amounts to whether or not he can balance his checkbook to wait for [the task force report]?"

In December, The Sun published a lengthy article in which several business leaders said Ms. Freeman, a lawyer with no background in economic development, should be replaced by someone who understands the needs of local companies. A month later, criticism of the agency was renewed after USF&G; Corp. announced it was leaving its downtown headquarters to consolidate operations in Mount Washington.

Mr. O'Malley, who chaired the hearings, said, "There's a perception out there that this agency is not doing what it should," and he was concerned that the board "didn't do anything to right the situation."

Last night, Council Vice President Vera P. Hall cast the only dissenting vote on Mr. O'Malley's measure. Third District Councilman Martin E. "Mike" Curran abstained. The nonbinding proposal is likely to be ignored by the mayor, administration officials said.

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