Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke sided yesterday with the City Council's attempt to scrutinize the spending of Education Alternatives Inc., saying he would ask for financial records from the venture in 12 Baltimore schools.
Calling the council's move to subpoena EAI financial documents "legitimate," Mr. Schmoke said he would tell John T. Golle, chief of the for-profit Minnesota firm, to turn over corporate travel records, maintenance expenses and legal fees.
At the same time, Mr. Schmoke made clear his strong opposition to summoning Reginald Thomas, the chairman of the public housing board, to appear before a council committee looking into the $25.6 million no-bid program to repair housing for the poor.
The mayor drew a technical distinction between the two subpoena efforts undertaken by the council.
Councilman Carl Stokes, who chairs the Education Committee, has every right to request EAI records, he said. But he said that Councilman Martin O'Malley, chairman of the Legislative Investigations Committee, does not because the council has no authority over the federally financed Housing Authority.
"I really think [Mr. O'Malley's] subpoena request is legally deficient and defective," Mr. Schmoke said. "This is like a fishing expedition. At this point, I just believe there is more politics than substance behind this, and we choose not to participate."
The distinction was lost on Councilman O'Malley, who was stymied in his effort to question Mr. Thomas about the no-bid program yesterday. Mr. O'Malley, who is going to court to enforce the subpoena, said the council has oversight over the Housing Authority, given that the mayor appoints the board.
"There's no difference, other than the mayor is choosing to cooperate with one," said Mr. O'Malley.
Mr. Stokes wants a detailed accounting of EAI's financial dealings with the city in fiscal 1993 and 1994, as well as travel expenses, attorney fees and other costs.
Mr. Golle responded by suggesting that the mayor "appoint or employ a team of auditors" to come to Minneapolis and review the records.
"I don't think Mr. Golle's recent response to him was particularly helpful," Mr. Schmoke said at his weekly news conference. "I reject that idea."
It was a new twist in the drawn-out political saga of EAI, now in its third year of five-year city contracts worth about $180 million.
Only three weeks ago, Mr. Stokes said the company had milked Baltimore schools for more than $6 million in profits without boosting student achievement. His remarks drew fire from EAI and Mayor Schmoke, who questioned his motives.
Yesterday, both were on the same side, with Mr. Stokes saying the mayor "wants to raise the level of academic achievement" and "firmly believes that anyone who has a contract funded by the public ought to be accountable to the public."
In the meantime, Mr. O'Malley is locked in a battle of wills with Mr. Thomas. Mr. Schmoke, acting on advice from the city solicitor, said he has the final word on the resolution authorizing subpoena power. Other council members disagree, saying the council has the right.
"Our constituents expect us to have an oversight responsibility regarding taxpayer money," said City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who is running against Mr. Schmoke for mayor.
Mr. Thomas was served with a summons Monday to appear before Mr. O'Malley's committee yesterday, but refused. He said he attended a lengthy housing hearing in March and offered to answer questions, but only in writing.