Councilman sues to force testimony from housing aide


City Councilman Martin O'Malley filed suit yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court to compel testimony from a Baltimore public housing commissioner in an investigation of the city's housing agency.

Mr. O'Malley, who represents the 3rd District and is chairman of the council's Legislative Investigations Committee, is seeking to force the board chairman, Reginald C. Thomas, to comply with a subpoena issued to him by the committee. The mayor and council were also named in the suit.

In May, the council narrowly approved a resolution giving Mr. O'Malley's committee subpoena power to question Mr. Thomas and four other housing commissioners about the city's troubled $25.6 million no-bid program to repair rundown homes.

At the time, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke intervened by saying he would veto the subpoena resolution.

The mayor's spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman, said Mr. Schmoke never received the council resolution and therefore did not have the opportunity to veto it. According to Mr. Coleman, Mr. Thomas sent Mr. O'Malley a letter informing him that the subpoena was not enforceable according to the city's lawyer, Neal M. Janey.

Calls to Mr. Janey's office were not returned yesterday.

Mr. O'Malley said Mr. Thomas was the only commissioner actually served with a subpoena and that the chairman refused to appear before the committee, saying he and the other commissioners already had appeared at a seven-hour hearing on the program in March.

"Mr. Thomas informed us he would not comply with the subpoena, leaving us with no other recourse except to file suit," Mr. O'Malley said at a news conference yesterday. "As far as I know, it's the first time in the 200-year history that a committee has been forced to do this."

Mr. O'Malley said he believed the mayor's office and the housing authority were trying to stall the questioning until after the mayoral election.

"We're being stonewalled, delayed and prevented from doing our job," Mr. O'Malley said.

Reached at his office yesterday, Mr. Thomas referred all questions to the Housing Authority's legal department, saying only that the suit was "pretty unprecedented, but I guess Mr. O'Malley feels like he has to do what he has to do, and certainly we will respond from a legal perspective."

In response to a motion filed by Mr. O'Malley, Circuit Judge Thomas Ward ruled that Mr. Thomas and the city have 20 days to respond to the suit.

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