Mayor denounces bid to compel housing testimony


Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday denounced Councilman Martin O'Malley's suit to force a housing commissioner to testify before a City Council investigative committee, calling it an election-year publicity stunt.

But Mr. O'Malley countered, serving notice that he also will seek Mr. Schmoke's testimony on the mayor's efforts to block his subpoena of Reginald Thomas, the chairman of the public housing board.

"[Mayor Schmoke] and the housing authority have chosen to force this matter into court," Mr. O'Malley said. "I didn't start out of the gate with a subpoena. I asked the guy to come over and asked him to choose a time."

Mr. O'Malley's Committee on Legislative Investigations is probing the housing authority's $25.6 million no-bid program to repair housing for the poor. Members want to question Mr. Thomas in that probe.

Although Mr. Schmoke is resisting Mr. O'Malley's subpoena efforts, he has backed a subpoena issued by the council's Education Committee, chaired by Councilman Carl Stokes, that asks Education Alternatives Inc. to turn over financial records relating to its contract with Baltimore schools. Mr. Schmoke has said that Mr. Stokes' subpoena is legitimate, but Mr. O'Malley's is not because the council has no authority over the federally financed Housing Authority.

"We are working in concert with the Department of Housing and Urban Development in resolving the audit issues related to the special vacancy program," Mr. Schmoke said during a press conference yesterday.

"What the councilman wants to do is just have a big publicity show about it leading no where because he has no authority at the conclusion of the hearing to do anything about the situation," Mr. Schmoke said. "I just think that the main reason for what he did is the council session is out and he needs some way to draw attention to himself for an election and that's what he's doing."

Mr. O'Malley replied that his committee does have authority over the housing agency and at the conclusion of his probe, it will make recommendations on revamping the agency to the Board of Estimates.

A side issue in the suit is the question of whether the council needed Mr. Schmoke's approval to issue the subpoenas. The council passed both subpoena resolutions last month with the understanding that the mayor's approval was not needed. But City Solicitor Neal M. Janey issued an opinion stating that the city charter requires that "all resolutions be submitted to the mayor for approval or veto."

The administration maintains that it never received Mr. O'Malley's resolution and therefore took no action on it, although Mr. Schmoke had threatened to veto it.

Mr. Stokes yesterday said that although it is his understanding that mayoral approval was not a requirement for his committee to issue the subpoena, he sent a letter to Mr. Schmoke asking him to sign off on his resolution, just to cover his bases. "I sent mine to the mayor as a matter of courtesy," Mr. Stokes said. "I didn't want to spend the time . . . going to the courts and have them say I need the mayor's signature."

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