2 members say empowerment panel is 'sitting on' funds


Two members of the board overseeing Baltimore's multimillion-dollar federal revitalization effort complained Thursday that the board was not moving fast enough to spend money for drug treatment for some of the city's poorest residents.

"I'm in a city that hurts. Sitting on $100 million doesn't do anything to relieve that hurt," Daniel P. Henson III, the city's housing commissioner, said in a board meeting at Dunbar High School in East Baltimore.

Chairman Mathias J. DeVito promptly called Mr. Henson's comments "unfortunate." Staff members of the city's empowerment zone were making plans to spend millions in previously approved treatment funds even as the board was preparing to resolve the debate over how much money to put toward economic development and how much to allocate to social programs, he said.

"I think that's moving forward," Mr. DeVito said. "We've all agreed we've got to act deliberately."

But the Rev. Marshall F. Prentice, also a board member and president of Clergy United for the Renewal of East Baltimore, agreed with Mr. Henson.

"We seem to be so careful, I think there's a perception in the community that we are sitting on the money," Zion Baptist Church pastor said.

Later, Mr. Henson said the board needed to begin soliciting proposals from some of the city's proven providers of substance abuse treatment.

"At this rate, it could be six months before we decide to spend money with a particular vendor. Let's start now," he said.

In late May, the board approved spending $5 million on drug treatment programs. This month, Baltimore got the go-ahead from the federal government to spend $14 million on drug treatment and other programs -- making the city's the first of six federal urban empowerment zones to have its spending plans approved.

Baltimore's empowerment zone covers dilapidated areas of East, West and South Baltimore, and includes tax breaks for businesses along with $100 million in federal grants.

Also Thursday, the empowerment zone board approved the selection of separate out-of-state firms to oversee an evaluation of its effort and to search for an executive director to replace C. Edward Hitchcock, who resigned.

In a related development, the Baltimore Development Corp. announced Thursday that it had given a $100,000 loan to Globe ScreenPrint, a printing company in the empowerment zone in Southwest Baltimore. The loan will allow the company to start a second shift, creating up to 20 new jobs, officials said.

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