Schmoke, Lipitz discuss BDC post Talks about agency's top job described as preliminary


Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is considering naming the former chairman of Meridian Healthcare Inc. and the University of Maryland Medical System to lead a revamped board of the city's much-maligned economic development agency.

Although Roger C. Lipitz's appointment to chair the Baltimore Development Corp. is far from certain, such a move likely would spark a complete overhaul of the agency that has suffered scathing criticism for its lack of responsiveness and inability to retain key city businesses.

Mr. Lipitz "understands the need for accountability and the need to build partnerships between the public and private sectors," said Dr. Morton I. Rapoport, chief executive officer of the University of Maryland Medical System. "And Roger really cares about the city."

The mayor's action involving BDC stems from a report by a nine-member panel appointed in April to study BDC and provide recommendations aimed at reforming the agency.

Before that group's formation, however, BDC had been lambasted by business leaders, the City Council and The Sun, which late last year faulted the group's performance in a lengthy article. That criticism resulted in the firing of BDC President Honora M. Freeman in early July. She was later transferred within the Schmoke organization.

Both the mayor and Mr. Lipitz, while acknowledging that discussions have occurred regarding BDC's future, characterized the talks as preliminary.

"I told him it sounded intriguing," Mr. Lipitz, 53, said yesterday. "If the mayor makes an offer in the context that we agree how BDC should move forward, I'd be inclined to take it. But we're just in the interview process, and it's his call -- he's the CEO."

"He's been helpful in the past with coming up with some new ideas," Mr. Schmoke said of Mr. Lipitz. The mayor described the speculation concerning an imminent appointment "a bit premature," however.

The two are expected to meet again on BDC's future later this week. They will discuss management philosophy and the agency's direction. It could not be determined if Mr. Lipitz is the only candidate for the volunteer post of BDC chairman.

"I think he'd be a great choice," said Walter Sondheim, an adviser to the mayor and the Greater Baltimore Committee, a local business group. "He brings a substantial business record and a great deal of wisdom. I can't think of anyone better for the job."

In its April draft report to the mayor, the nine-member panel recommended that the authority of BDC's board be expanded and that the group take on a more activist role within the organization. It also stated that BDC should be a "focused entity within a clear strategic framework," and should devote additional resources to business retention.

Since 1991, when BDC was created by melding two distinct economic development groups, Baltimore has lost 20,000 jobs primarily in the sectors of manufacturing, real estate, insurance and banking.

Although perhaps best known as the chairman of Meridian -- the privately held, Towson-based nursing home operator founded in 1969 and sold to a Pennsylvania firm in November 1993 for $205 million -- Mr. Lipitz has had extensive contact with public and quasi-public institutions.

From 1987 to 1994, Mr. Lipitz was chairman of the board of directors of the University of Maryland Medical System, where he instituted financial discipline and cost control measures.

He also is a member of the boards of the Christopher Columbus Center and the Morris A. Mechanic Theater, as well as the Maryland Health Resources Planning Commission.

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