Housing agencies serving the city separate entitiesI...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Housing agencies serving the city separate entities

I am writing to clarify some apparent confusion regarding the respective reporting responsibilities of the housing agencies of Baltimore. Part of the confusion is probably due to the dual roles of Daniel P. Henson III as both commissioner of Housing and Community Development for the city and as executive director of the federally funded Housing Authority of Baltimore City.

What is at issue is whether the City Council can determine policies and procedures for the operation of the city's public housing agency, thereby determining the future of housing for Baltimore's poor people. Who has the authority to direct HABC is an important question for this city and for others.

HABC is the fifth largest of 3,400 public housing authorities in the country. It manages almost 18,000 apartment units and almost 9,000 Section 8 certificates. State and federal law provides much independence to housing authorities but, most importantly, HABC's only sources of funding are from tenant rents and the federal government not from the city.

While HABC and the city Department of Housing and Community Development work closely together, the salaries of HABC employees are not included in the city's budget. Contracts of HABC are made in its own name and without the approval of city government.

HABC has its own funds, which are kept in its own accounts. Payments are made by HABC with its own checks. Employees of HABC are not under the jurisdiction of the Baltimore City Civil Service Commission nor are they members of the Baltimore city retirement system. HABC makes an annual payment to the city in lieu of taxes.

In other words, HABC is clearly not a city agency and therefore not subject to oversight by the City Council.

State law gives the mayor power to appoint a governing board of five commissioners. The Department of Housing and Urban Development provides governmental oversight. Not since 1937 has the City Council of Baltimore had "oversight" authority.

The immediate issue has to do with whether the council's Legislative Investigations Committee has authority above and beyond that which is presently given by law to the mayor, HUD and the HABC Board of Commissioners.

To allow the City Council at this point to assert oversight of an agency that is clearly not a city agency would set a dangerous bad precedent. Public housing authorities were established as separate entities for the explicit reason that local legislatures often have differing agendas.

One need look no further than the recent cases of Washington or Chicago to see what can occur when the local legislature gets too involved. Each of these agencies has been taken over by HUD or a receiver in the last few years. In Washington and Chicago, each city was too involved and had to be extracted from the inner workings of the local housing authority. In Philadelphia, city government was almost totally noninvolved and a judge ordered the city to "work closer with" the local housing authority.

In Baltimore, there has traditionally been a close working relationship between the city and HABC. Indeed, the commissioner of housing has also served as the executive director of HABC since the 1950s. The Baltimore model is often cited nationally as a good example of how to provide coordination without giving up a degree of independence that a housing authority's board of commissioners needs in order to manage its business without political influence.

There is no reason to have City Council "oversight" of a non-city agency. We have always been willing to respond to the council in any and every way. We have already provided more than 20,000 documents and hours of "testimony."

But oversight would, in 1996, be contrary to 59 years of practice and usurp the authority of the HABC Board of Commissioners and HUD.

Like most large city housing authorities, HABC has some tough survival decisions facing it over the next few years. Politics should not play a role in these decisions. The interests of the people who live in our 38 communities should be foremost. The law is pretty clear that it was never intended that an additional layer of bureaucracy be added to the workings of a public housing authority.

Reginald Thomas

Baltimore

Kane's view of school bias

I applaud the March 6 column by Gregory Kane, "Testosterone, not racism, is schools' main problem." It pointed out what many people feel but are afraid to say for fear of being charged with bias or, worse yet, racism against a certain segment of the population.

I have been in law enforcement for more than 20 years and my wife has taught in the Baltimore schools for 14 years and $H Baltimore County schools for 10 years. In our shared experiences, we have known the general tendency is to treat students according to their behavior.

Yes, many students come to school with "excess baggage" from their home environment, but in most cases this can be worked through without significant problems.

Mr. Kane does a good job in detailing a brief history of the NAACP position on equality in education, the classroom examples he used and the need to pick the right fight for the right reason.

With the exception of a small portion of the population on both sides of the political spectrum, we all want quality education for our young people. We may disagree on the path, direction or degree of progress, but integration of attitudes and behavior is a must if we are to achieve success in our public schools.

Yes, there are teachers who aren't the most sensitive, just as there are some police officers and just as there are some parents and students who aren't. But the time has come to stop blaming systems all the time when the fault is in the behavior and value systems of certain individuals.

Once we get past the initial denial stage, maybe we can start to treat the proper symptoms with honest medicine.

I was not surprised that the teacher who allowed his name to be used in the column was black. The article had to mention this, because had the teacher been white bias accusations would fly. Isn't it sad that we all can't be more open and express our views without the being charged with stereotyping and having biased opinions?

We obviously have a long way to go in race relations, but I am sure of one thing dialogue is better than silence and sometimes we just need to agree to disagree, then try to work together for the betterment of the only race that counts the human race.

Rodney E. Stern

Owings Mills

I am deeply concerned with the continued reactionary victim-bashing diatribes by columnist Gregory Kane. It seems that he enjoys the cover of blackness as a means to hurl some of the most racist and poorly thought out insults at the black community.

His recent pontifications on testosterone represent the heights of idiocy. Other than nonsense, there is no basis for assuming that black males have more testosterone or machismo than white males in the Baltimore County schools. If anything, the triumphs of Thurgood Marshall and others indicate that with support, commitment, and vision on the part of educational institutions, black males, like other students, can achieve academically.

The NAACP was not wrong to challenge a race-based system of segregation that denied opportunities to black students. If the .. goal has not been reached, one has to look at the continuing resistance that it has met since the Supreme Court decision in 1954.

There are institutions, school systems, where black students, male and female, do well. It is the right, responsibility and obligation of the NAACP to expect the same of Baltimore County.

While Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione could not be singularly responsible for each specific outcome in the county schools, it is most important to raise these issues as the system shapes itself for the future.

Indeed these concerns have already resulted in a very clearly stated desire by the new superintendent to make better educational outcomes for black students a primary goal. Quite frankly, he seems to have a better grasp of the issues than does Mr. Kane.

John L. Hudgins

Baltimore

Penn Station crime takes toll on everyone

At 7 p.m. on Feb. 29 I became a statistic in Baltimore's annals of street crime.

I am the sixth MARC commuiter in recent weeks to be robbed at gunpoint in the vicinity of Penn Station.

Actually, I was a target of opportunity who happened into a holdup in progress, as a fellow commuter turned over the contents of his wallet to a thug brandishing a Saturday Night special. That done, the gunman turned his attention to me.

The area around Penn Station is fast becoming Baltimore's newest and deadliest combat zone.

I have been a MARC commuter to Washington for the past 20 years. There is an urgent need for action to put an end to a situation growing deadlier every day.

Only a sustained display of police pressure as at Orioles games can put an end to the street crime occurring in this area with dismal frequency. The city TRAK command the resources to accomplish this.

Beefed up police patrols backed by the deployment of AMTRAK police on foot and in patrol cars in the area of the station can help to defang this situation.

AMTRAK has a police arm that can and should be deployed in the area. Maryland's congressional delegation needs to work this out with the AMTRAK bureaucracy in Washington. Senators Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski and Rep. Ben Cardin are frequent commuters, and understand the situation. We can count on them to act swiftly to get a generally reluctant AMTRAK to respond.

The state of Maryland is another major player. The state has a responsibility to provide a safe environment for Baltimore's MARC commuters, just as it provides safe parking facilities for commuters elsewhere on the MARC system.

The recently completed free lot land General Assembly needs to get behind a request for greater MARC funding to provide the same protection Washington's Metro system provides.

Maryland's public transportation system need not take a back seat to any in the country, and its current and projected growth will assure citizens of first-rate service now and in the years ahead.

However, it seems a lack of vision to pour millions of dollars into improvements and to neglect fundamentals, such as a clean environment, safe streets, decent lighting and reasonably priced parking to assure customer satisfaction and increased MARC, AMTRAK and light rail usage today and in the future.

AMTRAK can begin by emulattions is unrealistic. In fact, most have been planned and some have been implemented. With the growing use of MARC, AMTRAK and the soon-to-come Light Rail service, it is imperative that Penn Station clean up its act.

Otherwise, the high hopes for this area and the considerable investment already in place will sink into the urban morass characterized by armed robbery, assault and mayhem, which are exacting a terrible price from Baltimore and its citizens.

John W. Eddinger

Washington

Executive acumen in short supply

In the March 5, Business section, The Sun reported that a major portion of executive compensation is tied to a company's stock performance.

Another article, "Optimism about cut in rates lifts stocks" pointed out that the market's anticipation of lower interest rates is reflected in rising stock prices.

The juxtaposition of these two articles underscores the intimate relationship between government and Federal Reserve Board policy on one hand and stock prices and CEO compensation on the other.

This raises a question: How much business acumen is needed to cut company expenses by laying off employees and how much compensation should a CEO receive for a Federal Reserve policy that boosts stock prices?

Charles A. Ferraro

Baltimore

Dole article 'a flagrant lie'

The March 1 Opinion * Commentary article by Theo Lippman was the most egregious calumny I have ever read.

To state that Bob Dole was "like Bill Clinton a 'draft dodger' is a flagrant lie. Further, to equate Bob Dole's record of service to his country with Bill Clinton's nonrecord is preposterous.

The unsubstantiated allegation that Senator Dole had no desire to serve his country is pure conjecture and vile on its face. While it is true that most sane people do not rush to put themselves in harm's way, the vast majority of young men did serve in World War II, some quite heroically, as did Bob Dole.

That cannot be said for many in the Vietnam "me" generation that includes our current commander-in-chief.

Theodore F. Mariani

Woodbine

Charge the poor for all assistance

I read with great interest of the Glendening administration's plan to charge poor people for helping them get SSI benefits. What a great idea! But I urge the governor not to stop there. I think we ought to begin charging these folks for all the things they get from the state.

Not only would this discourage people from using these expensive services, but it might stop them enue. Why, I bet we could build a third stadium with these funds and lure yet another NFL owner to our great state.

The possibilities are exciting. Who says my Democratic Party is devoid of new ideas?

Louis H. Van Hollen

Cumberland

Disappointed in a leader

The ham-handed destruction of the Samuel Owings House is an outrage. Among real-estate developers, as in every profession, there a few bad apples from whom we can expect greed, poor judgment and callous disregard for our cultural heritage, but I had expected better from County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger.

C.C. Darrell

Baltimore

Nightmare visit to VEIP station

I must take issue with Ronald L. Freeland's Feb. 14 letter stating that the Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program is already user-friendly. I can personally attest to the fact that it is not.

Last fall, I spent two hours and 40 minutes waiting to have my emissions tested with no warning that the wait would be of this length and no way to extricate myself once the process was begun.

Mr. Freeland states that customers are encouraged not to come to VEIP facilities on peak days. Unfortunately the information sent out by the VEIP does not indicate to customers which days are the peak days. It merely makes the statement that one should not wait until the last day of eligibility to have the testing done.

tTC There is no indication that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the peak days. There is also no indication of which sites are the most heavily used.

I am an obstetrician/gynecologist and during my wait I was paged several times. Fortunately I was not scheduled to see patients at the office, but did have a number of calls that needed to be answered.

I would have been happy to answer these at a nearby pay phone; however, no pay phones were available at the Erdman Avenue station. When I went into the station and inquired of the employee behind the desk where I could find a phone, I was told there were no phones.

It was only at my repeated insistence about the importance of answering my calls that he allowed me to use the desk phone and he was rude and unpleasant about doing it.

Katherine Miller-Bass, M.D.

Baltimore

Voting problems in Baltimoe County

I made two complaints to the Baltimore County Elections Office concerning the new paper ballot voting system. The first and most important problem was the lack of privacy for my ballot. At my polling station, Riderwood School, the poll workers did not give voters the blue security wrappers.

I had to locate one on my own. It was difficult to handle the security wrapper, the ballot and the ballot tear-off strip while inserting the ballot into the tabulator.

While I was performing this juggling act, to the interested gaze of the poll workers, these workers claimed they "of course would not look at voters' ballots." As a sighted individual, I felt as fully compromised in my right to cast a secret ballot as was the blind voter reported on by Rafael Alvarez (The Sun, March 6).

My second complaint concerned the instructions in the voting booth. It may seem trivial, but the large arrow examples on the backboard of the booth point in the opposite direction from the arrows on the ballots.

This unnecessary increase in voter confusion when important civil decisions are being made serves only to add to the alienation of the electorate.

How can we trust either the Optech III-P Eagle voting system or the county elections staff if proper attention is not paid to these details?

Stephen L. Zeldin

Towson

Humor helps voting process

Congratulations to the Baltimore County Board of Election Supervisors on its introduction of the Optech III-P Eagle voting system, which requires completing an arrow on the ballot with a special pen and then insertion into the voting unit for automatic counting and information storage.

On the demonstration ballot mailed to county voters, the candidates topping the list for "National Offices" are Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore. Apparently the instruction designers understand that humor accompanies the voter into the election booth a vital democratic tool.

Rae Rossen

Randallstown

Pub date: 3/16/96

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