City panel questions spending on lawsuit; Board of Estimates puts request for $500,000 on debate agenda for today


A week after approving $250,000 in legal fees to defend Baltimore public works officials, Board of Estimates members are questioning a Law Department proposal to spend $500,000 for another case.

The issue has been placed on the board's "nonroutine" agenda for debate today. The city has spent $300,000 in the civil suit against the city by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Maryland Department of the Environment, which filed a complaint over excessive dumping at the Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant and Ashburton Water Filtration Plant.

Although the city has settled the case and drafted a proposed consent decree, the Law Department has requested $500,000 -- for a total of $800,000 -- to pay attorneys from the firm of Reed, Smith, Shaw and McClay who have been representing the city.

The concern about the additional legal fees is one of several items on the board's agenda that are expected to be challenged during today's meeting.

Questions also are being raised about a construction project on property owned by the Waldorf School in the 4800 block of Tamarind Road.

The project, which includes a 99-unit housing complex for senior citizens, is expected to yield a $1 million profit on a property sold to the school for $1.

Anthony J. Ambridge, the city's real estate officer, said the city should receive some of the profits.

"I don't like the way this deal is structured," Ambridge said.

The school is expected to receive $200,000 from the deal and the developer -- Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, a strong supporter of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's administration -- is to receive $700,000.

Concern about the contracts and proposals occurs as the current administration prepares to leave office. Ambridge and other critics of board proposals say they want to ensure that the city, which faces a $153 million deficit, receives the best deals possible.

In another matter before the board, the Department of Public Works is recommending that the city reject 40 proposals for outdoor pay telephones because of concern that they might be used in illegal drug trade.

Four telephone companies have filed protests against the recommendation.

The city has taken out 450 pay telephones throughout Baltimore this year because the companies posted them without permits. On Monday, Baltimore Circuit Judge Evelyn Omega Cannon rejected a request by Belle Farm Estates Inc. to operate phones on its properties until permits were granted.

Robert Mead, a spokesman for Belle Farm Estates, one of the protesters on the agenda, said the permit process takes a year and is killing small telephone companies.

"There is a public need for these phones," Mead said. "This is a tough business for small businessmen."

Sun staff writer Gerard Shields contributed to this article.

An article in Wednesday's editions incorrectly identified Struever Bros., Eccles and Rouse as the developer of the Coldspring Limited Partnership project. The company is the contractor and architect. The Sun regrets the errors.
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