Daniel granted $125,600 in severance; Estimates Board cuts backlog of cases; Ex-chief's deal based on fairness, O'Malley says


Baltimore taxpayers will pay former Police Commissioner Ronald L. Daniel $125,600 as part of a severance settlement approved yesterday by the city Board of Estimates.

The Daniel agreement brought the amount of legal payments approved by the city's five-member spending board to more than $600,000 in the past three months. Some cases settled had lingered for years.

The board, which includes Mayor Martin O'Malley, City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt and City Council President Sheila Dixon, unanimously approved the Daniel severance without public comment as part of its agenda.

Daniel resigned from his $137,000-a-year job in March, 57 days after being confirmed. The 26-year department veteran noted differences with O'Malley and his refusal to endorse the mayor's crime-fighting plan, which was drafted by New York-based police consultants.

After the meeting yesterday, O'Malley defended the Daniel payout, saying that it was not made under threat of suit or as a condition of his resignation.

"I'm sure some people will look at it as one year's salary for 57 days of work but I looked at it as 26 years and 57 days," O'Malley said. "Truthfully, it just seemed like something that was fair to do."

The city had prepared a two-year contract that would have paid Daniel $137,000 a year. The pact included a "separation" clause with a negotiated severance package, O'Malley said. Daniel's tenure was so short that he never officially signed the contract, O'Malley said.

The board also approved yesterday a confidential settlement with police Sgt. Robert R. Richards, who had filed a $13.5 million racial discrimination suit against the city in 1996. Although city officials were prohibited as part of the settlement from discussing the Richards payment, a City Hall source familiar with the agreement said the payout was about $40,000 plus legal expenses.

Two weeks ago, the city paid $350,000 to the developers of an East Baltimore complex, Strathdale Apartments, who accused the city of stripping its value by abandoning plans to use it for public housing.

Pratt, the only member of the Board of Estimates who served before December, said yesterday that settling such suits could save the city in the long run. In the Strathdale Apartments case, developers were seeking $4 million.

"It appears they're trying to bring these cases to closure," Pratt said of the O'Malley administration. "If the case has validity, it makes sense to settle it."

Pratt supported the Daniel severance agreement, noting that the payment was negotiated as part of his pending contract. Dixon also supported the agreement, but acknowledged being uncomfortable about the amount.

"That was something he negotiated," said Dixon, who suggested that city severance agreements be tailored to lengths of service. "It was a bit much in my opinion."

Like most cities, Baltimore is sued often. A Baltimore Circuit Court clerk checking the numbers of cases yesterday involving the city estimated that about 1,000 are pending.

The city reviews four to 10 cases each week, City Solicitor Thurman Zollicoffer said yesterday. By settling cases, the city hopes to reduce its financial liability, Zollicoffer said, but will challenge cases it is convinced are defensible.

On Feb. 23, the city settled a case for $100,000 in the death of a pedestrian struck by a Department of Public Works truck, Zollicoffer said. Recently, a U.S. District Court civil jury decided that former deputy comptroller Erwin A. Burtnick was a victim of racial discrimination when he was ousted in 1992 by former Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean.

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