Pratt declines to attend council hearing


A City Council budget hearing fizzled yesterday when the star witness - Comptroller Joan M. Pratt - declined to attend.

Since last week, the council's Budget and Appropriations Committee has been holding hearings with individual department heads to discuss their portion of Mayor Martin O'Malley's proposed $2.1 billion budget.

Among those who have appeared are Baltimore's top police, fire and school officials, who were quizzed on their departments' spending plans for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The comptroller had not been asked to testify in recent years but was this time, in part because her budget would increase from $17.4 million to $17.6 million, Council President Sheila Dixon said.

"Most people, when asked to appear before the budget committee, choose to appear," said council Vice President Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake, chairwoman of the committee.

An independently elected official, Pratt said she was surprised by the invitation "because I haven't been asked to come in previous years."

She said she was further confused when Dixon's office told her why her testimony was being sought: because the president felt the budget didn't give Pratt enough money for auditors. Pratt noted that the council has only the power to reduce her budget, not add to it.

Pratt and Dixon, two of the city's most senior elected officials, are often mentioned as potential rivals in a future race for mayor.

Pratt made it clear in a May 17 letter to Rawlings Blake that she would be a no-show. But Rawlings Blake scheduled an afternoon hearing with Pratt anyway, hoping Pratt would have a change of heart. She didn't, and the hearing was called off.

The comptroller said if council members have any questions about how she runs her office, she would be willing to meet with them in some other forum.

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