Former Baltimore police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark has emerged a winner in the court fight over his firing. However the city erred in dismissing Mr. Clark in November 2004, there should be no mistaking this: The mayor should be able to fire the police commissioner at will, and state law should reflect that.
The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled against the city last week in the Clark firing, saying officials didn't meet the requirements set out in the one-of-a-kind law that governs this most sensitive of labor relations. The law cites official misconduct, inefficiency and incompetence among the reasons for dismissal. When then-Mayor Martin O'Malley fired Mr. Clark, he relied on an "at will" dismissal clause in a contract Mr. Clark had signed with the city. Mr. Clark's firing followed an alleged domestic dispute that later proved unfounded. Mr. Clark, a former high-ranking New York cop, sued to get his job back - and he still wants it back. But Mayor Sheila Dixon's chosen police chief, Frederick H. Bealefeld III, has been doing an admirable job since his appointment in the summer.
The Clark case returns to Baltimore Circuit Court for further action, but the city should just sit down with Mr. Clark's lawyers and negotiate a settlement. That's where it's ultimately headed.