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The Nose

De-Commissioned

Posted 1/29/2003

It came with the same stunning, swift surprise as the announcement that Edward Norris, Baltimore's commissioner of police, has left the department to head the Maryland State Police: Mayor Martin O'Malley's Jan. 24 announcement that he has gone to the New York well again to appoint Norris' replacement. It came as a shock because O'Malley had led everyone to believe that acting Commissioner John McEntee would soon be named the police department's new chief: everyone, including McEntee himself. At O'Malley's suggestion, police sources say, McEntee had begun looking for a house in Baltimore because all city department heads are required to live within city limits. O'Malley even had conversations with members of the City Council about McEntee and what it would take to get him confirmed. Councilman Kenneth Harris (D-3rd) says, "the mayor mentioned to me . . . 'we'll try him out for around three months or so and see how things go.'" Council sources say O'Malley had the same conversation with at least two other council members. The appointment of New York Police Department Deputy Chief Kevin Clark "caught me totally by surprise," Harris says. "I was stunned, surprised, and speechless."

According to numerous police sources, so was McEntee. They say that O'Malley didn't even tell McEntee he'd gone outside the city to find a new commish--instead, McEntee was said to have heard it from Norris, the man he thought he was replacing.

Norris, sources say, called McEntee a week before the official announcement to tell him that Clark, the No. 2 man in the NYPD's narcotics division, was headed here. But McEntee, those sources say, did not believe him. In fact, at the very moment Clark was signing his contract in O'Malley's office, McEntee was two floors above testifying to a council committee about the state of the police department. Police sources say McEntee thought this testimony was a trial run for his City Council confirmation hearing. It wasn't until late the next day--the evening before the formal announcement was made--that O'Malley told McEntee, hours after Clark's appointment had started leaking to the press.Much of O'Malley's rhetoric regarding Clark's hiring seemed aimed not at what a great commissioner Clark will be but at taking shots at his former commissioner. In an article in The Sun the morning of the announcement, hizzoner said he wouldn't make the same mistake with Clark's contract as he had with Norris': He won't offer Clark a full year's severance pay, even if he leaves of his own volition. Under the terms of his contract, Norris got $137,000 in severance.

O'Malley told The Sun that Norris had "yahooed" the city into giving him the severance package: "Define yahooed as 'to be fleeced and taken advantage of,'" he said at the time.

When the Nose asked O'Malley how he could say that, since he had publicly objected when then-Mayor Kurt Schmoke gave similarly sweet contracts to two department heads, he said he was now "a wiser mayor."

Almost unnoticed amid the hoopla was that O'Malley had signed Clark for a salary higher than Norris'. Clark will get $150,000 a year, $13,000 more than his predecessor. Why the raise? To recruit the best people, O'Malley says. Other big cities pay their commissioners more, O'Malley said, noting that Philadelphia pays its police chief $180,000. What he didn't mention was that Philadelphia is the fifth-largest city in the country, with two and a half times the population of Baltimore and a higher cost of living. (Also, according to the Philadelphia mayor's office, the City of Brotherly Love's police commissioner only makes $140,000 a year.)

And one more thing: Though O'Malley claims that he discovered Clark, in fact, Norris had been trying to woo him here for the past two years. Norris worked with Clark in New York and wanted him to take the No. 2 job in Baltimore. Norris says that when he resigned, he recommended Clark to O'Malley as his replacement.

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