8-26-11: Baltimore Elections 2011 — Lead Poisoning Settlements
Each Wednesday and Friday here on Maryland Morning, we’re examining an issue relevant to the Baltimore City elections. Today: lead paint.
The Housing Authority of Baltimore City has refused to pay about $12 million in court judgments to Baltimoreans who claim they got lead poisoning from the city’s public housing. HABC executive director Paul Graziano testified in front of the Baltimore City Council that “HABC neither has the means nor the independent authority to pay the judgments.”
Maryland Morning asked each of the candidates running for mayor, including the incumbent, this question: What concrete steps would you take as mayor to encourage the Housing Authority of Baltimore City to pay the nearly $12 million it owes in lead-poisoning judgments? Democratic candidates Otis Rolley and Jody Landers responded; you can see their answers below.
Hear the rest of Nathan’s interview with Scott Calvert, in which Scott discusses other lead paint issues in the local news and tells Nathan how he got this story in the first place:Responses from candidates are below.
As Mayor, I would take a single, concrete step: I would make the Housing Authority pay the judgments. We would work with their attorneys to negotiate a payment plan or settlement agreement to meet our obligations without hurting our ability to provide quality public housing. It is outrageous that the current Mayor has refused to pay these judgments at the same time she is able to find funding for things like a downtown car race. We waste money on a deputy mayors with undefined roles, but the Mayor says there is no bloat in a city government with a $2.8 billion budget — and still we can’t afford to meet our obligations according to her. We can, should and must pay them — and as Mayor I will.
The City is in a difficult position in cases of this type, because it has an obligation to defend itself against lawsuits in order to protect taxpayers interests against unjustified claims, and it likewise has a moral and legal obligation to do the right thing and compensate the persons harmed by lead-poisoning.
I would work with the Housing Authority to devise a way to pay the damages owed to the families. First, I would open up direct settlement talks with the families to see if a lesser figure could be agreed upon, and then I would have the Finance Dept. come up with the best way to pay the agreed upon sum.
I would also investigate why the City did not maintain insurance coverage to protect itself in cases of this type. I am also mindful that whatever the City does in the existing case, it must be prepared to do in future lead-poisoning cases. Maryland Morning also reached out to the Housing Authority of Baltimore City early yesterday afternoon for comment. Spokesperson Cheron Porter responded with the following statement:
The Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) is deeply sympathetic to anyone who has suffered from lead paint poisoning. The recently publicized cases are currently in litigation and as a policy the agency does not discuss lawsuits while legal proceedings are underway. It should be noted that while these cases were filed in the past few years; they involve incidents that occurred prior to the implementation of Maryland’s lead law in 1996. HABC has been fully compliant since its inception.
HABC has the great responsibility of providing homes for over 25,000 people throughout Baltimore City, while facing severe federal funding constraints. HABC faces over $800 million in claims and is not in a financial position at this time to pay these claims and still provide decent, safe and affordable housing for our current families, seniors and persons with disabilities.