A proposed charter amendment that would change the composition of the board that oversees Baltimore’s inspector general was approved Monday by Baltimore City Council, assuring the measure will appear on ballots this fall.
The amendment, proposed by Democratic Councilwoman Odette Ramos, would remove elected officials from the board, which is supposed to convene annually to review the performance of the inspector general, Baltimore’s watchdog for waste, fraud and abuse.
Council members approved the bill 12-1 with Ramos and Councilman Antonio Glover absent. Councilman Ryan Dorsey voted against the measure on its second reading, arguing it was premature. Ramos was absent with COVID.
The board currently includes multiple elected officials or their designees, the city solicitor and, on an optional basis, the deans of two law schools.
Ramos’s proposal calls for council members to each select a nominee. From that pool, seven board members would be selected at random. Four additional members would be selected at random from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners or the Association of Certified Public Accountants. The deans of the two law schools or their designees would remain on the board.
The City Council advanced the measure under a rule that allows the group to fast-track legislation by taking two votes on it in one night. Amendments, approved during a committee meeting last week, increased the number of board members to 11 and adjusted the number of members that would be selected by the City Council and the independent associations.
The composition of Baltimore’s inspector general advisory board came into question last year when it convened for the first time to review Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming. Cumming objected to the board’s makeup, sending a letter to board members ahead of a July 2021 meeting arguing that multiple members had a conflict of interest because they’ve been subject to her investigations.
“For these same individuals to sit on a board tasked with evaluating the Inspector General’s performance at the very least creates an appearance of bias, and could hinder the OIG from doing its job with the specter of improper political pressure,” Cumming wrote at the time.
Baltimore’s inspector general office has been under the authority of the oversight panel since 2018, when an amendment to the city’s charter created the board and removed authority from the mayor. At the time, the City Council voted to put the amendment on the ballot out of concern for the office’s independence.
By law, the oversight board is made up of at least five people: the mayor or his designee, the City Council president or his designee, the comptroller or his designee, the city solicitor or an appointed member of the city law department, and a member of the City Council appointed by the council president. If the mayor and council president agree, two additional members take seats: the deans of the law schools at the University of Maryland and the University of Baltimore.
Under Ramos’s proposal, board members would have to be city residents and have a background in ethics, law, accounting or familiarity with the office of the inspector general. City and state employees would be barred from holding the positions, as would elected officials and their relatives.
The current board would be dismissed if voters approve the charter amendment, Ramos said.
Dorsey, who sponsored the 2018 legislation that created the current advisory board structure, argued Monday that it is too early to tell if the board has been effective. He also said an 11-member board would be “bordering on unwieldy.”
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“The advisory board has met once, one cycle. I think that’s a premature scale for judging that it’s not working somehow,” he said. “I think this would be better left for the next ballot in 2024, when we have had more of a chance to show how the board can function.”
Dorsey voted against the measure on a second reading, but voted with the majority for final passage.
Although the current board structure has been in place since 2018, the board never convened until 2021, when Cumming was the target of criticism for an investigation she conducted into Democratic State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. The results of the seven-month probe, conducted at Mosby’s request, were released in February 2021 and focused on Mosby’s travel. The report showed Mosby spent 144 days away from Baltimore in 2018 and 2019 — or more than one workday a week; Mosby’s office has disputed the number of days.
The inspector general also faulted Mosby for not asking approval from the city’s spending panel for more than a dozen trips in 2018 and 2019. Nonprofit groups flew her to conferences in destinations such as Kenya, Scotland and Portugal. Private attorneys for Mosby argued that because the nonprofits — not taxpayers — paid for her trips, Mosby had no obligation to request approval.
City Solicitor Jim Shea reviewed the matter and concluded Mosby was not required to seek approval because the city’s administrative policies are unclear. Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott asked the solicitor and city administrators to recommend policy fixes, which were approved recently by the Board of Estimates.
By law, Mosby’s husband, Democratic City Council President Nick Mosby, is entitled to sit on the inspector general advisory board. He appointed Democratic City Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton to serve as his designee.
After several meetings, the advisory board in December 2021 issued a favorable review of Cumming, saying her office was doing an “effective job.”