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Henry Introduces New Ethics Rule For City Spending Board

Emily Sullivan/WYPR

Members of Baltimore’s spending board who abstain from a vote because of a perceived conflict of interest will have to explain their abstentions under a new ethics rule proposed by Comptroller Bill Henry.

Under the old rules, members of the Board of Estimates were expected to refrain from voting on issues that presented conflicts of interest and send a memo to the Comptroller’s office saying they would abstain. Under the new rule, which went into effect Wednesday as the newest members of the board met for the first time, members have to explain why they’re abstaining in that memo.

The Comptroller’s office will then assemble and post online a list of the abstentions and reasons behind them.

"This policy takes the current practice of abstaining one step further by requiring reasons for abstention and making the list readily available," Henry said in a statement. "This is the first of many policies to come to make the board more transparent and accessible.

The Baltimore City Board of Ethics, led by Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming, approved the new rule. Board members voted unanimously to pass it.

The Board of Estimates is chaired by City Council President Nick Mosby, who was sworn in last week. Henry, previously a city councilman, is the board’s second new member.

Mayor Brandon Scott, previously City Council President, still serves on the board. Acting City Solicitor Dana Moore and Acting Department of Public Works Director Matthew Garbark have also retained their positions on the board amid recent City Hall transitions.

Mayors have traditionally controlled the board, as they appoint the two non-elected offices. Moore and Garbark were appointed by former mayor Jack Young.