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Henry Wants Charter Commission To Examine Makeup Of OIG Advisory Board

Baltimore City Hall.
Emily Sullivan/WYPR
Baltimore City Hall.

Comptroller Bill Henry says he will ask a commission tasked with recommending changes to Baltimore City charter to evaluate the makeup of the Office of the Inspector General oversight board, which currently includes city staffers that have been part of OIG investigations, according to the IG.

The Charter Review Commission, however, has not yet been formed — a violation of a law that Mayor Brandon Scott advocated for as City Council President in 2020. It says the commission must be established by May 1 of this year.

“We're waiting for the mayor's office to get the ball rolling,” Henry said, noting that Scott staffers told him they are still waiting on nominations to the commission from some council members; several members told WYPR they have not submitted nominations. City law says the council members may appoint one member each, while the mayor, comptroller and City Council President may appoint three.

Henry said the May deadline was established to give the commission enough time to receive public input, make recommendations and present them to the council. Council members would then have to wind any desired changes through the legislative process by next July, in order for those changes to appear on city voters’ ballots in the next general election.

The mayor’s office did not return a request for comment.

The OIG oversight board met for the first time earlier this week, after Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming was criticized by allies of State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby for an investigation into her travel. Mosby had requested the seven-month investigation, which faulted her for not asking the city spending board to approve travel funded by third parties. The same report contained an opinion from City Solicitor Jim Shea that said there was “no clear answer” in whether or not Mosby violated any rules, because the city’s previous travel policies were ambiguous.

The oversight board is chaired by Shea and consists of City Hall staffers and council members appointed by Mayor Scott and City Council President Nick Mosby, who is married to the State's Attorney. The deans of the schools of law at the University of Maryland and the University of Baltimore also sit on the board.

Ahead of the meeting — a largely organizational one, where members discussed how they would conduct a performance review of the IG by early fall — Cumming sent a letter to the board, writing that “there are members of the Board who are or have been part of OIG investigations.” In an interview, Cumming said she could not specify their identities, nor whether they were the focus of an investigation or a source who provided information.

“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,” she wrote.

Shea said that board members would deal with investigations on an ad hoc basis but did not specify any potential courses of action. Ongoing OIG probes are confidential; Cumming and her staffers are unable to name those they are currently investigating and generally forbidden from naming individuals in final public reports due to personnel manners.

Henry said he hopes the Charter Review Commission will look at best practices for preventing conflicts of interest in OIG oversight boards across the nation, noting that the board should probably consist of people with experience in law, ethics and city government.

“That's where it becomes tricky,” he said. “How do you find people who have that experience, that familiarity, and have the commitment to doing this work but are going to be able to be objective and relatively free from influence in how they go about it?”

Councilman Ryan Dorsey, who authored the 2018 charter amendment that moved the OIG out of the purview of the mayor and made it independent, said the office was established in accordance with the best national practices “with limited exception, albeit within the constraints of the statutory authority Baltimore City is granted by the state.”

“I look forward to continuing to be at the forefront of the conversation about what specific changes might bring further improvement, including not only further amendments to the charter, but also to statutory authority we might need from the state in order to more fully exemplify best practices,” he said.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.