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Panel finds city IG office ‘hard-working, highly capable’ in long-awaited review

Emily Sullivan/WYPR
Baltimore City Hall.

A long-awaited performance review by a panel of Baltimore City officials called Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming’s office ‘hard-working, highly capable’ and ‘effective.’

The review, dated Nov. 24 and published Wednesday by Cumming herself, is the first completed since a 2018 law made the Office of the Inspector General independent, moving it out of the purview of the mayor, and required an advisory board to conduct a performance evaluation every year.

“I believe that my office has set a pretty good foundation,” Cumming said in an interview. “But even with a good foundation, if there's not the proper tools to go forward, it will completely crumble and we've seen that happen.”

She criticized the makeup of the board arguing that it creates conflicts of interest. By law, the panel consists of elected officials and public servants that the OIG may investigate, including the mayor, city council president, comptroller and the city solicitor. The deans of the schools of law at the University of Baltimore and University of Maryland may serve on an optional basis.

City Solicitor Jim Shea serves as the advisory board’s chairman. All the citywide elected officials appointed designees to serve in their place: Mayor Brandon Scott tapped his chief of staff Michael Huber, Council President Nick Mosby tapped City Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton and Comptroller Bill Henry tapped Deputy Comptroller Erika McClammy.

“I think there's been cases involving every position on my advisory board, that being the mayor's office, the comptroller's office, the council president's office and the elected officials,” Cumming said. “I never want citizens of Baltimore to ever be concerned that the inspector general is going to be in a compromised position, a compromised position being that they have a complaint against somebody on the board and they're concerned that they may not have the fortitude to file it.”

She did not specify the details of those cases; staffers or holders of those offices may have been subjects, sources or otherwise indirectly involved.

Cumming said she wholeheartedly supports having an oversight panel, but one that is made up of individuals who are not directly within the office’s investigational purview.

Mayor Brandon Scott first convened the board over the summer, after allies of State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby criticized Cumming for a report into her travel.

Mosby herself requested that report, which examined more than a dozen trips in 2018 and 2019 funded by third parties. The investigation faulted the Democrat for not requesting approval from Baltimore’s spending board for the travel.

Mosby’s allies, including the Baltimore branch of the NAACP and prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump, have criticized Cumming’s investigation, as well as a separate FBI probe of the State’s Attorney, saying Black officials like Mosby are disparately investigated.

“The government and oftentimes news media have an adversarial relationship towards Black elected officials when they try to attack the status quo,” Crump said in an October news conference.

Cumming has vigorously maintained that her office probes only the tips it receives.

“There's never a question about any type of defining factors of who the subject can be. That's not what we look at, ever,” she said. “What we look at is the situation and we find the truth regardless of any other external factors.”

In a statement, Mayor Brandon Scott said he supports a strong and independent IG office.

“Inspector General Cumming is hard-working, capable, and committed to our city,” he said. “I look forward to continuing to work with the OIG in our shared mission to ensure the responsible stewardship of city resources.”

Cumming’ term expires in 2024; the advisory board will choose the next inspector general.

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.