Baltimore Mayor Pugh backs independent inspector general as part of city charter changes

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh gave her support to the idea of creating an independent watchdog office inside City Hall as part of a broader set of changes to the city’s charter.

A charter review commission assembled by the mayor in the spring proposed adding a section to the city’s founding document granting independence to the Office of the Inspector General. The commission proposed creating a committee to hire and fire someone to the post, meaning no individual elected official could control the office.

Pugh said in a statement that she endorsed the commission’s proposal along with dozens of other tweaks and updates it suggested. The commission’s recommendations were submitted to the City Council on Monday as five separate pieces of legislation.

“They got to work and provided reasonable, common sense recommendations that will improve City operations,” Pugh said.

The inspector general proposal is similar to one that Councilman Ryan Dorsey introduced to the council. If either idea passes, they would appear on ballots in November for voters to approve or reject.

Dorsey said he expects to talk this week with the council president and the mayor’s team about how to proceed. He said he was pleased that Pugh’s office and the charter commission reached similar conclusions about how to protect the inspector general’s independence.

“I think there’s some good things in their bill and I think there's some good things in my bill,” Dorsey said.

Isabel Mercedes Cumming, the current inspector general, said she was glad the mayor is supportive of giving the office more independence.

“This will be a watershed moment if this happens,” Cumming said. The proposal would bring Baltimore in line with “the best practices throughout the country.”

Dorsey’s proposal includes protections for the office’s funding — a national standard and an important safeguard, he said. But he said the commission’s recommendation that the inspector general stand apart from the city’s executive branch is a good idea.

The commission also recommended that the city auditor, a financial watchdog, be required to report suspected wrongdoing to the inspector general.

The commission undertook the first review of the city’s charter since 1994. Many of the commission’s proposals involve eliminating language from the charter and recommending it be included instead in legislation or internal city rules, and making cosmetic changes like eliminating male pronouns from the document.

But some would have a substantive effect on the way the city operates. One proposal highlighted by the mayor’s office would give officials more flexibility in awarding contracts.

The group, composed of businessmen, charity leaders, academics and city officials, punted on answering some of the biggest questions it considered. The commission recommended the creation of a task force to study producing a city budget every two years rather than annually and it suggested reviewing the makeup of the City Council after the next Census in 2020.

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