Voorhees said the city hopes to start developing mechanisms to determine whether there are problems in the collection of other taxes, such as those on hotels, parking and beverage containers. In the end, he said, it comes down to a question of fairness.

"We don't want people paying more taxes than they should legally be paying," he said. "But we don't want them to be paying less."

Feud over phones

Competing efforts by two city offices to overhaul the city's aging telephone system sparked a controversy that grabbed headlines throughout the year and continues today as a court battle.

Comptroller Joan M. Pratt filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the administration from installing a new phone system using a vendor that Pratt says should have been subjected to a new bidding process. Pratt's office had supervised a request for bids that led to a proposed contract with IBM. Baltimore's Board of Estimates, which is controlled by Rawlings-Blake, rejected that contract in July.

The city's inspector general investigated the administration's purchase of nearly $675,000 in phone and computer equipment — which Rawlings-Blake's top aides had categorized as a small pilot program — and found possible conflicts of interest and missed opportunities for "significant cost savings." Inspector General David N. McClintock also found that former members of the mayor's administration withheld information from other city officials about the project and even lied to the City Council president.

The administration later proposed a memorandum of understanding between the two feuding offices that would create a new commission — controlled by the mayor's staff — to oversee the phone system. Pratt has said she believes the deal is one-sided.

The matter remains unresolved, with Pratt accusing the administration of wasting $400,000 a month while refusing for political reasons to replace the phone system. Rawlings-Blake's technology officer has said he wants to see a reduction of about 15 percent to 20 percent of the cost of the IBM contract, which called for an estimated $320,000 in travel and relocation costs for IBM workers and tax breaks for out-of-state workers whose home states have lower tax rates.

Rawlings-Blake said recently she believes the parties will be able to put aside their differences and upgrade the system. "I'm certain we'll be able to move forward in partnership with the comptroller's office," the mayor said.

Speed ticket mistakes

As the year came to a close, The Sun published the results of another investigation, this time into the city's speed camera system. The newspaper found inaccuracies with seven of the city's 83 automated speed cameras, issuing tickets to vehicles traveling less than 20 mph and to one stopped at a red light.

And speed camera contractors in the city, Baltimore County and elsewhere were being paid based on the number of citations issued or paid — a so-called "bounty system" approach that Gov. Martin O'Malley said is illegal.

Rawlings-Blake has appointed a task force to study the issue and recommend steps to prevent errors. At the panel's latest meeting, Baltimore's speed camera contractor disclosed that several of the city's automated cameras have an error rate of more than 5 percent.

The panel is expected to conclude its meetings in February and issue a report soon after.

Ron Ely, the editor of Stop Big Brother Maryland, an anti-speed camera blog, said city officials are "starting to grasp the depth of their problem and are now making a genuine effort to come clean" by investigating the speed cameras. But, he added, he still has concerns about the city's system, including what he said was an obvious lack of oversight.

The mayor points to the progress. "Even some of the harshest critics of the camera system in general have said we're moving in the right direction," Rawlings-Blake said.

As with other matters, she said, "the concern I expressed with my departments is that we get it right."

luke.broadwater@baltsun.com

jmarbella@baltsun.com

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts