At issue: City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector routinely bills the city for driving to her Northwest Baltimore district — trips she says often begin at the Inner Harbor condominium where she lives with her boyfriend.
The cost: Spector, who has served on the council since 1977, filed for more than $3,000 in mileage for travel within the city during a 13-month period, according to her expense reports, an average of more than 400 miles a month. Only one other city legislator, Councilwoman Helen Holton, bills the city for travel within Baltimore; she submitted less than $200 in travel charges within city limits for the same period.
The residence question: While she maintains a home on Park Heights Avenue in her district, Spector does not dispute that she primarily resides in the Harborview development near the Inner Harbor and that she bills taxpayers for travel from that address. Council members are not required to live in the districts they represent, and city officials say there is no policy spelling out how mileage should be calculated for those who do not.
Going the distance: Spector indicates on her expense reports that she sometimes travels more than 40 miles in a day to attend events in her district. For example, on Oct. 10, Spector reported driving 54 miles to attend two events: one at Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc. in the 5800 block of Park Heights Ave. and one at Northwestern High School in the 6900 block of Park Heights Ave. Spector's district home is in the 7400 block of the same street.
And on Jan. 7, Spector said she traveled 46 miles to attend three events in or near the district: a breakfast at Sinai Hospital in the 2400 block of W. Belvedere Ave., a meeting in Howard Park and an evening event at the Bolton Street Synagogue on Coldspring Lane near Loyola University.
Spector explains: The councilwoman says she actually saves the city money by living at Harborview because she walks to City Hall and downtown meetings. When she drives, she says, she calculates her mileage by checking the speedometer when she first gets in her car and at the end of her day. "When you go back and forth, it's not hard to go between 12 and 15 miles on each leg that I go," she said.
"I don't want to spend it if it's not necessary, whether it's for driving or for parking," Spector said. "I don't think there's another council person who does as much walking to and from meetings as I do."
A watchdog group weighs in: "It's the principle of the thing," said Common Cause regional director James Browning. He said Spector should not "ask the taxpayers to subsidize her living outside her district. … Imagine if everyone on the City Council did this.
Community leaders respond: "It hurts me that she might be hurt by this because she's a damn good city councilwoman," said Ira Kolman, president of the Mount Washington Improvement Association. "Whenever we have any meetings or events … she's right there."
"I strongly believe that council members should reside in the district that they serve," said Derrick Lennon, president of the Glen Neighborhood Improvement Association. "City Hall should look at the cost associated with members that do not live within the district and deny travel expenses that would not be incurred or at least significantly less if they were to live in the district."