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Baltimore City Councilman Ryan Dorsey plans to introduce Monday three bills aimed at ensuring an ethical city government — including measures to ramp up financial oversight and disclosure requirements and protect whistleblowers.
Baltimore City Councilman Ryan Dorsey plans to introduce Monday three bills aimed at ensuring an ethical city government — including measures to ramp up financial oversight and disclosure requirements and protect whistleblowers. (Lloyd Fox / The Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore City Councilman Ryan Dorsey plans to introduce Monday three bills aimed at ensuring an ethical city government — including measures that would ramp up financial oversight and disclosure requirements and protect whistleblowers.

Dorsey said the bills have long been in the works, but acknowledged they take on added meaning amid recent revelations, now under investigation by the city’s Board of Ethics, that Mayor Catherine Pugh failed to disclose selling her “Healthy Holly” children’s books to entities doing business before the city.

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“This recent scandal is only the most recent and most egregious and most publicly understood manifestation of a system that has not been kept in check for a very long time,” Dorsey said, “and these bills aim to do but a part of bringing our system in check.”

The bills are on the agenda for introduction at Monday’s City Council meeting.

“Simply put, your honor, Darryl De Sousa is a tax cheat,” a federal prosecutor told the judge. “This was not a simple mistake. This was not a misfiled form.”

One would prohibit city officials from retaliating against whistleblowers who reveal information they reasonably believe shows a crime, gross mismanagement, waste or abuse, or a substantial danger to public safety or health.

A second bill would require city agencies to more explicitly outline financial disclosure requirements, including for all new job postings; secure acknowledgement of those requirements from all new hires subject to them; and share the names of all employees who are subject to them with the city ethics board.

The third bill would move the ethics board — which is responsible for enforcing city rules regarding conflicts of interest and keeping financial disclosure records of city employees — from under the city Department of Legislative Reference to under the independent inspector general’s office, an office voters created in November by approving a charter amendment. It would also make the inspector general the board’s executive director.

Dorsey, a Democrat, said he began working on language to improve whistleblower protections as part of his work developing the inspector general’s office.

He said he started working on making disclosure requirements more robust after former Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa was charged federally last year with not filing his taxes. De Sousa pleaded guilty and was sentenced last month to 10 months in prison.

Baltimore’s inspector general has started a review of contracts approved by the city spending board in the last two years, according to a document obtained by The Baltimore Sun. As part of the review, the inspector general’s office asked city elected leaders for lists of boards they serve on.

Dorsey said he hopes his bills could move the city to a healthier place.

Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming said Friday that she supports the whistleblower protection bill.

“Anything that will protect the citizens and employees of Baltimore city in terms of retaliation against whistleblowers is positive,” she said. “If they ask me to testify on behalf of that, I will be happy to.”

She said she took no position on the bill to move the ethics board under her purview, and already has her hands full, but would take on the added responsibility if the City Council gave it to her.

A lawyer for Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh says the state prosecutor has opened an investigation into sales of her self-published children’s book. Defense attorney Steven Silverman says: “The mayor will be cooperating with that investigation to the fullest extent possible.”

“I’m the city's watchdog. If that’s where they want it, that's fine,” she said.

She said she hadn’t read and took no position on the financial disclosures bill, but added, “I fully believe in disclosure, accountability and transparency from all elected officials.”

Pugh, a Democrat, took a leave of absence at the start of this month, which she attributed to a pneumonia diagnosis. She has said she intends to return. Her illness coincided with the revelations of her “Healthy Holly” deals — valued at nearly $800,000 — with the University of Maryland Medical System, which she helped oversee as a board member, and other entities that do business with the city, including Kaiser Permanente and Associated Black Charities.

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After those payments were uncovered by The Baltimore Sun, Pugh amended several years of disclosure forms with the state, where she served as a state senator during the period in which the deals were being made, to acknowledge the income.

She did not always disclose her position on the UMMS board on her city ethics forms, and only listed income from her Healthy Holly LLC company in 2017, not in the previous year.

The city Board of Ethics voted unanimously earlier this month to open an investigation into whether Pugh’s sale of her books violated city ethics rules. The Office of the State Prosecutor is also investigating the deals.

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