City Council considers bill to require signs explaining restaurant closures

A city councilman revived an effort Monday to give the public access to more information about health inspections at Baltimore's nearly 5,000 restaurants and eateries.

Signs explaining violations would be posted at food establishments closed by health inspectors, under a bill introduced by City Councilman Brandon M. Scott. The proposal also calls for the creation of a real-time online database of the closures.


The bill follows Scott's failed effort to require restaurants and carryouts to post grades based on health inspections, which was defeated in March by a single vote.

Scott said the public has a right to know the reason a restaurant has been closed. As it is now, the eateries are not required to post an explanation.

"If they were closed for rats, they can put a sign on their door saying they're closed because they went on vacation," Scott said. "This is forcing them to say why."

Melvin R. Thompson, vice president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said it was too soon to say whether the group would support the bill.

"We are reviewing the bill language and soliciting feedback from our members before deciding whether or not to take a position on the legislation," he said.

Restaurant owners launched an intensive lobbying effort this year to defeat the previous bill. The proposal advanced to final approval, only to have three council members switch their position.

Scott said he's working to drum up support. He said he has the backing of six of his colleagues. The council has 15 members.

In an unusual move Monday night, the council assigned the bill to "committee of the whole," meaning that the entire council will hear the bill rather than a committee. The move was made to ensure a quorum will hear the bill. The previous bill had been stalled in committee, in part because of a lack of a quorum.


No date has been set for the hearing.

The bill also would require the Health Department to provide immediate updates on social media when a restaurant has its license suspended or revoked.

Health inspectors close about 100 eateries a year. So far this year, 20 restaurants have been closed.

If enacted, the bill would take effect 30 days later. Scott said he doesn't expect the legislation would cost any money to implement.

Scott said he plans to reintroduce legislation to establish a restaurant grading system, similar to what exists in other cities, such as New York and Charlotte, N.C.

It's shameful Baltimore doesn't already have a system in place, he said. "That is embarrassing in 2015," Scott said.


The Health Department currently posts details on which restaurants are closed and for what reasons, but the information is posted online monthly. The most recent information available online is from March.

Dr. Leana Wen, the city's health commissioner, said her agency "fully supports efforts to increase transparency" on restaurant inspections. She said the Health Department agrees that information on inspections should be posted for the public through multiple channels, including Twitter and other online outlets.

"We work tirelessly to ensure our restaurants and other food service establishments serve food in a hygienic and safe way, and our residents have a right to know about violations that occur," Wen said. "People don't just check one form of media. Some people go to the restaurant themselves, look at a website or check Twitter."