To avoid trouble, keep it 'all open and transparent'

Even as she grapples with making the cash-strapped city government leaner, Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake should work to make it cleaner, too, says former state Sen. Julian L. Lapides, a longtime transparency advocate.

"Ethics should be kept on the front burner and not the back burner of Baltimore City politics," said Lapides. He is a member of the Maryland State Ethics Commission and previously served on the city ethics board.

"It's in the public's mind," he said. "It should be in elected officials' minds as well."

One idea Lapides supports is remaking the five-member city ethics board. The mayor appoints or designates four members, with the city solicitor choosing the fifth. Lapides suggests letting the City Council pick two of the spots to reduce the mayor's influence. He recalls a case where three of five members recused themselves due to potential conflicts of interest, leaving the board unable to take up the case.

Lapides would like to see more city contracts publicly aired before the Board of Estimates. Contracts under $5,000 don't need approval from the spending board, a threshold Lapides deems too high: "It's just better to have it all open and transparent. You don't get into trouble that way."

Besides exploring other steps to beef up the ethics law, the new mayor should ensure that city employees and fellow elected officials realize what the law requires of them, Lapides said."Just make transparency your byword," he said. "If she does that, she'll be fine."


Rawlings-Blake has not been linked to ethically questionable dealings on the City Council, and she is known for filing detailed financial disclosures. Improving ethics in government has not been a legislative priority of hers.