Dixon's sister is on payroll

The Baltimore Sun

After facing repeated criticism for taking actions that benefited her sister, Mayor Sheila Dixon hired her sibling to act as a "right-hand woman" to her campaign manager this year and, since then, has paid her more than $20,000, according to recently released campaign finance records.

Janice Dixon, who has received $4,122 a month on average from the campaign since February, has been at the center of two controversies involving the mayor in recent years -- both instances in which Dixon was heavily criticized for steering taxpayer money toward her sister.

There is nothing improper about Dixon hiring her sister on the campaign -- in fact, many candidates put relatives on their political staffs -- but the appearance of Janice Dixon's name on the most recent finance report, just 18 months after questions were raised about how her employer had received city contracts, was something of a surprise.

Dixon's campaign manager, Martha McKenna, said yesterday that Janice Dixon works full time on the campaign for $2,500 a month -- other payments are for expenses, she said -- and noted that she has been on Dixon's campaign staff for much of the mayor's political career. Janice Dixon was not available for comment yesterday, McKenna said.

"She knows a great deal about the support that Sheila Dixon has received in her 20 years in public service," McKenna said. "She knows the mayor's supporters from their childhood and growing up together and she knows the sign locations that the mayor has used in previous elections."

The campaign finance reports also revived questions about Dixon's leading opponent in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary election, City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. For Mitchell, the report documented expenses made by his father and former treasurer that the councilman is now challenging.

Keiffer J. Mitchell Sr. resigned from his son's campaign this month after those expenses -- including more than $20,000 spent at a Towson hotel -- were discovered. Through his attorneys, the elder Mitchell has said the expenses were appropriate.

But for Dixon, the reports renewed talk of an imbroglio that has largely evaporated since she took over as mayor from Gov. Martin O'Malley in January. Her seven opponents, including Mitchell, have rarely raised the matter directly.

In July 2003, The Sun reported that Janice Dixon worked in the council president's office as a paid employee. Several other council members also employed relatives, and the city's ethics board ruled that such employment violated city regulations, forcing Dixon to fire her sister. The U.S. attorney's office launched an investigation, but that inquiry ended in 2005 without any action.

In February 2006, The Sun reported that Dixon questioned Comcast officials at a City Council committee hearing about whether they were awarding enough subcontracts to minority-owned firms. One of those companies, Utech -- or Union Technologies -- employed her sister.

Dixon then told a reporter that she had disclosed her sister's employment on a city ethics form when, in fact, she had not. She later amended the form. Despite saying she had abstained from any votes involving Utech while serving on the city's five-member Board of Estimates, Dixon had repeatedly voted on contracts that ultimately awarded nearly $1 million to her sister's company.

City ethics laws prohibit public officials from participating in any matter that involves a sibling's interest or the interest of a relative's employer. The law says officials must recuse themselves from such matters if they know of their sibling's employment and requires them to disclose the employment of siblings who work for companies that do business with the city.

This past January, the city's ethics board said it would take no action against Dixon -- because no formal complaint was ever filed, it was never clear whether the board actually investigated the matter and its members never answered questions on its decision. The city ruled that Utech was no longer an eligible minority subcontractor.

In March 2006, the Maryland State Prosecutor's office began investigating Dixon, her office, the company and several other city agencies. Mildred E. Boyer, Utech's owner, was indicted late last year. Boyer's trial has been delayed until after the election.

Campaign finance reports released by the Maryland State Board of Elections yesterday showed that Janice Dixon had received seven payments totaling $1,865 since March. A company called Imani-Ellison, LLC -- which, in its corporation filing, lists Janice Dixon as the registered agent -- received an additional 28 payments worth $18,754.

State records show the company was created in early 2007 and that its purpose is to "engage in and operate a consulting business."

McKenna said the mayor's sister is responsible for organizing the campaign's office and for overseeing political signs. She said Imani-Ellison was created to accept payments from the campaign.

On the campaign trail, Mitchell has talked about reforming the city's procurement process by reducing the size of the Board of Estimates from five to three.

Because the mayor sits on the board and appoints two other members, reducing its size would lessen the mayor's control over the body.

Mitchell declined to comment directly on Janice Dixon's employment, but his campaign manager, Jayson Williams, argued that the most recent campaign finance report released by the Dixon campaign showed a "pattern of returning personal favors."

Mitchell's campaign noted several Dixon contributions made by companies that do business with the city. Mitchell's campaign noted $2,600 in contributions from Allied Contractors Inc. and $4,000 from Metra Industries -- both of which frequently receive city contracts.

"She's clearly spending more time going after contractors with business before the city to contribute to her campaign than focusing on the crime and the schools," Mitchell said. "I've come out with a procurement reform plan that I intend to put in as mayor that will stop the type of business that's taking place under the pay-to-play."

Several of the companies listed by the Mitchell campaign, however, had given to the mayor in past years -- not in the most recent campaign cycle. At least one of the companies had given to Mitchell, as well.

McKenna noted that Dixon has raised significantly more money than Mitchell overall this year -- $1.2 million, compared with $640,000 -- and said it therefore makes sense that the campaign also raised more from businesses.

"It's a predictable complaint from the campaign that is having trouble raising money," McKenna said. "What has happened here is there are individuals and there are companies in Baltimore City who are impressed and proud of the progress that Mayor Dixon has made in moving Baltimore forward."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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