City Hall won't turn over emails of former IT director

Citing a continuing investigation, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s administration denied last week a Baltimore Sun public information request to inspect the city’s emails with former Chief Technology Officer Rico J. Singleton.

Singleton resigned in February after an audit in New York detailed alleged ethical violations that occurred while he worked in state government there, including negotiating a job for his girlfriend and soliciting a job for himself with a software vendor that was awarded a major contract.

The Sun requested “emails and BlackBerry PIN messages” between Singleton and city employees, contractors or elected officials on or after Feb. 28, his date of resignation. Written communication from government workers and officials generally must be disclosed under Maryland law.

But Mark J. Dimenna, a special assistant solicitor, declined to produce any information, pointing to an exception that permits withholding documents when their release would interfere with an investigation. In an email to The Sun, he wrote that the records being sought “directly relate to an ongoing investigation, and disclosing these records will prejudice the investigation.” He also noted that by denying access, he was not necessarily confirming that such emails exist.

Dimenna waited exactly 30 days to deny The Sun's request.

Comptroller Joan M. Pratt has accused Singleton of cutting “side deals with vendors.” Last month she produced an email in which she said Singleton purported to still be working on deals on behalf of City Hall after his resignation. Rawlings-Blake’s administration has denied those claims.

The city’s inspector general, David N. McClintock, said in June that he had launched a preliminary investigation into high-tech video phones and other phone equipment the mayor's office bought for some City Hall offices — a purchase that prompted allegations from Pratt of contracting irregularities. Pratt has said that the equipment purchases should have been subject to a separate competitive bidding process. McClintock, who reports to Rawlings-Blake, said he has requested documents related to the purchase of the phones.

The city solicitor, George Nilson, has said the transactions were covered under a purchasing contract for computer equipment that did go through the bidding process, and that the purchases were “neither out of the ordinary nor in violation of law.”

The denial of The Sun’s request marked the second time the Rawlings-Blake administration has used McClintock’s investigation as a reason to refuse to release information. At a July meeting of the Board of Estimates, the city’s spending panel, Deputy City Solicitor David Ralph advised acting Chief Information Officer Robert C. Minor to decline to answer Pratt’s questions about the equipment purchased because of McClintock’s review.

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