Sun reporter barred from City Hall while seeking CitiStat reports

UPDATE: On Thursday Rawlings-Blake spokesman Ryan O'Doherty issued this statement: "We are communicating with the Baltimore Sun and other media outlets to provide a detailed briefing in the near future on the CitiStat program and the kinds of datasets that are available and we hope it is helpful and illuminating to the Sun's readership. In the meantime, we always encourage the public to visit our OpenBaltimore website which includes much of the same data and more public information than most local governments provide. Thanks."

Two years ago, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake celebrated the 10th anniversary of CitiStat, the city office that uses data-tracking to hold agency heads accountable for the way they spend taxpayer money and carry out their public duties.

“One of Baltimore’s hottest tourist spots” is how she described CitiStat’s City Hall outpost in a Baltimore Sun op-ed article co-written with Gov. Martin O’Malley, who created the office as mayor in 2000.

“During the last 10 years,” they wrote, “a small government office there has attracted thousands of elected officials, foreign dignitaries and good government aficionados from all over the country and the world. To them, Baltimore is associated with one word: CitiStat.”

Yet when I tried to visit CitiStat’s office Monday to review its reports, I was barred from even entering City Hall.

The reason given by a police officer who provides security was that I had no appointment. The mayor’s spokesman said via email that I should have known better than to try to “barge into internal meeting spaces and offices."

My unscheduled visit came after several unsuccessful attempts to get information by other means. First I checked CitiStat’s website. But the most recent reports are from June 2010, around the time of the mayor’s op-ed, and the site’s latest “visible results” are from 2007.

Next I filed a Public Information Act request with Alexander Sanchez, the mayor’s chief of staff. More than three weeks later, on Aug. 9, I received a three-paragraph response from the city’s Law Department.

“The records responsive to your request are raw data that is submitted to CitiStat by various City Agencies,” wrote Mark Dimenna, a special assistant solicitor. “Once the data sets are reviewed they are made available to the public on OpenBaltimore” — the city’s open data website.

But which data sets are made available to the public? The letter didn’t say, and OpenBaltimore is not set up to track which data comes from CitiStat. If you type “CitiStat” into the search bar on the OpenBaltimore site, you get only two hits.

I asked Ryan O’Doherty, the mayor’s director of policy and communications, for a list of all CitiStat data sets posted on OpenBaltimore. He did not respond.

So on Monday morning, I called CitiStat hoping at least to find out when it holds its regular meetings.

CitiStat analyst Sean Norris told me he couldn’t answer that question because I’m a reporter. “I’m not trained to speak to the media about the way we operate as a city,” he said, referring me to Ian Brennan, the mayor’s press secretary. I called and emailed Brennan. He didn’t respond.

Having exhausted those other avenues, I decided Monday afternoon to visit CitiStat in person. I didn’t get very far. Just inside the front door at City Hall, a police officer asked me where I was going. Sixth-floor to CitiStat, I said. Do you have an appointment? she asked. No, I didn’t.

No appointment, no entry. The officer asked the man at the information desk to call up to CitiStat. Whoever answered his call told him to refer me to Brennan, the press secretary.

I sent both O’Doherty and Brennan an email.

“Hi,” I wrote. “I’m at the front door of City Hall. I’m here to visit CitiStat to see what reports they have. CitiStat didn’t give security permission for me to enter, so the police officer barred me from going through the metal detector. Please call my cell 410 206 7477 or come downstairs. Thanks.”

O’Doherty wrote back: “I’m sorry, did you have an appointment? I gather not.”

Me: “No. I didn’t know I needed an appointment. I would like to review CitiStat reports and since they aren’t online I thought I could review them in person. Is that not possible?”

O’Doherty: “I believe you sent in a [Public Information Act] request for that information, if I recall correctly.”

Me: “That’s correct. However, the city provided no information. Unless CitiStat does nothing, I’m pretty sure the office does generate reports — perhaps reports that are similar to what StateStat posts routinely on its website. So I thought it made sense to visit. Are you saying it isn’t possible to go up to CitiStat because I have no appointment?

O’Doherty: “Scott, All reporters who have covered city hall over many years know that they can’t just barge into internal meeting spaces and offices. I really don’t understand your approach.”

Me: “I’m just trying to report on CitiStat. You’ve made clear I cannot visit today and review its reports, so how about tomorrow, Thursday or Friday? My schedule is clear.”

No response.

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