Baltimore Mayor Pugh says City Council will receive more information soon on police commissioner nominee

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said Wednesday that City Council members will receive more background information on her pick to become police commissioner when Joel Fitzgerald is formally nominated next week, including a resume he previously declined to make public.

It’s not clear precisely what information will be shared, nor whether the submission will include a complete background check report that members of the council have been pushing to see.

In an interview, Pugh said some information would be withheld to protect the privacy of Fitzgerald’s family.

“The stuff that can be shared will be shared,” Pugh said.

Much of the information the city has gathered on Fitzgerald is likely protected by state laws that guard personnel records, meaning officials can’t disclose it, and it’s not clear how much Fitzgerald is willing to release voluntarily.

But a third council member — Zeke Cohen — announced Wednesday that he would not be able to vote in favor of Fitzgerald unless he can review the background investigation report.

Cohen described a testy interaction when he asked Fitzgerald on Tuesday to share the file.

Cohen said Fitzgerald told him to submit a Freedom of Information Act request for any material that is publicly available and expressed frustration that the process in Baltimore was “more intensive than he had experienced before.”

“Baltimore is a tough town and anyone who wants to lead the police department needs to understand that our city is at a moment where people are demanding transparency and engagement,” Cohen said.

“He didn’t seem angry. He just seemed a little frustrated that I was asking for what I think he perceived to be personal information.”

On Monday, the chairman and vice chairman of the council’s public safety committee, Brandon Scott and Ryan Dorsey, also said they would not vote in favor of Fitzgerald without seeing the report.

Fitzgerald’s nomination would need a majority of the 15-member council to be approved.

Pugh said that Fitzgerald enjoyed his meetings with council members and was smiling when she last saw him on Tuesday.

“He shared views on different things,” she said. “He was comfortable to have met them all.”

Pugh said the confirmation process remains on track and that the community is going to have a chance to get to know Fitzgerald.

“We just continue to move forward,” she said.

The city hired US ISS Agency, a North Carolina private investigation company, to probe Fitzgerald’s background, but officials have declined to say precisely what checks were carried out.

City Solicitor Andre Davis has said the investigators’ report is a personnel record and so legally protected from public disclosure. He said he is reluctant to release it to the City Council in case that step weakens those legal protections.

Fitzgerald is currently police chief in Fort Worth, Texas, and told reporters Monday that he intends to continue in that job until the council holds a final vote on his nomination. That’s expected in late January.

Cohen said the decision on who should become police commissioner is critically important to the city.

“Police officers and the public need to have faith that we are fully investigating every facet of the nominee’s background,” Cohen said. “The council and public deserve to know all that there is to know about our next police commissioner.”

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