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Baltimore legislation would black out city officials' addresses in ethics filings

A proposal to bring Baltimore in line with state ethics laws would shield the home addresses of city employees in public financial disclosures — a move that would make it difficult for the public to know whether residency requirements for officials are being followed.

Avery Aisenstark, the city’s ethics director, briefed City Council members at their working lunch this week on legislation that they will consider to amend Baltimore’s ethics code.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke immediately raised questions about the provision to shield the home addresses. Clarke asked whether the step was required under state law and Aisenstark said it was, calling the change a privacy provision.

“What were they thinking about? We’re talking about transparency,” Clarke said. “Where they live is important to us. It is the subject of legislation and policy.”

The proposed ethics legislation follows Mayor Catherine Pugh’s endorsement of a bill under consideration by the General Assembly that would allow the city to force senior police commanders to live in Baltimore. Managers in other agencies already face such residency requirements.

In annual ethics filings, city employees are required to disclose details about their homes and personal finances. The filings are designed to guard against conflicts of interest and have to be signed under the penalty of perjury.

The list of employees required to file a disclosure is spelled out in city law. It generally includes those with management responsibilities, regulatory roles or investigative powers.

The filings are available to members of the public who come to City Hall in person to sign up for an account to review the records online.

When the mayor announced her endorsement of the police legislation, The Baltimore Sun used the filings to determine how many police commanders lived in the city.

But if the City Council passes the amendments to the ethics laws, it would be much more difficult for the public to find a reliable record of where city employees live.

The ethics proposal includes a number of other provisions to bring the city’s law into line with state requirements adopted in 2017. It would bar former lobbyists who take jobs working for the city from taking action on issues they had been involved in as lobbyists. It also would require public officials to disclose if their spouses are lobbyists.

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