Baltimore’s spending board needed to reconvene to hear items from its agenda Wednesday after city officials incorrectly advertised the panel’s first virtual session of the day.
As it has weekly for more than a year, the Board of Estimates met at 9 a.m. via a web platform, due to the ongoing closure of City Hall amid the coronavirus pandemic. The meetings typically are streamed live on the city’s Charm TV website.
But that didn’t happen Wednesday because Charm TV was carrying the second day of the city’s annual budget hearings, which also started at 9 a.m. A link to join the Board of Estimates meeting on the city’s online meeting platform was not provided on the comptroller’s website nor on the city’s online legislative calendar. A code to call into the meeting was provided, but it didn’t work.
The meeting was streamed on the City Council’s Facebook page, however.
The five-member board approved most of a 113-page agenda, including increasing fees that the Baltimore Police Department charges to have officers staff special events like festivals and parades. The board deferred a vote on a new expense policy for Baltimore’s elected officials to June 9.
Because of the earlier problem, a three-member quorum of Democratic Comptroller Bill Henry, Deputy Public Works Director Matthew Garbark and Deputy Solicitor Darnell Ingram met at noon to rehear the agenda. The trio did not discuss any of the items the board talked about Wednesday morning.
Henry said Charm TV would post video of the morning discussion by Thursday.
Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott and Democratic City Council President Nick Mosby, also members of the board, appeared at the morning meeting but did not join the group at noon. Ingram stood in for Solicitor Jim Shea.
Scott’s spokeswoman, Stefanie Mavronis, said Charm TV was never scheduled to carry the board meeting due to the budget hearings superseding the regular coverage.
She agreed there should have been a way for people to call in to hear the Board of Estimates meeting live. Mavronis said posting such information correctly is the responsibility of the council president’s office; Mosby is chair of the board, as well as president of the council.
The notice posted to the council’s Facebook page announced early Wednesday that the meeting would be shown live there, but the comptroller’s website, where the board’s agenda is posted, carried the usual Charm TV link.
City Hall remains closed to the public, although other government buildings have reopened as the pandemic has abated. The State House in Annapolis reopened May 21 to visitors. Maryland courts resumed full operations, including jury trials, in April. City libraries began to reopen in March.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, a Democrat, announced Tuesday that county buildings would reopen July 19 to the public.
While the Baltimore City Council’s budget hearings are being streamed online, members of the public and the press cannot attend in person at the council chambers in City Hall. A select number of council members are allowed in the chambers, and the city’s department heads have appeared in person to testify.
The public remains barred from entering city buildings to pay bills, city Finance Director Henry Raymond said this week. A lock box is available outside to drop off payments.
Scott said last week that City Hall will remain closed for several months as city officials contemplate how to open it safely. He said City Hall, which opened in 1875, was not built for social distancing.
“We have to put all of those things in place as we look at how we’re going to be operating the city, not just in person at City Hall, but period after we’re coming out of this pandemic,” he said.