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Baltimore inspector general says she didn’t mean to undermine qualifications of oversight board

Baltimore’s inspector general has sent the board responsible for reviewing her performance a second letter in a week’s time, this time saying she did not mean to undermine the group’s qualifications for the role.

In the latest letter, sent Thursday to all seven members of the board, Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming said she felt compelled to clarify a previous letter in which she said the current composition of the board, which includes five officials who are members of city government, could affect the “independence and autonomy” of the inspector general’s office.

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The first letter further stated that multiple members of the board have been “part of” Cumming’s investigations or are currently involved in investigations, which “at very least creates an appearance of bias.”

Baltimore Solicitor Jim Shea, who chairs the oversight panel, said during the group’s first meeting Tuesday he was “confident we will not be swayed by the implicit implications of the letter that we are unfit for the office.”

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In her most recent letter, Cumming said she did not mean to give such an impression.

“The qualifications of this board was not the issue,” she wrote “It was the fact individuals are part of the investigative jurisdiction of the OIG that was the focus of my letter.”

Cumming previously said she supports the panel that oversees her office and testified in favor of its creation in 2018. But her letters have cast doubt about the board’s structure as the members prepare to review her performance after a contentious year.

Cumming has faced criticism for an investigation into State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s travel that was requested by Mosby. The Baltimore chapter of the NAACP called on the city to convene the oversight panel earlier this year in the wake of the probe.

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Baltimore’s charter was amended in 2018 to require an annual meeting of the oversight board to review the inspector general’s performance, but the group had never met until this week.

Under the law, the oversight board includes at least five people: the mayor or his designee, the City Council president or his designee, the comptroller or his designee, the city solicitor or an appointed member of the city law department, and a member of City Council appointed by the council president. If the mayor and council president agree, two additional members take seats: the deans of the law schools at the University of Maryland and University of Baltimore.

As seated, the board includes Shea as well as:

— Michael Huber, Mayor Brandon Scott’s chief of staff, serving in place of the mayor;

— City Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton, serving in place of Council President Nick Mosby;

— Deputy Comptroller Erika McClammy, serving in place of Comptroller Bill Henry;

— Councilman Eric Costello, City Council’s representative on the board;

— Dean Donald Tobin of the University of Maryland School of Law;

— Dean Ronald Weich of the University of Baltimore School of Law.

A change to the composition of the board would require another amendment to the city’s charter.

On Thursday, Henry issued a statement saying he would ask the members of the city’s charter review commission, expected to convene later this year, to make recommendations for updates to the statute based on “national best practices.”

“Councilman [Ryan] Dorsey’s charter amendment in 2018 to create an independent OIG was a massive achievement and now is the time to build on our progress and adopt best practices that further ensure the transparency, accountability and independence of that office,” Henry said.

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