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Baltimore inspector general waives privacy rights ahead of scheduled closed-door meeting to review her performance

Baltimore Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming is waiving her rights to privacy and confidentiality during her review process, according to a letter Cumming sent an oversight board as they plan to meet behind closed doors next week.

The letter, dated Tuesday, states that Cumming has waived her rights “in keeping with the OIG’s commitment to transparency and accountability.” The letter notes that closed meetings are “discretionary” according to Maryland’s Open Meetings Act and requests that the meeting, scheduled for Oct. 28, be opened to the public.

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“The citizens of Baltimore deserve this level of transparency,” Cumming wrote.

Notice of the upcoming meeting, published on the city’s website, notes that the session will be closed to the public, however a reason is not stated. City officials have said previously that portions of the review process for Cumming will be closed because the review is a personnel matter.

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Personnel discussions are one of more than a dozen reasons a meeting may be closed under the Open Meetings Act. Others include legal advice, real estate transactions and security concerns.

Reached Wednesday, Cumming said “the letter speaks for itself.”

Solicitor Jim Shea, the advisory board’s chairman, said the board received the letter and officials are reviewing the law to determine whether the group can hold an open meeting to discuss a personnel matter “while complying with all applicable and relevant disclosure laws.”

The advisory board is due to meet for only the third time in its history next week. Since 2018, when a charter amendment was approved by voters, the advisory board has been required to meet annually to review the performance of the inspector general. However, it was not convened for the first time until July.

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Cumming and members of the board have repeatedly sparred over the board’s composition in the months since. In accordance with the charter, the board includes multiple elected officials or their designees, the city’s solicitor and, on an optional basis, the deans of two law schools.

Several members of the panel have appointed designees to sit in their place. The board as seated includes:

— Michael Huber, Mayor Brandon Scott’s chief of staff and his designee;

— City Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton, designee of Council President Nick Mosby;

— Deputy Comptroller Erika McClammy, designee 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.

Cumming has argued the membership creates the potential for conflict of interest since she has the power to investigate most of the board’s members. In a letter sent to the board ahead of its first meeting, Cumming said members have been “part of” her investigations in the past.

Shea has argued the composition of the board is mandated by the city’s charter. Several members have noted Cumming publicly campaigned in favor of the charter amendment when it was passed.

The charter amendment gave the advisory board oversight of the inspector general who had previously served at the pleasure of the mayor. The inspector general now serves a six-year term and can only be terminated by the advisory panel.

The dispute over the board’s membership spilled into the panel’s last session in August when Cumming used her opening statement to reiterate her objections. On that day, panel members also began the process of reviewing Cumming’s performance, asking numerous procedural questions about the office, about how the office decides whether a complaint is worthy of an investigation and about whether subjects of investigations are informed as investigations are underway.

The first meetings of the advisory panel come after a year of criticism for Cumming due to an investigation she conducted into State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, Nick Mosby’s wife. The results of the seven-month probe, which was conducted at Marilyn Mosby’s request, were released in February and focused on her travel. The report showed Marilyn Mosby spent 144 days away from Baltimore in 2018 and 2019 — or one workday a week; Marilyn Mosby’s office has disputed the number of days.

The inspector general also faulted Marilyn Mosby for not requesting approval from the city’s spending panel for more than a dozen trips in 2018 and 2019. Nonprofit groups flew her to conferences in destinations such as Kenya, Scotland and Portugal. Private attorneys for Mosby argued that because the nonprofits — not taxpayers — paid for her travels, Mosby had no obligation to request approval.

Shea reviewed the matter and concluded that Marilyn Mosby was not required to seek approval because the city’s administrative policies are unclear. The mayor asked the solicitor and city administrators to recommend policy fixes that were recently approved by the Board of Estimates.

In April, the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP called on the city to convene the oversight panel in the wake of the probe.

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