An advisory board charged with reviewing the performance of Baltimore Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming has completed its review process and issued a favorable decision, according to documents Cumming released Wednesday.
The review, which includes notes from each member of the seven-member advisory board, is topped with a cover letter that praises Cumming for the “effective job” her office is doing.
“Suffice to say, we may not always agree on every detail,” the cover letter states. “That is understandable and perhaps inevitable. What we are most gratified to see is the overall agreement on large principles, and your willingness to implement several of the Board’s suggestions.”
Cumming released the review early Wednesday following a multi-month process that was the first conducted by the city under an oversight law for the inspector general approved via a charter amendment in 2018.
According to that amendment, the board is required to meet annually to review the inspector general’s performance, but the board was not convened for the first time until July.
Cumming and members of the board repeatedly sparred over the board’s composition this year. 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:
- Jim Shea, city solicitor and the board’s chairman;
- 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 that 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.
Cumming’s response to the review, which she also released Wednesday, again prominently noted her objections to the board’s composition.
“I pledge to continue to draw attention to the need to restructure the board with individuals who are not directly within the OIG’s investigational purview,” she wrote, suggesting that such a restructuring could be done via referendum.
Board members have argued the composition of the board is mandated by the charter and not subject to change. In his review, Shea said the board has received no specific requests for individual board members to step down, nor does it see a reason to ask any members to recuse themselves.
The concerns proved to have little bearing on the final review of Cumming this year. The review’s cover letter states that the group is pleased to see the “steps that you have already taken as a result of the Advisory Board’s suggestions, such as publishing a strategic plan.”
The evaluation, written by Shea and championed by the other members, called the office hardworking, capable and committed to its mission.
“Baltimore will not reach its full potential without an effective Inspector General,” Shea wrote. “The Baltimore City Office of the Inspector General is well on its way to meeting that standard.”
Shea wrote that the independence of Cumming’s office is “appropriate” but opens the city to legal liability.
“That independence carries with it a heightened burden on the office itself to ensure high quality in its performance,” he said.
Board members recommended Cumming formulate a strategic plan for her office, a step she already has taken, according to the review.
In her response, Cumming called the review process “constructive in that it has presented an opportunity for many of you to learn more about the workings of the OIG.”
Shea’s review also suggests Cumming consider recommending policy changes along with the results of her investigations and follow-up to see whether “remedial measures” have been taken. The solicitor acknowledged the recommendations could be “unproductive” given the office’s lack of enforcement powers, but policy recommendations could “amplify and extend” the office’s influence, he said.
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In her response, Cumming said it would be “inappropriate to assess the OIG’s performance base (sic) on a metric over which it has no control.”
The 2018 charter amendment gave the advisory board oversight of the inspector general who 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. Cumming is about halfway through her term.
Cumming waived her rights to privacy and confidentiality related to the review in a publicly circulated letter in October.
Cumming’s review comes after a year of criticism for the inspector general 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 approved recently by the Board of Estimates.
In April, the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP called on the city to convene a meeting of the oversight panel in the wake of the probe.