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Baltimore Council President Nick Mosby again requests deferral of new travel expense rules for elected officials

The city’s adoption of a new expense policy for Baltimore’s elected officials — recommended in the wake of an investigation into State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s travel — is again being delayed at the request of City Council President Nick Mosby.

Nick Mosby, who is married to Marilyn Mosby, wants to make changes to the proposal, such as setting a higher threshold for trips that would need approval by the Board of Estimates.

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As initially proposed by a city work group, the updated policy would require elected officials to get approval from the board for trips, even when the city isn’t paying the whole cost. The work group recommended the changes after the investigation by Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming.

The state’s attorney requested the probe, which Cumming’s office completed in February. Cumming reported that Marilyn Mosby should have requested approval from the spending board for more than a dozen trips in 2018 and 2019.

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The Democratic prosecutor pushed back, saying she didn’t need such approval because third parties, not the city, paid for the travel. City Solicitor Jim Shea said the rules were ambiguous, and Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott ordered the work group to examine the policies.

The policy now before the Board of Estimates would require elected officials to seek approval for travel valued at $100 or more if it is paid for by a third party. The proposed rule change also would require such officials to disclose details about their destination, as well as the purpose and cost of a trip and who is paying for it.

But, while it was slated for a vote May 19, Nick Mosby, the board’s chair, requested a deferral to June 2. His spokeswoman, Yvonne Wenger, said at the time that he wanted to “learn more information about how the revisions would affect reporting standards for the members [of the City Council].”

Now, two weeks later, Nick Mosby has asked again for a deferral. In an email to officials representing the mayor, solicitor and comptroller, Matthew Stegman of Nick Mosby’s staff said the council president needed more time to prepare “additional clarifying and strengthening amendments.”

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Among those amendments is one that would raise the proposed threshold for requesting travel approval to $300 if a third party is paying, according to a letter from Aaron DeGraffenreidt, general counsel for Nick Mosby’s office. He said even the lowest-cost trips exceed $100 in travel and other expenses.

“We genuinely appreciate the opportunity to participate in this process and we would welcome any request for further input from the Council President’s Office,” DeGraffenreidt wrote in the letter Friday to Shea and city Human Resources Director Quinton Herbert.

Wenger said the proposed rule change first appeared on the Board of Estimates agenda before City Council members could be briefed, prompting the first deferral. A briefing was held last week, she said.

Scott controls three of the votes on the five-member Board of Estimates, his and those of two of his appointees, and could see through an approval of the new rules.

But Mosby is not the only member to express reservations about the proposal. Democratic Comptroller Bill Henry also proposed revisions; he seeks to clarify the role the Board of Ethics should play in regulating elected officials’ travel, said his spokeswoman, K.C. Kelleher.

“We want to make sure anything that goes before the Board of Estimates is vetted appropriately beforehand,” she said.

Any board member can defer an agenda item without a board vote.

Other details of the revised policy include that an elected official would need to seek approval from the Board of Estimates for trips such as conferences, conventions, seminars and other “approved events dealing with topics of value to the city” if the travel is to last more than a week. Board approval also would be needed for elected officials if they’re going outside the continental U.S., or if the total value of their trip, including a portion paid by a third party, exceeds $800.

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