Baltimore’s spending board deferred decisions on contracts for two top public safety officials Wednesday, one day before both were due to be considered for confirmation by the City Council.
A $285,000 annual salary agreement with acting Police Commissioner Richard Worley and a $218,000 agreement with acting Fire Chief James Wallace were both expected to be approved by the mayor-controlled Board of Estimates.
However, the board deferred a decision on Worley’s contract without discussion Wednesday. Wallace’s contract, which was due to be a walk-on item on the agenda, was never introduced.
The delay could potentially reduce the financial burden of Worley’s contract, which includes a provision that guarantees him one year’s salary if the City Council does not confirm him. Wallace’s contract does not contain the same provision. The proposed agreement instead lets him keep his job leading the Office of Emergency Management if the council rejects his nomination.
The Board of Estimates will not take up either until after the council’s committee vote Thursday and an expected full vote of the council Oct. 2. The spending board next meets Oct. 4.
Comptroller Bill Henry said after Wednesday’s meeting that he was pleased with the decision to defer, which was made by the administration of Mayor Brandon Scott. Henry said he supports Worley’s nomination, but does not want to see added financial pressure on the council as it considers him, he said.
“This frees them to vote on the merits of the nominee,” Henry said. Approving the contract in advance would create “almost $300,000 worth of reasons for someone who was on the fence to vote, not just on the merit of the nominee, but on not wasting $300,000 of city money.”
The severance provision is nearly identical to one Scott, one of five members of the Board of Estimates, opposed as a council member when then-Commissioner Michael Harrison’s contract agreement was introduced in 2019.
At the time, Scott, then chairing the public safety committee, described the promise to pay Harrison a year’s salary as a “lottery jackpot” setting a “dangerous precedent that corrupts the confirmation process.”
Following Wednesday’s meeting, Scott defended the guaranteed salary in Worley’s contract arguing it’s “best practice” and the department is in a different position than it was in 2019 when Harrison was considered.
Worley’s starting salary is $10,000 more than Harrison initially made under his contract, but $2,500 less than Harrison was making when he stepped back from his duties in June. The three-year contract is shorter than Harrison’s, which was five years long. It includes a guaranteed annual raise of at least 3%.
Worley’s employment agreement will span from June 8, the day Scott named him acting police commissioner while simultaneously announcing that Harrison would be stepping down from his role, to June 7, 2026.
Wallace’s contract, which was posted online despite not being considered by the Board of Estimates, references a provision in the city’s charter, which states that municipal officers will serve four-year terms or until the end of a mayor’s term of office, whichever comes first. Scott, who has been in office since December 2020, is running for reelection in 2024.
Like Worley’s contract, Wallace’s guarantees a minimum annual raise of 3%. The deal also includes a six-month housing allowance and compensation for “reasonable” relocation expenses. Wallace was a resident of Pennsylvania as of July when he was nominated, but will be required to live in the city as chief.
A 33-year veteran of the fire department, Wallace has served as the head of emergency management since 2020. Shortly after Scott named him as his pick, The Baltimore Sun reported that Wallace faced pipe bomb and explosives charges in 1992. Scott’s administration said they were aware of the charges, but that they should not disqualify Wallace from leading the department.
Maryland Policy & Politics
The charges, which were levied in connection with an incident in which Wallace was discovered to be in possession of more than 50 pipe bombs, were recently expunged, meaning court records of the incident were removed from state files.
Asked about the charges Wednesday, Scott said there should be no discussion on the subject because of the expungement.
“If we’re going to pass these laws where we can’t talk about these things then we shouldn’t be talking about it,” he said.
Wallace would replace former Fire Chief Niles Ford who resigned in December following the release of a damning investigative report into a 2022 fire that killed three Baltimore firefighters. Ford was paid $229,000 in fiscal year 2021, the most recently available year in the city’s salary database.
Ford served under several administrations but was originally the choice of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in 2013.
Baltimore Solicitor Ebony Thompson, also a member of the Board of Estimates, said the police commissioner’s contract is not subject to the four-year limitation for city municipal officers because the commissioner serves at the pleasure of the mayor, according to city law.
Ford’s contract did not contain a reference to the four-year provision, but it still applied to him as fire chief, Thompson said.