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Baltimore seeks to settle travel reporting issues with new guidelines after prosecutor Marilyn Mosby disputed IG’s findings

A work group that reviewed the city of Baltimore’s policies regarding elected officials’ expenses after an investigation of State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s travel has recommended sweeping guidelines that would require approval for many of their trips, even if the city isn’t paying the whole cost.

At Mosby’s request, Baltimore’s inspector general reviewed her expenses before finding fault in February with her practices, saying she should have requested approval from the city’s spending board for more than a dozen trips in 2018 and 2019.

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When 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 Mayor Brandon Scott set up the work group to examine the policies.

The updated policies went Wednesday to the spending board, the Board of Estimates, for approval. The board deferred a vote on them until its next meeting on June 2.

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The office of Mosby’s husband, Democratic City Council President Nick J. Mosby, requested the postponement “to learn more information about how the revisions would affect reporting standards for the members [of the council],” spokeswoman Yvonne Wenger said. She said the updated policies were added to the agenda late last week and council members did not get a briefing on them.

Nick Mosby is also the chair of the Board of Estimates.

The state’s attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The guidelines would require elected officials to seek approval for travel valued at $100 or more if it is paid for by a third party, such as an organization sponsoring a conference. It also would require elected officials to disclose details of their destination, as well as the purpose and cost of a trip and who is funding it.

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Business trips, which include conferences, conventions, seminars and other “approved events dealing with topics of value to the city,” would have to be disclosed and approved by the spending board if the travel will take an elected official outside the city for at least seven days, if the travel will be outside the continental U.S., or if the total value of the trip, including a portion paid by a third party, exceeds $800, according to a copy of the guidance.

The Democratic mayor, in a statement, said the guidelines will settle questions about elected officials’ travel “once and for all.”

Shea, a Scott appointee, said the policies “bring clarity to the rules and emphasize the importance of transparency — where officials are traveling, who is paying for it, and how much it costs — as well as accountability — how much time are officials spending away from Baltimore, doing what.”

The guidance would take up 27 pages in the businesses expenses section of the city’s administrative manual. The mayor has said the manual is not regularly updated and would benefit from a comprehensive overview.

After Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming announced her findings of a seven-month investigation into Marilyn Mosby’s travel, gifts and private businesses, Mosby’s attorneys said their client and other officials didn’t need to ask for permission when private groups cover their expenses.

“The misrepresentation of the rules was the central theme of the inspector general’s report and subsequent misleading headlines and media coverage,” Mosby said in a statement at the time.

Democratic Comptroller Bill Henry asked Shea to research the matter. The city solicitor found no wrongdoing by Mosby and said the guidelines were unclear.

Additional elements of the updated procedures would require elected officials to submit receipts for travel expenses within 30 days of coming home and seek cash advances via written approval to the Board of Estimates at least 20 days before departure.

If an elected official failed to make a timely disclosure, the Board of Estimates could issue a letter of reprimand. Subsequent reporting failures could result in fines starting at $100 and increasing by $100 for each successive failure. The board could waive a penalty if good cause was shown.

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