Baltimore mayor and two aides stayed in $400-a-night hotel rooms in Washington — more than normal spending cap

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, along with two of her aides, stayed in $400-per-night hotel rooms in Washington while attending a conference last month, spending more than the daily amount city rules typically allow.

Pugh’s office spent $5,579 on the trip, according to the agenda for this week’s Board of Estimates meeting. The conference was put on by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and held at the Capital Hilton Hotel from Jan. 23 to Jan. 25.

Pugh and one of the aides paid for two nights in the hotel, while the other aide spent three nights there. The rooms cost $352 per night, plus $52 in taxes. The cost of attending was paid for using the mayor’s office’s official credit card.

City officials are typically supposed to get advance approval for travel that’s going to cost $800 or more. But Pugh’s office didn’t do that, according to the agenda, because “all required information was not available in sufficient time for Board approval.”

Pugh said the hotel was selected by conference organizers and that neither she nor the two staffers used city money to pay for food.

Pugh said she spends long hours holding meetings during conferences and finds ideas to help improve the city. The mayor said that at last year’s Conference of Mayors meeting she learned the importance of Opportunity Zones, special tax areas created by the recent federal tax reform and designed to attract investment to struggling communities, and instructed her staff to focus on making the most of the zones.

The city’s rules set out a $257 per day allowance, excluding tax, for staying in Washington during winter months. But the rules allow the mayor to request extra money for conferences she attends or sends someone to. It’s not clear whether that exception also applies to the two aides.

Pugh attended the same conference in 2017 and 2018, but it’s not clear whether she stayed overnight. In 2017, she attended a Board of Estimates meeting in Baltimore in the middle of the conference.

The morning the Conference of Mayors event began, the Board of Estimates approved $300-a-night hotel stays in Washington for City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, Council Vice President Sharon Middleton and an aide. That trip is in March, when the allowance rises to $327 per day.

A spokesman for Young previously said the cost was justified because it allowed him to attend early-morning and late-night events.

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