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Baltimore Comptroller Pratt responds to report alleging she approved contracts for groups on abstention list

Baltimore Comptroller Joan Pratt, shown in a 2012 photo, responds to a report alleging she approved contracts for groups on her Board of Estimates' "list of abstentions."
Baltimore Comptroller Joan Pratt, shown in a 2012 photo, responds to a report alleging she approved contracts for groups on her Board of Estimates' "list of abstentions." (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore Comptroller Joan Pratt asked the city inspector general to correct a report on Pratt’s voting history on the Board of Estimates, saying it may have left a misleading impression that the comptroller approved contracts in which she had a conflict of interest.

In her response to the report, Pratt said she maintains a long “abstentions list” — organizations that she has worked with, belonged to or filed tax returns for as a private accountant — in an effort to be transparent as a member of the city’s powerful Board of Estimates.

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But the groups highlighted in the inspector general’s report — which said Pratt voted dozens of times to award money to people she was affiliated with — were vendors that she had relationships with “many years prior” or had dealt with as individuals, rather than as a group, Pratt argued in her response. The comptroller said she had no affiliation with one of the vendors listed.

Inspector General Isabel Cumming said she stood by the report.

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Pratt’s response, filed Monday by law firm Barnes & Thornburg, seeks to defend the comptroller against allegations made in a report Cumming released in February. The inspector general issued an addendum in March.

Cumming’s initial report focused on a vote by Pratt in 2017 to sell 15 city lots to Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where Pratt has long been a member and trustee. Pratt told Cumming during the investigation that she should have abstained from that vote. Her response Monday noted that she spoke with the inspector general “without consulting legal counsel or an ethics advisor.”

Cumming’s report called that vote a conflict of interest.

Comptroller's response to report

In the 123-page addendum to the report, Cumming wrote there were more than two dozen times between December 2016 and October 2019 when Pratt voted on issues related to vendors on her abstentions list. The report also highlighted a pattern in the comptroller’s office of adding and then removing organizations from her list.

All members of the Board of Estimates maintain abstention lists. They are to refrain from voting on contracts when such an action might represent a conflict of interest.

Pratt argued this week the addendum gave a “false impression” that she had a conflict of interest in the matters listed.

Pratt said she provided individual tax services for people at two entities on the list, but those services were unrelated to the matters before the board. For one group on the list, a nonprofit, Pratt held a “nonemployee, uncompensated, nonleadership position” and was not active in its management or operation, she argued.

Pratt’s response said she was not interviewed by investigators before the addendum was published, and was not granted additional time to look into the claims.

“During a global pandemic and national health emergency, the inspector general denied Comptroller Pratt’s request for additional time to research and address these issues, and instead rushed to release the addendum,” Pratt’s response stated.

Inspector general's response

The response noted the addendum was released 40 days before a scheduled April 28 primary, in which Pratt was again seeking the Democratic nomination for comptroller. The primary was delayed until June 2 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and City Councilman Bill Henry defeated Pratt.

Pratt asked the Office of the Inspector General to issue a second addendum to the report incorporating information provided by Pratt and correcting a “misleading impression left by the addendum.”

The Office of the Inspector General issued a statement addressing Pratt’s response.

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“The addendum was based upon the factual comparison of Comptroller Pratt’s List of Abstentions (LOA) and her BOE votes,” the statement said. “The OIG also made it clear that it did not conduct further interviews for the addendum. The OIG did not address conflicts of interest in its addendum report. The OIG afforded Comptroller Pratt the opportunity to respond prior to issuing its report, even granting an extension.”

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