The Baltimore law department is taking an oversight role in the transition between the administrations of Comptroller Joan Pratt and her likely successor, Councilman Bill Henry, after a former Pratt aide was found shredding documents in City Hall.
Former Deputy Comptroller B. Harriette Taylor — who retired in April after working in Pratt’s office for more than 20 years — spent several hours across two days earlier this month shredding documents in her old workplace, according to the city’s top lawyer. The building is supposed to be closed to all but essential employees in an attempt to limit exposure to the coronavirus.
Pratt is on her way out after a quarter-century as the city’s fiscal watchdog. Henry defeated her in the June Democratic primary and there’s no Republican candidate, so he’s expected to get the job. With a handover a few months away, City Solicitor Dana Moore said Tuesday that the law department will play a part in the transition “to be sure that anything related to any investigation is preserved.”
Pratt’s office is the subject of an ongoing investigation by U.S. Department of Labor, which has declined to comment on an open matter.
It’s unclear exactly what paperwork was shredded.
“After the shredding of documents, I made clear it can’t happen again and that the law department needs to review any documents thought to be ones not needed in the incoming administration,” Moore said. “The law department will support the transition by reviewing documents before they are archived, recycled, shred or tossed.”
The city solicitor said she discussed her concerns late last week with the comptroller.
Pratt did not return a call Tuesday requesting comment, but she wrote in an email she is “unaware of any involvement by the City Law Department in the transition. Councilman Henry and I are working on all matters relating to the transition.”
The comptroller said she has no comment about which documents were shredded or why.
Henry said he understands someone from the law department will participate in a review of documentation as offices are cleaned out to determine what should be done with it.
“The law department is taking a very active role in document preservation, which is appropriate,” he said.
Moore said her office will do “whatever we need to do to make sure the transition happens smoothly, and nothing related to any investigation is compromised.”
She also asked the Baltimore inspector general’s office review Taylor’s Aug. 6 and Aug. 7 visits.
Moore said she received a call Aug. 7 from a city worker, who told her Taylor was shredding documents in City Hall. Moore said she immediately emailed and called people in the comptroller’s office to tell them any shredding must be stopped. Moore also brought members of the inspector general’s office in that day to collect and preserve any shredded materials.
As is her practice, Inspector General Isabel Cumming would not confirm or deny whether her office was investigating.
Maryland Policy & Politics
WBFF-TV was the first to report the shredding had occurred, based on the law department’s instructions to stop it.
More than a month before the incident, Moore emailed city employees June 30 to advise them of the guidelines for document retention “during this time of transition to a new mayoral administration and a new City Council term.”
Included in her letter were rules for transferring an office over to a successor.
“If your employment with the city is terminating or you move to another position or elected office, all of the records in your custody must be left for your successor,” the letter states. “NOTE THAT YOU MAY NOT RETAIN THE RECORDS PERSONALLY NOR DESTROY THEM AT THE END OF YOUR TERM OR EMPLOYMENT.”
The letter also notes that “destruction of government records is not permitted unless it is done in accordance with a record retention schedule approved by the Maryland state archivist.”
Moore said it’s possible the documents that were shredded were of no value. But with little information available, she’s concerned with even the appearance of impropriety.
“There’s an appearance that something was done that should not have been done. It’s really difficult to challenge that appearance given that there’s no detail,” she said. “There’s a gap. We will attempt to discern what actually happened.”