Every workday, thousands of people make the hourlong trek by car or train to work in the nation’s capital, but since the beginning of last year Baltimore has approved spending more than $10,000 for city officials to stay in Washington hotels.
The mayor — both of them — as well as aides and other city staff occasionally travel to Washington for multiday events, including for the recent National Association of Counties’ Legislative Conference.
Staying in Washington overnight allows for greater opportunities to network and attend early morning and evening events, said Lester Davis, a spokesman for Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young. Discussions started there, he said, “bear fruit for the city."
“For people who attend these conferences, a lot of the work takes place outside of official sessions,” Davis said. “There’s a benefit to having those kinds of conversations.”
Still, the cost of the hotel rooms they stay in, many around $300 a night, adds up. All spending is approved by the Board of Estimates.
And while some officials stayed in hotels there over the past year, other city staffers have instead driven the roughly 40 miles or taken the train — which can cost as low as $16 round trip — to events in Washington.
Six people working in the Office of the Inspector General spent four days in Washington last March to get training from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. Rather than pay for hotels, the city reimbursed each of them about $190 for mileage.
“If we can save money by traveling back and forth, we do it,” said Inspector General Isabel Cumming, whose office is charged with rooting out waste. “We try to set an example.”
The practice spans administrations. In January 2019, former Mayor Catherine Pugh, along with two of her aides, stayed in $400-per-night hotel rooms in Washington to attend a conference, spending more than the daily amount typically allowed by city rules.
City Councilman Bill Henry, who attended a Washington conference early last year, said it’s important to stay overnight at a hotel, especially when sessions kick off early. But he cautioned it’s possible to do so more cheaply. His hotel stay cost just under $200.