Mayor's cousin awarded $65K contract, but nepotism rules don't apply

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's cousin locked up a one-year contract for $65,400 to work as a project manager in Baltimore's Department of General Services last week.

The city's spending panel — controlled by the mayor — approved the contract for Babila Lima on Wednesday without discussion. Rawlings-Blake abstained, but the city ethics policy doesn't recognize a cousin in its nepotism rules.


The city's 118-page ethics code prohibits an elected official from employing a spouse, parent or stepparent, sibling or stepsibling, child, stepchild or foster child, mother-in-law or father-in-law, son-in-law or daughter-in-law, or grandparent or grandchild. Cousins are not included in the prohibition.

Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for Common Cause, said awarding the contract might not be illegal, but Rawlings-Blake should be more sensitive to perception.

Whether the ethics rules should be updated is a matter for Baltimoreans to decide, she said. "People are going to look at it and say, 'That's just another example of cronyism,'" Boyle said. "It doesn't look great."

The mayor's spokesman, Travis Tazelaar, said Rawlings-Blake wasn't involved with Lima's hiring.

Steve Sharkey, director of the Department of General Services, said Lima was hired on his own accord. Sharkey said he didn't know Lima was the mayor's cousin until a reporter asked about it.

"Babila has strong experience in business process, economic development and coordinating amongst different people," Sharkey said in an email.

Lima was hired to study the city's permitting process for special events and find ways to improve it, including making it easier for venues to apply to host an event.

Lima was brought on as temporary employee over the summer to analyze the permitting process for food trucks and mobile vendors, Sharkey said.

"Because of the high quality of work on food trucks, I also wanted him to perform a business process analysis on special events permits and asked him to stay on longer," Sharkey said.

Efforts to reach Lima for comment weren't successful.

Lima worked from 2010 to 2012 for the Peace Corps as an economic development volunteer in Mongolia.

Before that, he worked directly for Rawlings-Blake, which ethics rule also do not prohibit. He was a special assistant in the mayor's office and a business and development aide for Rawlings-Blake while she was president of the City Council.