If a private group wants to fly a Baltimore politician around the world to speak at conferences, does the official need approval from the city?
That’s the question before City Hall lawyers as they try to determine whether State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby should have sought permission before flying to destinations such as Kenya, Scotland and Portugal as a guest and speaker at criminal justice conferences.
Baltimore Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming said Mosby should have asked the city spending panel to approve her travels — no matter that her trips were paid for by private groups not taxpayers. In a report issued Tuesday, the inspector general found Mosby was out of town 144 workdays in 2018 and 2019, an average of one day per week.
On Wednesday, Baltimore Comptroller Bill Henry said he was surprised by the inspector general’s conclusion that such travel requires approval. He asked the city solicitor to research the matter and report back to the Board of Estimates.
“What would the rationale be behind having the board approve something that didn’t involve city money?” Henry asked at the board meeting. “If this is something that is on the books somewhere, whether it’s code or administrative manual ... if I could also ask for some research into what was the intent behind it, that somebody felt this board needed to be approving something that did not actually involve city money.”
“We’ll get back to you very promptly,” City Solicitor Jim Shea told him.
In an interview Thursday, Erin Murphy, chief counsel for the state’s attorney’s office, referred to sections of the city administrative manual that state board approval is required when an elected official wants to be reimbursed. Murphy said the inspector general got it wrong.
“It’s an incorrect reading of the Baltimore City Administrative manual,” she said. “The Board of Estimates deals with monies. Mrs. Mosby was never requesting any reimbursement ... there was no requirement to submit a request to the board.”
In her report, Cumming also cited the administrative manual, but she wrote that it states Mosby should have sought approval because her trips exceeded five days or $800, no matter that a private group was paying.
Their disagreement now heads to the city law department to resolve.
Mosby, a Democrat, has declined requests for an interview. Her personal lawyers issued a statement noting the inspector general turned up “no financial improprieties whatsoever.” Mosby’s office issued a statement, too, saying Baltimore’s top prosecutor was glad to have the matter resolved and looking to move forward.
On Thursday, Gov. Larry Hogan held a press conference on the coronavirus where he was asked about the state’s attorney’s time away.
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“If these allegations are true, it’s outrageous and unacceptable,” said Hogan, a Republican.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office said they are waiting for the State Ethics Commission’s final written report on the matter. Mosby’s attorneys have said the ethics commission told them she did nothing wrong, although they have not provided any documentation from the commission
The state’s attorney reported 23 trips over the two years on her state ethics disclosures, the inspector general found.
Jennifer Allgair, executive director of the ethics commission, has declined to comment.
Last summer, Mosby asked the inspector general to review her travel and business dealings. She had faced growing questions about her trips and her formation of a private travel business while in office.
The inspector general also found Mosby deducted $5,000 in business expenses on her federal taxes for losses associated with the private companies, though Mosby has said her companies existed in name only with no customers or revenues.