Council votes down bill seeking audits of city agencies

The Baltimore City Council defeated legislation Monday aimed at requiring city agencies to be audited at least once every two years.

The council voted 8-7 against the measure sponsored by Councilman Carl Stokes, who appeared disheartened by the outcome.

"I'm almost too stunned to speak," Stokes said. "The young people, fire, police, citizens in general, they're asking me, 'You don't care enough to show us how you're spending the money we're entrusting to you? You won't be transparent?'

"Everyone else is doing it. It's already a best practice," Stokes said. "We're one of the very few jurisdictions in the country to not share with their citizens how their tax dollars are being spent."

The legislation would have put a charter amendment requiring the audits before city voters in November. MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blakeopposed the measure but asked the city comptroller's office to examine several agencies that have not been audited in years, starting with the Department of Recreation and Parks.

The mayor argued the bill would be too expensive because all 55 city agencies would need to be audited.

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Youngand council members Bill Henry, Warren Branch, Mary Pat Clarke, Helen Holton and James Kraft joined Stokes in voting for the measure, which was sent back to committee.

As the vote on the bill neared, a member of Rawlings-Blake's staff rushed to alert Councilman Brandon Scott, who had stepped out of the chamber. Scott, an ally of the mayor's, cast a deciding vote against the bill.

Councilman Wiliam "Pete" Welch also voted no, despite being listed as a co-sponsor. Both Councilmen Nick Mosby and Bill Cole made speeches in favor of the concept of audits, but voted against the bill.

"Sending it to the voters and changing the charter isn't the solution," Cole said. "Fundamentally, we should be doing audits of taxpayer funds as frequently as possible, and I support that effort. I cannot support a charter amendment."

The Department of Audits, which has 37 auditor positions — 31 of which are filled — falls under Comptroller Joan M. Pratt's office. She has said conducting the audits would be possible if Rawlings-Blake provided the funding in her budget.

In other action, council members confirmed by a 9-6 vote their decision to reject millions of dollars in budget cuts, giving final approval to the mayor's $2.3 billion spending plan. The $6 million in cuts had been part of an effort, led by Young, to redirect funds to prevent the closure of recreation centers and fire companies.

The council also approved a bill, sponsored by Mosby, to ban liquor stores from selling food, soda and other merchandise to minors.

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