Joan M. Pratt
Democratic candidate for Baltimore City Comptroller
Residence Homeland, Baltimore City
Education B.S., Accounting, Hampton University; M.S., Taxation, University of Baltimore
Previous political experience
Why are you running for office?
I am one of the most experienced leaders in City government. At a time when Baltimore is facing an unprecedented loss of revenue due to COVID-19, tough decisions must be made about how we structure our budget to serve our most vulnerable citizens and preserve essential services. The pandemic is changing how government operates, and the financial effects will be felt well beyond the current fiscal year. I have the experience to evaluate programs and funding requests, and I have the network and relationships to make the tough choices and get the hard tasks accomplished.
I also serve on the boards of the City’s employee pension funds and on the City Board of Finance, which approves City bond issues for important projects like school construction, stormwater management, and affordable housing development. I will continue to use those positions to safeguard the integrity of our employees’ retirement savings and to make sure the City’s capital projects serve areas of the City that have suffered from under-investment by the private sector.
Residents have called for more audits of Baltimore’s government. Do you think the city’s auditing process needs to change -- why or why not?
Fundamentally, the City’s auditing process is sound and appropriate. There have been a lot of news reports about major audit findings at City agencies—that means the Department of Audits is functioning as it should. It is important that the City Auditor and his staff function independently, with no influence from the Comptroller or any other elected official. The process and requirements for regular audits of City agencies are clearly spelled out in the City Charter, and audits are completed thoroughly and on time. One potential area of improvement involves working more closely with the CitiStat performance management system to better ensure agencies are held accountable for addressing deficiencies discovered during regular audits. That is something I look forward to implementing in my next term.
How would you work to modernize the Office of the Comptroller?
I have already started modernizing the workflow processes in the Comptroller’s Office. In collaboration with the City’s Office of Information and Technology, I am actively exploring ways to transition to a document management system that is entirely electronic. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I responded swiftly to the need for City employees to work remotely by implementing new procedures to allow acceptance of documents for the Board of Estimates via email with electronic signatures. This streamlined the process of preparing the agenda for each weekly meeting and eliminated the need for submission of multiple paper copies of documents by City agencies. It has been beneficial for the Board of Estimates staff and for the agencies, and I will continue to work towards a paperless system.
After the “Healthy Holly” scandal, voters are looking for more transparency around city spending. How would you ensure greater openness from the comptroller’s office?
As a member of the Board of Estimates, the Comptroller plays a key role as an advocate for the taxpayers. The Board meets every week of the year except for certain “recess” periods around holidays, and the meetings are public and on the record. I will continue to use my seat on the Board to question City agencies when they bring forward contracts for approval that are not in the best interest of the City or of the people whose taxes make up its budget. I will also do what I have done consistently—engage with community leaders, our students, and nonprofit groups to speak directly to the people about what the Comptroller’s Office does and how it benefits the citizens of Baltimore.
Council President Brandon Scott is proposing restructuring the Board of Estimates. Do you support that move?
The Board of Estimates as currently structured favors the City’s chief executive because the Mayor is a member of the Board and appoints two of the other four members. That is not a criticism of any specific Mayor; it’s just a fact. At the State level the Board of Public Works, which serves a similar function to the Board of Estimates, has three members: the Governor, the Comptroller, and the Treasurer. The Governor and Comptroller are elected directly by the people and are directly accountable to them, while the Treasurer is chosen by majority vote of the members of the State legislature. This type of structure has worked well at the state level and would be beneficial for the City as well. Direct accountability to voters results in vigorous debate and heightened sensitivity to the peoples’ priorities.