A bill that would have placed on the November ballot a plan to audit city agencies every two years was defeated today in the City Council.
Sponsor Carl Stokes said he was “stunned” by the 7-8 rejection, and charged three councilmen with switching their votes under pressure from the mayor’s office.
“I was completely thrown for a loop,” Stokes said, of the “nay” votes of Councilmen William H. Cole IV, Nick Mosby and William “Pete” Welch, all of whom Stokes said promised to support the bill. (Welch was one of the sponsors of the bill.)
The bill was believed to have had the lukewarm support of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, whose administration at first opposed the bill as too costly, until the mayor released a letter on June 12 suggesting that City Comptroller Joan Pratt should conduct audits of large city agencies “on a routine basis.”
Yesterday, however, the mayor’s representative on the City Council, Edward Reisinger, took the initiative in quickly moving the bill to a vote under the steady gaze of Kim Washington, deputy director of government and community affairs, and other members of the mayor’s inner circle.
“The mayor didn’t like this bill because of the person who sponsored it,” Stokes told The Brew. “I am bothered by the lack of civility of my colleagues and by the mayor’s office. This is not the way to do good legislation.”
Not Audited in Decades
Stokes’ bill had gained popular momentum in the last two months after it was revealed that most city agencies have not been audited since the reign of Mayor William Donald Schaefer in the 1980s, if not earlier.
“No one remembers when departments, such as Recreation and Parks, were audited last,” Stokes said, adding, “In truth, we don’t know if the numbers we are voting on in the budget are real. All this bill asked the City Council to do is to allow the voters to decide whether they want audits.”
Referring to Cole, Mosby and Welch, Stokes said in an interview, “They not only had told me they support this [bill], they said they were enthusiastic about it – that it makes good sense.”
The bill also had the support of community activists and several former city officials.
“Nay” Voters Say they Support Audits
Mosby and Welch said this evening that they fully support agency audits, but had reservations about the Stokes bill.
“I’m always a friend of auditing. My career started in auditing,” said Welch, who represents West Baltimore. But he said, “I’m not sure you need to bring the process and policy before the voters. If you do, each voter will spend an hour in the voter booth, micromanaging the system.”
Noting that the defeated audit bill was sent back to the Council’s Judiciary Committee for further review, Welch said, “I’ll have wonderful amendments for Carl’s bill. I’d like to support it in a different form.”
Mosby said that his “no” vote today should not be interpreted as being against audits. “I’m in favor, but it has to be effective,” he said after the vote.
He faulted the Stokes bill for calling for the audits of all city agencies every two years, rather than being more selective.
“[The bill] gives a pretense to voters that we’ll do [audit] 30 or 40 different agencies. The likelihood of that would be slim. I want something to be effective instead of currying to your emotions. That means a focus on agencies that have the size and budget that makes sense to audit.”
Mosby, who represents parts of northwest and north Baltimore, called for auditing rules that are “dynamic,” and faulted the Stokes approach to auditing as “static.”
Fellow councilman, Brandon Scott, who voted against the bill, said he, too, supported audits, but warned against “a cobra that has no venom.”
In order for audits to be effective in Baltimore, Scott said, the mayor, department heads and the City Council have to “all come together and make this happen. Then we’d have something that is good.”
Cole did not return a phone call seeking comment tonight.
Cole, Mosby, Reisinger, Scott and Welch joined Robert Curran, Rochelle “Rikki” Spector and Sharon Green Middleton in opposing the bill.
The Councilmen voting in favor were in addition to Stokes: James B. Kraft, Bill Henry, Helen Holton, Warren Branch, Mary Pat Clarke and City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young.