Inside City Hall
Resurrected: City Council poised to approve $21 million bill for Baltimore Police overtime tonight
The same spending bill was rejected by the Council’s Budget Committee last July
Above: Discussion about a $21 million appropriation for Baltimore police overtime had one odd feature: the money had already been spent. (Fern Shen)
A bill that a City Council committee voted down over the summer is on the agenda at tonight’s full Council meeting – a measure approving $21 million to cover the Baltimore Police Department’s ever-spiraling overtime.
With BPD’s total overtime spending of $47 million presenting almost three times what was budgeted last year – and with questions swirling about mismanagement and the prevalence of fraud – the same bill was rejected by the Budget and Appropriations Committee last July.
The fact that the OT bill has now been exhumed and placed before the full Council struck one resident as concerning.
“Why was this unfavorable three months ago and is favorable now?” sharp-eyed citizen Melissa Schober asked last week, after spotting the OT bill’s appearance on tonight’s online agenda.
“We’re still without a police commissioner, the audit is out and we have zero fiscal controls on OT,” Schober complained in an email to The Brew.
On the contrary, said Lester Davis, spokesman for City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, when asked about the return of the OT bill.
“There is so much more oversight now,” he said.
But wasn’t the bill killed last July?
No, Davis said. “It was in limbo.”
Bill Revived Last Week
Davis said Councilman Eric T. Costello, the Budget Committee’s chairman, brought the measure back for a re-vote last Thursday.
“It’s within his powers to do that,” Davis said.
Why did he do it? “Because he thought things had changed and, after talking to committee members, that a majority of them agreed,” Davis said.
Davis cited the monthly hearings the Council began holding over the summer to drill down on the agency’s budget and crime-fighting strategies. “This is very strong action by the Council,” he said. “It was very unusual for them to do something like that.”
Another sign of more robust oversight of the Police Department, Davis asserted, was the Pugh Administration’s preliminary findings on police overtime released last week.
“That report by the Finance Department is very complete,” Davis stated. “The remedies are all spelled out there in black and white.”
UPDATE: Costello agreed, noting that his committee “held three monthly oversight hearings in Aug, Sep, and Oct (which will continue).”
“So we are now getting real time (monthly) updates on accrued BPD overtime spending, reasons for trends in spending, actions being taken short, medium, and long term to address overtime spending,” he said. He also pointed to the audit.
“The Mayor’s Office, including Director of Finance, Director of Government Relations, and Chief Solicitor, have all stated on the record that the Mayor is now taking ownership of the issue,” Costello said, in an email to The Brew.
“They committed to addressing all short term recommendations before June 30, 2019 and that all long term recommendations would begin shortly after,” he said. “I specifically stated that the Council’s expectation is that all long term recommendations be programmed in the FY2020 budget.”
The report found that Baltimore Police lack the basic controls to track officers’ regular hours – not to speak of determining whether tens of millions of dollars of yearly overtime is legitimate and warranted.
A host of changes were recommended by the preliminary report, including GPS tracking and biometric identification of officers’ time at work.
The Finance Department said such technology would come with “a significant price tag.”
Scott Unimpressed by Report
The latest report did not signal meaningful change to Councilman Brandon M. Scott, chair of the Public Safety Committee.
“Much of what’s in it is stuff the Council has been saying, like, forever. I asked for action on this issue back in 2011,” Scott said, speaking with The Brew.
Scott noted that the document had no dollar breakdowns or schedule for implementation of reforms.
“What’s needed are timelines and action items. But we still don’t have that,” he said.
Scott and Councilwoman Shannon Sneed voted against the OT bill (18-0265) in committee last week.
But the bill passed easily with “yes” votes from chairman Costello as well as from Bill Henry, Sharon Green Middleton, Leon F. Pinkett III and Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer.
Cart Before the Horse?
One of the kabuki theater aspects of tonight’s Council action on the OT bill is this: Passing it appears to be only a formality.
Mayor Catherine Pugh and the Board of Estimates had approved the expenditure back in June, and the $21 million had been spent before the committee nixed the bill in July.
Scott said he has questioned the seemingly cart-before-the-horse process.
“I was looking for an official opinion saying whether it’s legal to spend money before we, the Council, appropriate it,” he said, complaining that he has not yet received a response to his question.
“What the administration failed to do is answer and give the proper respect to the questions I and my colleagues had,” he said.
At last week’s committee hearing, Scott said, Finance Director Henry Raymond had said the process is proper. But Scott said he will be taking the issue further.
“Is it okay to do this the way we’ve been doing it? Or not? I plan to ask the [Maryland] Attorney General for a formal opinion.”