Baltimore’s Inspector General said today that a senior aide to Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young did not exceed approved spending limits on a trip to a Texas music festival in search of potential sponsors and acts for Baltimore’s AFRAM Festival.
However, the incident did result in a reminder to Tonya R. Miller, senior director of public affairs, of city protocol in dealing with trip expenses and “the current process for approval going forward” by Kimberly Morton, Young’s chief of staff.
The investigation was conducted as a result of a complaint of “wasteful spending” by Miller and Cortney Weinstock, special events chief for the Department of Recreation and Parks.
The complaint was based on a July 24 article in The Brew.
The two employees had received approval to go to the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin between March 8 and March 14, but they changed the flight and hotel dates after determining that the music portion of the festival started and stopped after their original plans.
Safety Concerns at a Spa
Because they could not find a hotel in Austin on the new dates that were within the city’s spending allowance, they said they booked rooms at Lakeway, a resort and spa more than 20 miles from Austin, and hired a rental car to go back and forth to the festival.
They soon became disenchanted with the resort, IG Isabel Mercedes Cumming wrote in a two-page report, explaining:
“Miller reported safety concerns regarding the remote location of Lakeway. Weinstock added that interactions with members of the hotel staff made her uneasy.”
As a result, they left the resort after two nights and booked a room at the JW Marriott in downtown Austin – “where prices significantly dropped,” according to Cumming, but still cost up to $521 a night, according to Board of Estimates records.
The new accommodations were approved by Bruce H. Williams, then chief of staff for former Mayor Catherine Pugh, who also reportedly told Miller that the hotel costs would be reimbursed.
The retroactive pay that Miller and Weinstock sought to cover the Marriott accommodations was one of the topics covered by the Brew article.
Another topic was what, if any, sponsors and musical acts at SXSW proved beneficial to last month’s AFRAM festival in Druid Hill Park; a question Miller, in an interview with The Brew, did not answer and was not part of the IG’s investigation.
Cumming said her office “reviewed invoices, P-card statements and personal credit card statements to determine that the actual cost of the trip was $7,459.60, of which the city paid for $4,906.65. Miller and Weinstock’s out-of-pocket expenses were $2,218.79 and $334.16, respectively. Because the employees shouldered some of the costs, the city saved $3,477.67” over and above the amount approved for the originally planned March 8-14 trip
Even if Miller and Weinstock were reimbursed for their Austin accommodations – as approved by the Board of Estimates on July 24 – the city would “still save” $924.72 from the original travel allocation, according to Cumming.
Responding to the report, Morton wrote to the IG, “I have discussed with her [Miller] the actions of her trip and the perils associated with re-negotiating cost after the Board of Estimate (BOE) approval.”
“As of today,” Morton concluded, “I have ensured she is aware and has been informed of the current process for approval going forward.”