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Accountabilityby Melissa Schober8:04 amOct 12, 20210

Baltimore Children and Youth Fund violated the Open Meetings Act, board rules

To ensure that an entity created to support underserved children makes the best use of its taxpayer-funded budget, accountability and transparency are essential [OP-ED]

Above: Promotional flyer for the BCYF. (bcyfund.org)

The unique entity that voters created in 2016 in the wake of the Uprising following the death of Freddie Gray has a critical mission: to nurture grassroots groups that can improve the health and well-being of Baltimore’s young people and the city as a whole.

The Baltimore Children and Youth Fund (BCYF) has also been given unprecedented resources.

So far, it has received about $50 million in city property tax revenues for which Baltimore citizens deserve accountability (3 cents of every $100 in assessed property taxes goes into the fund).

Supportive of BCYF’s goals but deeply concerned by its lack of transparency, I filed two Open Meetings Act complaints last month.

One concerns the timely posting of BCYF board meeting minutes and the second was about the board’s failure to publicize the agendas, meetings and minutes of committees formed in its bylaws.

The Open Meetings Compliance Board, I’m pleased to report, ruled in my favor on the second complaint, affirming that a public body cannot use committees to conduct major business shielded from public view.

“Our conclusion,” the board ruled earlier this month, is “consistent with the Act’s legislative intent and our prior observation that the Act should not be interpreted to allow a parent public body to sidestep open meeting requirements based on technicalities.”

Below, the board’s opinion and other documents:

Opinion on BCYF Open Meetin… by Fern Marie

BCYF’s arguments in response to my complaints are disturbing and deserve a careful look by the Scott administration and the City Council. (The Council is required to hold an annual hearing on the fund and recommend a full, permanent board of directors to the Board of Estimates.)

One would think the fund’s board would acknowledge that it is subject to city audits, public information laws and other reporting requirements. But in response to my complaints, BCYF’s attorney, Dorcas R. Gilmore, argued otherwise.

Rather than comply with the Open Meetings Act, the BCYF decided that its transitional status shields it from public scrutiny.

The bodies formed in the bylaws – the Executive Committee, the Audit Committee, and the Equity and Inclusion Committee – are charged with carrying out important work integral to the BCYF’s mission.

The Executive Committee, for example, is responsible for recommending and overseeing procedures for the evaluation of the job performance of the chief executive officer.

The Audit Committee is charged with retaining an independent auditor and reviewing and discussing any risks and weaknesses identified by the auditor.

Instead, these activities have been hidden from citizens and the media for months.

The only public-facing documentation produced by the BCYF board is the brief paragraphs from every-other-month board minutes. Here is a typical entry from the board’s March 17 meeting:

Brief description of the work of BCYF's Race Equity and Inclusion Committee in minutes from March 17 board meeting.

According to this statement, the committee is developing “core definitions” for future governance of the fund and is “reviewing possibilities” of race equity models without informing stakeholders and taxpayers of any specifics.

High hopes and pressing questions as Baltimore Children and Youth Fund comes before the Council (Brew, 4/29/21)

BCYF promises “more granular” information soon to Council and public (Brew, 4/30/21)

• Baltimore’s youth matter. Until they don’t (Medium, 10/2/20)

Mayor Young orders audit of Associated Black Charities’ handling of Children and Youth Fund (Brew, 4/11/19)
Why have such activities been hidden from public view? Attorney Gilmore argued that “the transitory position BCYF now occupies” is the reason.

Gilmore stated that because the existing bylaws were established before the ordinance creating the transition board, they “should not be considered bylaws of a ‘public body’ within the Maryland Code.”

The BCYF is using the City Council as its shield, arguing that because its bylaws were created before the ordinance created the transition board, its work should be shielded from the public:

“Consistent with the language of the ordinance, in multiple public meetings, the City Council has acknowledged the need to allow time for the Fund to develop its permanent infrastructure.”

That stands in stark contrast to the Fund’s own website, which says it is “subject to city audits, public information laws and other reporting requirements.”

Rather than comply with the Open Meetings Act, the BCYF decided that its transitional status shields it from public scrutiny.

The Open Meetings Compliance Board, fortunately, disagreed. Potentially applicable to cases involving other public bodies, its decision is an important one.

Truly Reflective

The BCYF is solely supported by taxpayers in the city. As such, we have deep and vested interest in its operations, including its audits and executive operations.

This is especially so for the transition board that is currently searching for permanent board members and its first president before its powers expire at the end of the year. (The ordinance, which took effect in July 2020, allowed the transition board to serve for a maximum of 18 months).

If Baltimore is to have a fund that truly reflects the core values of racial equity, intergenerational leadership, community ownership and collective decisionmaking, it must be fully transparent in its operations.

The fund’s stakeholders – the taxpayers of this city – and the fund’s benefactors – Baltimore’s children and youth – deserve no less.
Melissa Schober is a local activist who lives in the Harwood neighborhood.

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