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Accountabilityby Mark Reutter8:07 amDec 1, 20210

Baltimore’s inspector general described as “hard working, capable, effective” in panel’s performance review

The report also warns about “second-guessing” management decisions and the issue of “equity,” a critique IG Cumming has rejected. Her open letter says the advisory panel must be reconfigured.

Above: Isabel Mercedes Cumming answers questions from the IG Advisory Board last August. (CharmTV)

Isabel Mercedes Cumming “is doing an effective job” as Baltimore’s inspector general and heads “an office that is hard working, highly capable and committed to carrying out the OIG’s obligations under the charter.”

So says a job performance review, released this morning, that came from the Inspector General Advisory Board, a panel activated last spring to examine the OIG in the wake of criticism by surrogates of Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, who was angered by an OIG report about her extensive travels, gifts and private company.

Across two tense hearings and an attempt by board chair and city solicitor James L. Shea to hold a meeting without sufficient notice (then close the same meeting to the public to permit a review of allegedly confidential personnel records), the panel and Cumming have wrestled over the office’s mission.

The 10-page performance review – written by Shea and released by Cumming, who waived her right to confidentiality – throws some shade on Cumming (“Suffice it to say, we may not always agree on every detail”), while insisting that the board ensures her independence.

“It is a duty of the advisory board to play a part in preserving the independence of Baltimore City’s OIG,” Shea says, ending his report with this declaration:

“This first annual performance review is presented in a spirit of collaboration and with a goal of strengthening the IG to better serve the City of Baltimore. As chair of the advisory board, I stand by ready to be a partner to the OIG in doing so.”

James L. Shea, the city solicitor who serves as Mayor Brandon Scott's direct appointee to the board, spent a full hour peppering IG Cumming with questions last week. (CharmTV)

James L. Shea peppered Cumming and her assistants with questions last August, suggesting her office should share the names of potential targets and develop a recusal list. (CharmTV)

At the same time, Shea said it was not the purview of the city’s corruption watchdog “to second-guess city management decisions.”

He further cautioned Cumming to consider “equity” when conducting investigations, revisiting the assertion by Marilyn Mosby’s allies that Cumming was “targeting” elected Black officials and contractors, an accusation that Cumming, the city’s first Latina and female IG, rejected.

The six other panel members signed onto Shea’s report.

Its two elected members – Councilman Eric T. Costello and Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton, widely known to be critical of the OIG – said they had “no additional information” and “no further comments” to the performance review.

Erika McClammy, who represents Comptroller Bill Henry, said the OIG should develop a comprehensive strategic plan and cooperate more with the comptroller’s audit department.

Michael G. Huber, chief of staff to Scott, said, “Baltimore has heaps of challenges that Mayor Scott is determined to solve, and the administration is determined to tackle these matters equitable [sic] through transparency, accountability and integrity. Mayor Scott believes the Office is essential to Baltimore’s progress.”

Huber also asserted that “a refocus of the Office’s charter-mandated scope will help improve accountability and integrity – core tenets of the Scott administration.”

Open Letter to Citizens

Cumming responded to the review with an open letter to the “Citizens of Baltimore” posted today on the OIG website.

It restates her belief that the advisory board, composed of designees of Baltimore’s three top elected officials (Scott, Henry and Nick Mosby), “is not in line with best practice and poses clear conflicts for the OIG’s hard-won independence.”

“I pledge to continue to draw attention to the need to restructure the board with individuals who are not directly within the OIG’s investigational purview,” Cumming wrote. “Board restructuring is all the more important because my term expires at the end of 2024, and the board will be in a position to choose my successor.”

Members of the Inspector General Advisory Board.

Members of the Inspector General Advisory Board.

OIG: Mismanagement is in our Purview

She also objected to Shea’s assertion that she had agreed not to “second-guess” City Hall decisions.

“City management decisions occur in the context of competing resources and policies, and it [is] not the OIG’s role to second-guess such decisions. However, mismanagement is a collective term that encompasses acts of waste and abuse. . . resulting from deficient practices, systems, controls or decisions.

“This kind of mismanagement is clearly within the OIG’s jurisdiction, according to the City Charter, which vests the OIG not only with the responsibility to investigate complaints of fraud, financial waste and abuse, but also to promote efficiency, accountability and integrity in city government. Shining a light on decisions resulting in mismanagement is an important part of any inspector general’s office.”

Uncollected DOT Fees

Yesterday, the OIG released a public synopsis of an investigation of  complaints that executive-level employees at the Department of Transportation circumvented the right-of-way (ROW) permit process to benefit two companies.

The report did not find preferential treatment by the employees, but did discover that the Department of Finance had failed to invoice one company for ROW permits, resulting in $49,760 in uncollected fees.

Additionally, DOT was found to have an unwritten agreement with the second company that resulted in charging it for two weeks on all ROW permits, regardless of the actual amount of time worked.

(Per standard practice, an OIG public synopsis does not include the names of city personnel or vendors examined.)

In response to the investigation, DOT promised to submit ROW invoices correctly, while Finance said it was “unaware of any untimely billing.”

Finance said it will “recommend enhanced procedures going forward to include, along with our new Accounting Assistant, that the BAPS AR/AP manager is included on all email requests and correspondence related to DOT billings.”

Meanwhile, DOT and the Law Department said they will develop a Memorandum of Understanding that describes the proper protocol for issuing ROW permits.

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