This year marks the first year of the Trump administration. Whether you consider that to be a good development or a bad one, we here in Baltimore are faced with several important tasks that require our urgent attention at the local level.
Among my hobbies, I help run a Facebook group called Baltimore City Voters, which now has about 6,000 members (membership is restricted to Baltimore City residents; please join if you live in the city). We have been following several important issues there, and at the end of 2016 conducted an informal poll to help the mayor and city council establish priorities as we begin the new year.
Chief among the priorities cited was audits; the city has failed to complete the audits mandated by the charter amendment passed in 2012 that requires quadrennial audits of key city agencies. While many have been completed (21 of 26, at this writing), several still remain. The city is, in fact, operating in violation of its own charter at this time.
And many of the audits have just been released. If there is one theme, it is that consistent records have not been kept to produce useful audits. As a result, several of the audits are a bit light on detail. We will need, now, to compare these audits to similar audits in other cities, and get to the bottom of why we cannot (or did not) inspect ourselves in a similar level of detail.
Arguably, these first audits, where many details needed to be reconstructed retroactively, helped to spur creation of new systems and processes (or at least should have done so), so subsequent audits are both easier to perform and are actually measuring key indicators. It is understandable that we’ll need to wait a cycle or two before we really start to see solid and consistent results from our auditing efforts.
Why does it matter to businesses?
If we want capital to invest in Baltimore, we need to remove uncertainty and eliminate the tilted playing fields created by pay-to-play culture. Frankly, pay-to-play is good for (some) developers — but no one else. That must end.
Second, we need to get to a place where Baltimore’s politicians, and the mayor and city council, are operating out in the open in a transparent way, beyond reproach. The recent news of the indictment of Mayor Pugh’s aide Gary Brown around campaign finance irregularities has opened lingering questions around donations from other people who have also apparently tried to skirt the $6,000 campaign contribution limit. Clearly everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but it’s unfortunate that we are still asking such questions.
Police reform is also on everyone’s mind, given the signing of the consent decree with the Department of Justice. Early estimates suggest that compliance with the consent decree will cost something on the order of $30 million. With the department’s budget already around $480 million, pouring another $30 million into that black hole, which is already not performing, hardly seems the answer. Instead, we need to figure out how to open up the police department’s internal budgeting for all to see, so we can figure out how to properly realign priorities — while meeting the requirements of the consent decree.
And of course, one of the key things we need to consider is how we can wind down the war on drugs, or at least its worst effects. It remains to be seen what effect a Trump administration will have on these issues, but they are clearly key for Baltimore.
All of this matters in Baltimore because if we want to create the sort of place that’s worthy of investment, we need to get serious about becoming a transparent, honest and open city — not a political backwater where campaign contributions buy development opportunities.
Mayor Pugh proposed a regimen of annual audits during her campaign (see http://bit.ly/audits2016), and it’s up to us to hold her to her promise. Councilman Eric Costello proposed and successfully passed a charter amendment requiring biannual audits (up from the current quadrennial plan), but Mayor Pugh’s proposal is far more comprehensive still.
It’s time for all of us, if we care about this city’s future (and the surrounding counties as well), to demand full accountability in Baltimore. From every branch of city government, including the Baltimore Police Department. This is how we can make Baltimore great again.