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A shift in influence: New bill aims to reform Office of Inspector General advisory board

Posted at 6:38 PM, May 16, 2022

BALTIMORE — It's your money and it should be working to make the Baltimore better place.

However, sometimes that tax money is wasted or abused by elected officials and public agencies.

That's where the Office of the Inspector General steps in.

MORE: Board satisfied with performance of Baltimore's Inspector General despite some critics

Baltimore councilwoman Odette Ramos is looking to shake up who can or cannot advise that office.

It’s a move she says would free the Inspector General of any political influence and potential conflicts of interests.

Right now, 5 of the 7 advisory board positions have been appointed by either Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott or Council President Nick Mosby.

MORE: Baltimore City's Inspector General: The job and the pressure to remain neutral

This legislation would shift that influence from city elected officials who, at times, could be at the center of the office's investigations.

Councilwoman Ramos is proposing legislation ahead of Monday night's council meeting that would ultimately eliminate a crucial question for future inspector generals.

"Should I not do this investigation because they're in my advisory chain? No,” said Isabel Mercedes Cumming, Baltimore City’s Inspector General.

Back in 2018, more than four out of five Baltimore City voters supported making the Office of Inspector General an independent body.

But, at the time, it wasn’t clear who would influence that body.

That’s an issue that wasn't made apparent to the city’s inspector general until years later.

“The advisory board never met until this year for the first time 3 years later. That's when we realized we never really realized the advisory board is pretty much conflicted out from the get go,” Cumming said.

Currently, Mayor Scott and Council President Mosby have appointed five advisory board members who have quite a bit of influence in the OIG's office.

“The role of the advisory board is to oversee the OIG, approve the budget, do performance review and also select the OIG so its a very important role,” Ramos said.

"Sometimes it's hard when your advisory board are people that you may have to investigate. How can you be independent when the people you have to investigate are actually on your board?” Cumming questioned.

Ramos’ newest legislation would ban elected officials, designees, lobbyists or business partners with the city through a much different process.

“Each one of the council members, all 14 of us will get a nominee and their split up into 5 groups and there is one chosen from each of those groups,” Ramos explained.

The remaining two members of the board, in her bill, l would be nominated from the bar, accountants, and fraud associations

“What we normally do for appointments is that the mayor or the council president or comptroller will appoint somebody and it goes through the regular rules and legislative oversight,” Ramos said.

“I think that's a really great way to do it and it specifically said they want to promote diversity gender equity. I think this is going to be a great opportunity for Baltimore,” said Cumming.

WMAR-2 News asked Inspector General Cumming if, up until this point, there has been any political pressure from officials when conducting their investigations.

She said the public can perceive that there have been attempts.

If the bill doesn’t get out of committee, citizens could create a petition for it.

With 10,000 or more signatures, it can be put on the ballot for a city-wide vote.