Mayor Catherine Pugh and City Solicitor Andre Davis defended the mayor’s plans to seek an exemption from ethics rules so she can raise private money to fund city programs without needing approval in each instance.
Casting the city as “cash-strapped,” Pugh pointed to past funding efforts, such as the nearly $16 million raised last year for the YouthWorks summer jobs program and the $10 million needed for the anti-violence program Roca, as successful.
“If I could get everybody to bring a bulldozer up to Park Heights or down Monroe Street, or any of these other streets, to help us to fix this city–if they’re willing to step up to the plate, I’m willing to accept those opportunities,” she said.
Under current provisions, the mayor must seek approval from the Board of Ethics and Board of Estimates to solicit for private donations on a case-by-base basis, in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
The money is controlled by the government-run Baltimore City Foundation and then distributed through grants.
Davis said he is “in a very good dialogue” with the members of the ethics board to get their approval for the proposal.
“You can easily imagine how programs like the one you just heard about, the YouthWorks, could actually enhance the quality of life in Baltimore City if additional revenues were available through donations given to that foundation to support the city’s work,” he told the media.
As the head of the city’s law department, he said the mayor could be trusted to fund programs that help citizens but do not receive enough money from the General Fund, and there are protections in place for any ethical concerns.
“There’s no question about transparency,” he said. “The foundation will be independently audited. The foundation, like all 501(c)(3)s, files their federal tax returns on a regular basis.”
Critics are not so sure.
Julian Lapides, a former state senator and former member of the Maryland ethics commission, told The Sun, which first reported of the exemption, that Pugh should think twice about the proposal.
“It’s very much in her best interest to get prior approval,” he said. “It would protect her from possible criticism if she gets prior approval. I wouldn’t want the mayor to get sandbagged by an unscrupulous corporation or group.”
One of the members of the ethics board, Stephan Fogleman, told The Sun he had more questions, noting the city is not far removed from former mayor Sheila Dixon’s embezzlement conviction.
“Since we’re one mayoral administration away from a mayor who was convicted of theft, I think the city could stand to be more forward in matters of transparency.”