A mayoral hopeful unveiled a policy agenda last week that he said would rebuild Baltimore’s government. The seven-page plan proposes to overhaul city agencies, ensuring they diligently collaborate to provide timely services; increases disclosures among city workers, agencies, contractors and lobbyists and provides more opportunities for the public to issue complaints and request information.

“The government’s infrastructure right now is broken,” mayoral candidate Otis Rolley said in a recent phone interview. “You talk to the African-American community, you talk to the White community within the city, and you hear that … It’s not something that you are going to be able to tweak or reform, it has to be completely rebuilt.”

Rolley, who worked as the city’s planning director and Sheila Dixon’s chief of staff, said city government should be run somewhat like a business where citizens are the customers. His proposal places an emphasis on transparency within city agencies, requiring the bureaus to post annual strategic plans and improve communications with other agencies. The “top heavy” deputy mayor structure would also be eliminated, he says, to ensure agency heads have more defined roles and report directly to the mayor.

Lobbyists would be required to register with the City Board of Ethics and disclose their clients and how much they earned annually or face civil and criminal penalties. Board and commission members and any entity seeking government action, including contractors, would reveal all contributions to city politicians. City workers would also file financial disclosures one year post-employment.

And under Rolley, all future or promoted city workers would have to live in the city. “You wouldn’t work for Under Armour wearing somebody else’s apparel,” he said. “So, it’s more than reasonable for people to have that same respect and love and appreciation and support for the corporation that they are working for. If you are working in the city of Baltimore you should live in the city of Baltimore.”

He said the residency requirement is one of the few ways city government can directly create jobs.

Workers would receive financial incentives up to $5,000 for proposing reforms that equate to city savings or improvements.

As a means to remedy the city’s often long-winded approval process, he says if agencies fail to respond to any application within 90 days, it would be automatically approved. “The reality is this: saying no is as much of an answer as saying yes, but not giving any answer is disrespectful to your customers and it sends the wrong message about Baltimore,” Rolley said.

The plan is also stern on outside contractors. Parties doing work for the city would be more vulnerable to random audits – at least 10 percent would experience them annually – and every contractor earning upwards of $25 million would automatically be audited.

Contractors would also have to submit detailed invoices and reports of work performed.

Competitive bidding would be required for professional service contracts exceeding $25,000 except in emergencies, and donors who contribute $10,000 or more would be barred from obtaining no-bid contracts.

Rolley said the increased competitive bidding would allow minority businesses, smaller firms and non-profits to take advantage of more contracts. He’s also proposed to sync city minority business requirements with state regulations.

“When we spend our dollars, we need to be making sure we are doing it in a way that creates more opportunity for these small and mid-sized businesses and I think if we do that we create more opportunities for persons of color and women in our city,” he said.

Akin to “secret shoppers” hired to test retail outlets, the city would send “secret” testers to routinely measure government services. And the inspector general’s office would become more independent while residents would be able to submit complaints anonymously online. Each major city agency would house an Internal Audits Office whose directors would report to the inspector general.

“I think the only way we are going to be able to have a successful city, a strong city, is if we start to get smarter in terms of not tolerating the waste, fraud and abuse that’s occurred for decades in and decades out in Baltimore,” said Rolley.

Johns Hopkins political professor Lester K. Spence said many elements of Rolly’s proposal, including requiring certain campaign donation disclosures and barring big donors from no-bid contracts, should at least be “no-brainers.”

“People don’t believe government works for them,” Spence said. “(This) represents a good beginning, and if these ideas are at the very least debated, it should lead to a substantive campaign whoever the eventual winner is.”

In a phone interview, Keiana Page, a member of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s campaign read a short, prepared statement that said the mayor “has led the way on ethics reform.” Page later forwarded an email to the AFRO arguing that as Sheila Dixon’s chief of staff, Rolley authorized salary increases for top workers, while Rawlings-Blake has reduced salaries by 18 percent since taking office. The e-mail also noted that it is against state law to require workers to live within the city.


Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO