Reforming Baltimore’s Board of Estimates

Baltimore City’s Board of Estimates is a curious institution. It is a five member board that prepares the city’s budget but it’s most important function is approving all city payments over $25,000 which includes salaries, promotions, contracts, settlements, etc. The State of Maryland has a similar institution called the Board of Public Works with a similar function. However, while the Maryland’s board consists of three elected officials (Governor, Comptroller and Treasurer), Baltimore’s Board has three elected officials (Mayor, President of the City Council and Comptroller), it also has another two appointed by the Mayor (City Solicitor and Director of Public Works). This essentially gives the majority to the Mayor. While this has been mainly an open secret, recently the city’s solicitor testified to that effect in open court:

“The director of public works and the city solicitor … always vote with the mayor,” Nilson testified. “They are sometimes referred to as the mayor’s votes.”

If this is true, there is no point in having this board and it is time to reform it to either reduce it to elected officials only, or get rid of it all together. Below is my letter to the City Council members to that effect:

Dear Council Members,

It was with disgust that I read the comments of the city solicitor, George Nilson, that were recently published in the Baltimore Sun (“City panel plans to vote down settlement for teen whom police left shoeless in Howard Co.”, August 7th, 2012) regarding the rejection of a police misconduct settlement. The city’s highest law officer stated in open court something that many of us knew all along – that the Board of Estimates is simply a rubber stamp for the Mayor of Baltimore because majority of this Board (3 out of 5 members) are the Mayor and his or her appointees.

In the words of Mr. Nilson: “The director of public works and the city solicitor … always vote with the mayor,” Nilson testified. “They are sometimes referred to as the mayor’s votes.”

If so why do we need this Board other than another waste of taxpayer’s dollars? In light of these comments, and the recent lawsuit against the city’s process of procurement that takes place through the same Board (Baltimore Sun: “Minority group claims discrimination in city contract process”, August 1st, 2012), it is high time for reform.  I would like to respectfully ask the the City Council to reform the Board of Estimates and either get rid of the Mayoral appointees or abolish the Board all together.

UPDATE: Baltimore Sun also published a somewhat similar letter to the editor that I sent in:

City solicitor admits it: Board of Estimates is a sham

8:00 a.m. EDT, August 16, 2012

 It was with disgust that I read the comments of the city solicitor,George Nilson, that you published in on August 7 (“City panel plans to vote down settlement for teen whom police left shoeless in Howard Co.”) regarding the rejection of a police misconduct settlement. The city’s highest law officer stated in open court something that many of us knew all along — that the Board of Estimates is simply a rubber stamp for the mayor of Baltimore because majority of this Board (three out of five members) are the mayor and his or her appointees. In the words of Mr. Nilson: “The director of public works and the city solicitor … always vote with the mayor. They are sometimes referred to as the mayor’s votes.”

If so, why do we need this board, other than as another waste of taxpayers’ dollars? In light of these comments and the recent lawsuit against the city’s procurement process that takes place through the same board (“Minority group claims discrimination in city contract process,” Aug. 1), it is high time for reform. We should ask our elected representatives in the City Council to reform the Board of Estimates and either get rid of the mayoral appointees or abolish the board all together. Let them do their job and present a charter amendment to the voters this November, when we can do our job and approve it.

Yakov Shafranovich, Baltimore

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One thought on “Reforming Baltimore’s Board of Estimates

  1. Pingback: The sham board of estimates, Baltimore leaders in Ocean City, and a weekend event | No Conaways In 2014

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