In the early fall of 2020, Comptroller-Elect Henry assembled a transition committee and began to focus on plans for an office that had not seen new leadership in 25 years. The transition committee consisted of leaders from the private, nonprofit, and public sectors and was organized into six workgroups - three conceptual and one for each of the three departments under the Comptroller:
- Ethics & Transparency
- Modernization & Restructuring
- Procurement & Economic Opportunity
- Communication Services
- Real Estate
Each workgroup was asked to research their focus area, report on findings, and make recommendations aligned with the Comptroller’s commitment to creating a more transparent, accountable, and equitable government.
From September through December 2020, transition committee members interviewed industry experts, process stakeholders, employees of the Comptroller’s Office, and reviewed academic and best practice research from around the country. Over 50 meetings were held, and nearly four dozen expert witnesses were engaged. A summary of recommendations for the first 100 days, first-year, and first-term are included in this report.
The transition committee recommendations serve as a starting point for this new administration and a catalyst for the many necessary discussions the Comptroller’s Office must have with Baltimoreans to restore trust. Real transformation will take time, and it starts here.
Below are some of the most critical recommendations that emerged from the work of the transition committee.
Digitize and modernize the Board of Estimates process
There is a clear and urgent mandate for the digitalization of the Board of Estimates (BOE) process, especially in moving city bids to a paperless process. These long-overdue efforts will increase efficiency, eradicate unnecessary gatekeeping, and better serve City agencies and vendors. Implementing online bidding will also lay the groundwork for adopting fiscal insight programs that enhance the transparency and accessibility of city spending and purchasing data.
Dismantle bureaucratic barriers that disadvantage local, minority and women’s business enterprises and design a new way forward
The Office of the Comptroller provides oversight for millions of dollars in spending each year and should scrutinize every transaction – from vendors to tax increment financing (TIF) in order to ensure Baltimore City does not further exacerbate pre-existing inequities. Adopting an anti-racist accountability and action strategy, one that acknowledges the harm government has inflicted, particularly on those most vulnerable, is vital to rebuilding trust, creating real accountability, and supporting a strong economy.
Prioritize Baltimore residents in all efforts to increase communication, transparency, and accessibility of information
Through the transition research process, it became clear that Baltimore’s Office of the Comptroller is a unique office and role. It was even more apparent that the average resident and even those who work closely with the local government know very little about this office charged with government transparency and accountability. Until recently the Comptroller’s Office, which is tasked with improving government services - had virtually no public outreach strategy. A lack of communication in this role is arguably a dereliction of duties of the office.
The Office of the Comptroller can and should be a bully pulpit to advocate for a more efficient and transparent government. It must also directly engage residents and provide information that supports them in advocacy for the government and services they want. Creating an Accountability Ombudsman position could offer residents a single point of contact to share observations, complaints, and other input regarding city operations. In addition, to rebuild public trust with city residents, a comprehensive and consistent two-way communication path must be developed to bring the public into the Comptroller’s Office through social media, news media, and a community presence. The Comptroller should also prioritize building press relationships supported by a focused Media Relations position.
Increase focus on impactful performance audits
To better address agencies’ and residents’ needs, resources should be prioritized for scrutiny of the most challenged systems and services - those that present the greatest risk for waste, underperformance, and resident frustration - such as solid waste collection and water billing. The Department of Audits (DOA) is the largest department inside the Comptroller’s Office and currently performs biennial performance and financial audits of designated city agencies. Financial audits are duplicative of the federally mandated Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFR) and Single Audit and could be discontinued. This will free up DOA resources in order to enable greater focus on persistent problems within essential services and intersecting systems. An audit schedule determined by risk analysis could focus resources on underperforming operations and realize opportunities for policy and process changes delivering a more significant impact for Baltimore residents and businesses.
Lead an interagency collaborative effort to assess the city’s real estate assets
The Department of Real Estate (DORE) has engaged overtime in acquiring, disposing, and managing a diverse inventory of city-owned real property. It can bring its institutional knowledge and experience to leading a collaborative effort with the Department of Finance (DOF), Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC), and the Department of General Services (DGS). This collaboration should develop a single shared inventory and management systems and strategic planning guidelines to more effectively steward city-owned properties and enhance the potential of the city's assets. This process should also entail a comprehensive analysis of all publicly owned properties to determine fair market values and a facility condition index supporting the city's community development strategy.
Evaluate Department of Communication Services operations
The Office of the Comptroller currently houses two operations serving city government agencies - the Municipal Post Office (MPO) and the Municipal Telephone Exchange (MTE). These are referred to collectively as the "Department of Communication Services." There is an opportunity to manage and evaluate independently these operations for efficiency and cost-effectiveness. The independent operation of each may also present opportunities for future revenue generation by serving other government and quasi-governmental agencies.
Read the full transition report below.