Measure focuses on Jessamy budget

City Council resolution seeks reviews of prosecutor office

`We have to find out what's happening'

Funding deal with mayor spurs push for twice-yearly audits

June 06, 2005|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

Now that Mayor Martin O'Malley has agreed to give State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy the money she needs to avoid staff reductions next year, Baltimore's City Council wants to make sure the top prosecutor does not come begging again.

Today the council is set to introduce a resolution that, if approved, would require Jessamy to subject her office to a performance management audit and a biannual budget review.

Jessamy has already tentatively agreed as part of her deal with O'Malley last week to consider having an independent agency to review her office's operations. But the council's request for even more oversight might spoil the detente reached between O'Malley and Jessamy.

"The state's attorney says, `Gimme, gimme, gimme,'" said council President Sheila Dixon. "We have to find out what's happening and if the money is going where it needs to go."

Jessamy came before the council May 23 to request a $2.2 million permanent increase to her $22.3 million allocation from the city for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The money is needed, she said, because her office is losing federal grants that fund the salaries of dozens of prosecutors.

O'Malley agreed last week to give Jessamy what she requested plus $600,000 more for other initiatives that both officials believe need more funding. The meeting between the two typically discordant officials was seen by many as a thaw in a chilly relationship stemming from a dispute in 2001.

O'Malley wrote in his follow-up letter to Jessamy that he was "pleased that you have agreed to a management and staffing study for your office."

Jessamy said she was considering the request. In her letter to the mayor Friday, she wrote: "I will consider and explore the possibility of a case load study by an outside qualified independent entity and will keep you apprised as discussions develop."

Jessamy said she would not be open to the Greater Baltimore Committee conducting such a review because it has no prosecutorial experience. She said she would prefer an organization such as the American Prosecutors Research Institute.

Dixon said she hopes the Greater Baltimore Committee could perform the audit because she wants a business review more than a study of prosecutorial programs.

"I know she's opposed to GBC, but it has to be an entity that can study budgets and audits and management, along with programs," Dixon said. "We need to get a handle on this to get a better sense of [her office] ... so that she doesn't come back in the end crying about grants ending."

Council Vice President Stephanie Rawlings Blake, who is sponsoring the bill, said she is working on finding an organization that could perform the audit.

Rawlings Blake said the biannual reviews would be beneficial for Jessamy to identify early any budget shortfalls she may be projecting.

Jessamy testified to the council that her agency has been underfunded by the mayor's office, and Rawlings Blake said the audit would be "the only way" to examine "her contention."

Jessamy's spokeswoman said the state's attorney greatly appreciates the money coming from the city and would be willing to answer any council questions.

Jessamy did not know about the council resolution, spokeswoman Margaret T. Burns said, so it was not possible to say whether she would agree to biannual reviews.

But according to Burns, Jessamy wouldn't necessarily be opposed to such a request.

"This office is not the police department, fire department or another city agency accountable under the city charter to the Mayor and City Council," Burns wrote in an e-mail. "The state's attorney is only accountable to the citizens who have elected her the highest elected law enforcement officer in Baltimore."

Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. said the resolution was creating distractions for Jessamy's office at a time when the top prosecutor already agreed with the mayor on mutual budget priorities.

Harris said that Jessamy's office - unlike the police and fire departments or other city agencies - is not running a deficit, and that the city state's attorney needs to be allowed to conduct her business without added distractions.

"It's not helping the citizens of Baltimore," Harris said. "It's politics. It's posturing. It's a shame."

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