Mrs. Jessamy's next move

June 07, 2005

MAYOR MARTIN O'Malley's decision to fully fund the office of Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy should enable city prosecutors to hold their own in the battle against crime. But it's not the long-term fix that is required. Mrs. Jessamy got more money than she asked for and should waste no time pursuing the management study Mr. O'Malley requested of her.

Adequate staffing levels and a reliable source of funding are a must if city prosecutors are going to give their all to representing the rights of citizens in the criminal justice arena. They would provide a level of employment security to empower prosecutors and instill confidence in the office's ability to deliver just outcomes through convictions.

The additional $2.2 million in city funding requested by Mrs. Jessamy ends any prospect of staff reductions. Mrs. Jessamy had sought the extra money to offset the end of several state and federal grants, on which she has relied for too long to finance some critical functions. Despite ample increases in her budget since Mr. O'Malley took office, Mrs. Jessamy claimed she needed more to do her job because of past underfunding. The annual "she said/he said" over her budget should end once an independent, outside review of her agency and its staffing takes place.

City Council President Sheila Dixon wants assurances that a review of the state's attorney's office will focus on operations as well as programs, and she's right to demand that. Other city agencies, including public works, fire, health, housing and recreation and parks, underwent similar reviews by the Greater Baltimore Committee and the President's Roundtable. A New York consultant reviewed the Police Department.

An independent audit is the best way to ensure that Mrs. Jessamy has what she needs at a time when the criminal justice system is overwhelmed: Witness intimidation problems are hampering prosecutors' efforts to win convictions, homicides continue to climb and drug violence is devastating neighborhoods and families in Baltimore.

At the same time, taxpayers have a right to assess the return on their investment in the prosecutor's office, which is so critical in reducing violence in the city. That's why Mrs. Jessamy shouldn't delay in naming an independent reviewer of her office's programs and operations.

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