Time for an explanation

Our view: Mayor Sheila Dixon wants to keep working as if nothing has happened, but her guilty verdict creates a leadership vacuum in Baltimore that must be filled

December 03, 2009

Mayor Sheila Dixon deserves every right of due process the court system provides - post-trial motions, appeals and arguments about the meaning of the state constitution's clause on the removal of elected officials who have been convicted of crimes. But Baltimore needs stable, strong leadership it can trust. Homicides spiked last month, and the city's budget is in crisis - with the worst likely yet to come. Mayor Dixon's response to the guilty verdict against her Tuesday has been the same one she has employed at every step of the way in the investigation against her: a pledge to continue the work of the city as if nothing had happened. That is no longer possible.

Former Mayor Kurt Schmoke had it exactly right when he said that Mayor Dixon needs, finally, to recognize that she has a duty greater than protecting her legal options. He said Tuesday that the mayor need not admit legal guilt but must apologize.

"She needs to do something that is more than issuing a statement saying, 'We will continue on.' The time requires more of her," Mr. Schmoke said.

Indeed it does. It requires more than a vague statement from the city solicitor decreeing that the verdict did not necessitate any change in leadership. And it requires more than a vow by the mayor's private attorney that he will be exploring all options.

As much as Mayor Dixon might like to be seen as soldiering on, the verdict has created a leadership crisis at City Hall. She must acknowledge that and let the public know exactly what her plans are for attempting to maintain her office or to facilitate the orderly transfer of power to City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake.

The state constitution specifies that a public official shall be suspended from office without pay or benefits if convicted of a felony or "a misdemeanor related to his public duties and responsibilities and involves moral turpitude for which the penalty may be incarceration in any penal institution."

The charge on which Mayor Dixon was found guilty was a misdemeanor for which the penalty is one to five years in prison. The language of the charge stipulates that she misappropriated gift cards "in violation of her fiduciary duty to the city and citizens of Baltimore." Will she and her lawyers argue that the crime does not fit the standard in the constitution? If so, on what grounds?

The Maryland attorney general's office opined in the wake of former Gov. Marvin Mandel's guilty verdict in 1977 that "conviction" in the sense it is used in that clause of the constitution means the point at which the official has been sentenced. Does the mayor plan to seek a sentence that might somehow void the conviction - such as probation before judgment - or is the purpose of waiting until sentencing merely to hold onto power for as long as possible?

And finally, a question that has been hanging over the proceedings from the beginning is now more pertinent than ever: How is Mayor Dixon paying her seven attorneys? Does she have a legal defense fund, and, if so, who has donated to it? Does she harbor hope that, if her conviction is overturned on appeal, taxpayers will pick up the ever-increasing tab? Are the attorneys working pro bono?

Now is the time for Mayor Dixon to be forthright about what she has done and what she plans to do next. She cannot treat this solely as a private legal matter because much more is at stake than her political future and her pension. The city needs a strong mayor, and it cannot wait in limbo for months while Ms. Dixon pretends that nothing is wrong.

Readers respond
The people of Baltimore have worked hard over the last 20 years to prove that they live in a first-class city. They've had some major obstacles. Despite the many improvements she made during her time, Mayor Dixon's behavior shows a complete disregard for the people of her city, their reputations and their future. She must resign so that the people of Baltimore can move on, pick up the pieces and continue to show the world that their city really is "America's Greatest City."

Stephen A. Eberle

People are getting tired of Ms. Dixon saying that "we are moving the city forward." Now all the people working for her are using the same phrase. The only way for Ms. Dixon to "move the city forward" is to resign - immediately.

Ann Roberts

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.