City prosecutor fires community coordinators

Budget cuts won't support the positions

May 12, 2011|By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

Under pressure to reduce spending, Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein eliminated a community coordinator program in his office, firing at least nine people this week — a year after his predecessor threatened to sue the city to save the same jobs.

"This is a budgetary issue that we inherited," said spokesman Mark Cheshire. "It would be fiscally irresponsible to retain these positions again, given [budget] constraints."

Last year, the city's budget department recommended that the jobs be slashed. But then-State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy refused to cut the outreach positions. In a May 2010 letter to the city's finance director, she said that forcing her, an independently elected official, to cut the positions would be unconstitutional and would force her to take legal action.

The budget office made a similar recommendation this year, and Bernstein carried it out Wednesday.

"In difficult times, all agencies, including independent agencies, are having to make tough budget decisions to protect and strengthen the core services that they must deliver," Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said in an emailed statement.

The city's fiscal year 2012 budget proposal for the state's attorney's office — $25,060,493 — is about $680,000 less than last fiscal year, Cheshire said, noting that some of the difference can be attributed to savings from employee furlough days.

"This is really an unfortunate necessity occasioned by the budget," Cheshire said of the layoffs, praising the coordinators' work.

The community coordinators were stationed at each of the city's nine police districts and acted as liaisons between the public — including crime victims and witnesses — and criminal justice agencies, often prepping cases and taking on some of the clerical work that otherwise falls to police and prosecutors.

Prosecutors relied on them to "help prepare and support the legal burden of proof needed to secure convictions," Jessamy wrote in a letter to the mayor last year, calling the coordinators "essential employees."

Seven coordinators, who earned about $40,000 per year, were laid off this week, along with two other people who worked in the department but were not stationed in police districts, Cheshire confirmed. Two coordinators took new positions within the legal system: One moved to a court job, and another — Anthony Savage — took a job alongside Cheshire in Bernstein's communications office.

The three-person office is tasked with doing the outreach work that the coordinators did, Cheshire said, adding that 14 prosecutor positions are also open because officials can't afford to fill them.

"We're all going to have to do more with less," Cheshire said.

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