Meeting to review Baltimore inspector general canceled after she waived her privacy rights

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An oversight board for Baltimore Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming canceled next week’s meeting evaluating her performance after Cumming waivied her privacy rights and advocating for the meeting to be open to the public.

In a notice posted Friday on the IG Advisory Board’s website, the board said it “sees no alternative” to cancelling the meeting and “will explore other ways to conclude its performance review.”

“The IG’s waiver and demand for an open meeting and the Maryland law prohibiting a public discussion of the assessment of the IG’s performance therefore put the Advisory Board in a conflicted position,” the notice said.

Cumming said nobody in her office, including herself, was notified about the cancellation but that she would “never request” the board to break a law.

“It appears the law department opinion will be adopted and future performance review meetings will likely be closed to the public,” Cumming said in a statement “To the extent I am able, I intend to provide my future performance review documents to the public.”

City Solicitor Jim Shea, the advisory board’s chairman, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Earlier this week, Cumming sent a letter to the oversight board saying that she is waiving her rights to privacy and confidentiality during her review process.

The letter, dated Tuesday, states that Cumming has waived her rights “in keeping with the OIG’s commitment to transparency and accountability.” The letter notes that closed meetings are “discretionary” according to Maryland’s Open Meetings Act and requests that the meeting, originally scheduled for Oct. 28 behind closed doors, be opened to the public.

A notice of the meeting previously posted on the city’s website said the session will be closed to the public, but a reason was not stated. City officials previously said that portions of the review process for Cumming will be closed because the review is a personnel matter.

Personnel discussions are one of more than a dozen reasons a meeting may be closed under the Open Meetings Act. Others include legal advice, real estate transactions and security concerns.

However, in Friday’s notice, the board says that the Maryland Public Information Act prohibits the disclosure of personnel materials.

“That prohibition is not discretionary, it is required, and it is expressly incorporated into the Open Meetings Act,” the notice said. “It therefore clearly applies independently to the work of the Advisory Board. Disclosing personnel information is considered a criminal offense under the MPIA, and it is settled law that criminal prohibitions cannot be waived.”

The inspector general said her letter was meant to address one provision of the Open Meetings Act, the same one the board cited as their reason to close the meeting.

“They are now relying on a separate provision of the Open Meetings Act that necessitates closing the meeting to comply with other laws,” Cumming said.

Next week’s meeting was supposed to mark the third time in its history that the board would meet. Since 2018, when a charter amendment was approved by voters, the advisory board has been required to meet annually to review the performance of the inspector general. However, it was not convened for the first time until July.

Cumming and members of the board have repeatedly sparred over the board’s composition in the months since. In accordance with the charter, the board includes several elected officials or their designees, the city’s solicitor and, on an optional basis, the deans of two law schools.

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