Three officials vying for citywide office in 2024 staked out their positions on the importance of swimming pools and transparency during today’s Board of Estimates meeting.
Councilman Zeke Cohen, announced Democratic Party candidate for City Council president, petitioned the board to waive ethics rules and allow him to solicit private funds for a temporary splash pad at Patterson Park.
The pad would ease the closing of the Patterson Park Pool, whose failure to open this summer led to considerable criticism of the Scott administration as the city roasted in 90-plus-degree heat.
The Cohen-led fund drive “would offer a stop-gap recreation and cooling solution for families and Baltimore City youth while the city’s second-largest pool undergoes renovations,” Maggie Master, his chief of staff, told the board, pointing out that “this strategy could be a model for other city pools scheduled to go off-line in upcoming summer seasons.”
Mayor Brandon Scott had an immediately response to her statement from his BOE seat.
“I just want to remind everybody” of the six public pools his administration plans to fully renovate in coming years, Scott began.
“Ambrose Kennedy, which you can go up the street to see, they’re working on each and every day,” he continued. “Patterson Park is our next pool to be renovated. Towanda is going out for bid. Coldstream is going out for bid. City Springs and Greater Model are in design.”
Additionally, a new splash pad at North Harford Park is also under design.
“We’re talking about pulling the band aid off of infrastructure that lived its life cycle 30 years ago,” Scott went on, before alluding to Cohen’s criticism (in The Brew and elsewhere) that Recreation and Parks should have made emergency repairs to the Patterson Park Pool in the off-season to make sure it wouldn’t break down this summer.
“We can’t have band-aid solutions. You can’t renovate pools in the wintertime,” Scott observed. “It can only be done when temperatures are at a certain temperature for more than 60 days.”
Warming up to what resembled a campaign stump speech, the mayor declared, “We can no longer sit by and allow ourselves to think that we’re gonna put duct tape on pools. Duct tape on rec centers! Duct tape on playgrounds! We have to do the tough work.”
Mosby and Transparency
Seeking a second term as City Council president, Nick Mosby didn’t let his challenger’s request to raise money on behalf of Baltimore City youth go unanswered.
More than hot weather and pools, “transparency” was the word Mosby repeatedly used when responding to Comptroller Bill Henry’s suggestion that the spending panel let the Board of Ethics rule on private fundraising requests by elected officials.
Regardless of the worthiness of any cause, Mosby said, the names of contributors and especially of “controlled donors” – individuals and companies who do business with the city – need to be publicly known.
The Council president has quite a bit of personal experience with the issue.
In May 2022, he began tussling with the Ethics Board over its request that he disclose the donors to The Mosby 2021 Trust Fund.
He took the matter to Baltimore Circuit Court, and last February, Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill ruled that he had violated the ethics law by indirectly soliciting donations to the fund, which was set up to defray the costs of a federal investigation that resulted in four felony counts against his wife, former Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. (Her trial is scheduled to begin in November.)
Although he lost the court battle, Mosby wound up having only to disclose the existence of the trust fund on his amended annual disclosure form. The Board of Ethics, meanwhile, redacted the names of all 130 donors to the trust, citing a personal finances exemption to the Maryland Public Information Act.
(The Brew is currently disputing the panel’s right to keep the names secret in a complaint pending before the Attorney General’s Public Information Act Compliance Board.)
Attempting to cut into Cohen’s “clean government” image, Mosby lectured his fellow board members about “how it is important, one, for the cause to be fully transparent and, two, for the donors of the cause to be fully transparent.”
He then joined Scott and Henry in approving the Charitable Solicitation Application that will allow Cohen to raise private funds for the splash pad.