(Photo via Friends of Bill Henry/Facebook)
The Baltimore City Comptroller’s office now has a roadmap for reform.
Recently-inaugurated Baltimore City Comptroller Bill Henry released a transition team report last week with recommendations from local leaders on how to improve and modernize the City’s fiscal office.
Henry took office in early December after running on a pledge to bring transparency and modernization to an office that is under new leadership for the first time in 25 years. To help in this effort, he enlisted a transition committee, consisting of leaders from the private, nonprofit and public sectors. Organized into six workgroups, it was chaired by State Senator Mary Washington and Southwest Baltimore Gateway Partnership Executive Director Brad Rogers. The team completed interviews with industry experts, process stakeholders, employees of the Comptroller’s Office for three months before releasing the 24-page report.
Key recommendations from the report are as follows:
- Digitize and modernize the Board of Estimates process (This refers to the City’s spending panel, on which the comptroller serves as secretary)
- Dismantle bureaucratic barriers that disadvantage local, minority and women’s business enterprises, and design a new way forward.
- Prioritize Baltimore residents in all efforts to increase communication, transparency and accessibility of information.
- Increase focus on impactful performance audits.
- Lead an interagency collaborative effort to assess the city’s real estate assets.
- Evaluate operations of the city’s Department of Communication Services operations, which oversees the municipal telephone exchange and municipal post office.
“A modernized Comptroller’s office is proactive,” Henry told Technical.ly via email. “It provides thorough analysis of City deals, it interfaces with the public regularly, and provides oversight of all City spending.”
The transition team report sets some clear goals for the comptroller. At the end of the report, it lists actionable tasks in the first 100 days, year and term of the Comptroller. It reminds us of what Jason Anton, a software developer with Code for Baltimore, told Technical.ly last year about his general recommendations for implementing new tech in government: “Make the project smaller, more manageable and incrementally get that change that you’re looking for.”
Henry stated right now one of the office’s first priorities is moving all staff to telework capacity. In a Q&A with Technical.ly in December, he spoke about how he was still using his laptop from his time as a city councilmember, and the lack of computer equipment in his office. Per the report, a similar first step in digitizing the BOE process is getting laptops for all of the BOE technicians.
Some of the first-100-day tasks spelled out in the report are done, like proposing the adoption of a formal Board of Estimates abstention policy, and hiring an IT manager.
Other early efforts include work to create an open checkbook tool, which would make city spending info available to citizens digitally.
“In the first month I took office, my staff began meeting with other agencies to discuss implementing open checkbook,” said Henry. “We expect to launch the [open checkbook] program by the end of the summer. Currently, we are working through some internal obstacles, including the City’s implementation of [financial management software] Workday and compatibility with our website host,” which is Drupal, he said.
Whether the tasks can be completed on the allotted timetables remains to be seen. The report acknowledges that there’s a “substantial” amount of work ahead, and offers a look at how the modernization effort ultimately means bringing organizational change.
“We are still wrapping our arms around the office – there’s a lot to learn and adjust to,” said Henry. “We will be working expeditiously to meet all the goals set out within the first 100 days by March 18.”
Donte Kirby is a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
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