Last month 13 guards and 12 others were indicted on charges of letting a gang effectively take over management of the Baltimore City Detention Center; according to the indictment, corrupt guards allegedly smuggled in drugs, cellphones and other contraband and had sex with the gang leader, several becoming pregnant by him. Since then the public and press has been asking what went wrong. A Washington Post editorial suggests one place they might look:
The absurd situation described in the indictment took root at least partly because of a “bill of rights” for corrections officers, backed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and enacted by the Maryland legislature in 2010 at the behest of the guards union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. This bill of rights grants extraordinary protections to guards, including shielding them from threats of prosecution, transfer, dismissal or even disciplinary action during questioning for suspected wrongdoing.
While Gov. O’Malley has sought to minimize the relevance of the 2010 law, the Post notes that FBI recordings suggest that a guard who was deemed “dirty” was transferred to another facility, rather than fired — transfers-instead-of-firing being a less than optimal way of dealing with public employee corruption, but one typical of systems with strong tenure entrenchment. AFSCME, which boasted at the time of its “relentless lobbying” on behalf of the law, is now doing damage control. More: “those protections left officers at the jail without fear of sanctions for allegedly smuggling contraband or having relationships with inmates, the FBI said in an affidavit.” [Baltimore Sun] Union-allied lawmakers defend the measure [AP]
“The Orioles’ team doctor, William H. Goldiner, tended to orange-clad ballplayers at the same time as he diagnosed thousands of blue-collar workers with asbestos-related illnesses whose cases were taken up by prominent lawyer and team owner Peter G. Angelos.” [Baltimore Sun, earlier]
“A Circuit Court judge has ruled that Baltimore County’s contract with its speed camera vendor is illegal, because it pays the company a cut of each citation issued…. Maryland law says that ‘if a contractor operates a speed camera system on behalf of a local jurisdiction, the contractor’s fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid.’ But several jurisdictions, including Baltimore County and Baltimore City, pay their vendors a cut of each ticket, arguing that the jurisdiction, not the company, operates the cameras.” Judge Susan Souder ruled that Xerox State and Local Solutions, which currently “receives about $19 from every $40 ticket,” is indeed involved in the operation of the cameras. Del. Michael Smigiel, an Eastern Shore Republican, has introduced a bill to repeal the camera program: “We specifically said we’re not going to allow this to happen, and it happened,” he said. [Baltimore Sun, auto-plays video]
“Formstone is to Baltimore what Communism was to Czechoslovakia.” Although virtually no one installs the simulated-stone exterior cladding any more, and it doesn’t seem to raise any safety concern, Charm City authorities are still proposing to ban it, which has touched off a wave of protests and a Baltimore Sun editorial objecting to the ban. [Sun reporting, editorial]
“In answers to interrogatories, [the mesothelioma-diagnosed] plaintiff identified Colgate’s Cashmere Bouquet talcum powder as the sole source of her asbestos exposure.” [Ron Miller]
A little while back, Mayor Bloomberg’s crew in New York City floated a trial balloon about restricting liquor sales, pursuant to the now-familiar “public health” rationale. After meeting with instant public outrage in that entertainment-intensive city, the idea was quickly scrapped. Perhaps it is sheer coincidence that scholars at the mayorally endowed Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University are now helping to promote proposed measures in Baltimore cracking down on liquor stores, which Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has now endorsed. One initiative would close approximately 100 of the city’s liquor stores; another would ban stores with a substantial liquor business (20 percent or more of sales) from selling any item to minors, such as milk or batteries. Among stores targeted by the city for uncompensated closure is one that was voted “Best Wine Store” by City Paper readers a few years ago: “Health and planning officials are targeting stores that they say are in mostly poor neighborhoods and are a public health nuisance because they have been linked to violent crimes. … But at least four of the five stores in north Baltimore are longtime businesses, whose owners say they are in relatively crime-free communities and get along with their residential neighbors,” notes the Sun. More advocacy for the bans here (columnist Dan Rodricks suggests owners transform some of the shuttered stores into “bakeries or small restaurants”) and here (“Park Heights Renaissance” group).
Maryland blogger Tom Coale (HoCoRising) responds:
As I’ve said many times before, these laws that appear facially valid and high-minded almost always end up with unintended consequences. In this case, I can certainly foresee a 15 year old being prohibited from buying his family food while his two parents are at work, and having no where else to make this small part of their family unit work. There are some exemptions to address this, but I can’t see this Council considering every circumstance across Baltimore. If you don’t want kids at liquor stores, work on building the business community and rehabilitating neighborhoods.
Assisted by a foundation, Baltimore has proposed putting Nook e-reader devices in some school libraries, but a complaint from the National Federation of the Blind says that would violate Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). [Business Wire]
Because joining your head to Abraham Lincoln’s body is such a great way to keep everything in perspective [Lowering the Bar]
P.S. Runner up? Baltimore’s Barry Glazer [Above the Law]