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Mobtown Beat

Lots of Trouble

Firing of Baltimore Parking Authority director reveals another ethics breach in city government

Christopher Myers
Rate Hike: Former parking authority director Jeff Sparrow lost his job when it was revealed he was part owner of two garages.

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 7/14/2004

The Parking Authority of Baltimore City has begun a national search for a new executive director after the firing of a brash executive who says he ran the city’s parking system “like a business” but concealed conflicts of interest in his own business deals.

Baltimore Parking Authority executive director Jeff Sparrow abruptly left his job on Thursday, July 1, as reported in The Sun July 2, after the five-member, quasi-public Parking Authority Board of Directors learned that Sparrow has an ownership interest in two downtown parking garages.

“[H]is outside business activities do not meet the high standards the mayor, and this board, expect from public servants,” board chairman David Wallace said in a written statement released July 1.

Although Wallace effectively fired Sparrow, he made it clear that he did so reluctantly and praised Sparrow’s two-year tenure at the Parking Authority.

“Many of Jeff’s policies in terms of technology and innovation were what we need,” Wallace said in an interview with City Paper.

“It was a great two years, I had a lot of fun, and that’s really all I have to say,” Sparrow said last week.

Sparrow’s departure comes amid a series of ethical gaffes by city officials. A federal grand jury has subpoenaed documents and testimony from at least eight City Council members in what appears to be a wide-ranging investigation of corruption in City Hall. One avenue of the inquiry lead to council members giving up free parking passes they had received from Arrow Parking, which owns 12 garages in Baltimore and sought a tax break last year from the City Council on a new parking garage it was planning to build. Arrow does not manage any city-owned parking garages, and Sparrow was not implicated in these dealings.

Sparrow’s termination stemmed in part from an anonymous letter that had circulated for several months, which criticized his “ethics and practices.” City Paper received the letter in March. Though Wallace says most of the allegations in the detailed letter were false, one of the claims was that Sparrow “owns an equity interest in at least one parking garage in Baltimore.” Wallace says the Parking Authority Board received the letter May 25 in a meeting with Councilwoman Helen Holton, D-5th, who also had received the letter.

In an interview with City Paper on May 27, Sparrow admitted he owned part of the garage. “I own a portion of a garage. I don’t manage it,” he says. “I try not to do anything around that area.”

At the time, Sparrow said his ownership stake in the garage was not in conflict with his $108,000 a year job as head of the Parking Authority, which directly manages 13 garages and 21 surface lots in the city. Though the letter claimed Sparrow was about to increase rates at a surface lot across the street from his garage, which would drive business to his private garage, Sparrow denied that, saying rates have remained stable or even decreased in some downtown locations.

In fact, the City Council had passed a resolution calling for increased parking rates at metered spaces, and a study of that issue is ongoing, Wallace says, with a report due in September.

Sparrow also told City Paper that he was not required to file a financial disclosure statement with the city’s Department of Legislative Reference, which all city officials are required to do. He was mistaken, according to department staff and a reading of the ordinance governing financial disclosure.

Legislative Reference staff could not locate Sparrow’s financial disclosure last month after City Paper asked to see it. Sparrow was required to file the form by June 30, the day of his termination.

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