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The Nose

Keeping Secrets

Posted 2/9/2005

To many officers in the Baltimore Police Department, it seemed like it would never happen. As each day slipped by since Leonard Hamm’s Nov. 10 appointment as acting police commissioner, they waited for Mayor Martin O’Malley to officially submit his name to the City Council for confirmation, but O’Malley never did. The rumor among some boys in blue was that it would never happen.

But on Feb. 3—the day after the Nose reported on O’Malley’s failure to nominate Hamm, which was causing growing displeasure among some City Council members (“Hamm Time?", The Nose, Feb. 2)—hizzoner held a press conference to announce he was submitting the acting commissioner’s name to the council to make his position permanent. At the press conference, O’Malley indicated that the Nose’s questions to members of City Council, members of the Police Department, and to himself played at least a part in his decision to finally go forward with Hamm’s nomination.

“Some people,” O’Malley said, turning slightly to his right and leveling his baby blues right into the Nose’s eyes, “have been asking questions for the last few weeks.” At the press conference, O’Malley gave Hamm the praise you’d expect. “He’s been keeping us focused on violent crime reduction,” he said. Hamm has “not only the expertise, but the respect of the police.” So, everything is hunky-dory and Hamm will be officially nominated at the next City Council meeting on Feb. 14, right? Well, not quite.

O’Malley had been claiming that the reason for the delay was because Hamm’s background check hadn’t been completed. Hizzoner said the check was more thorough than it had been for his last two commissioners: Edward Norris, who just finished serving a six-month federal jail sentence for taking money from a police fund for his own use, and Kevin Clark, whom O’Malley fired in the wake of an alleged domestic-abuse incident. This time around, the city hired a private firm to do the background check on the commish candidate, rather than taking the job on itself.

At the press conference, the Nose asked the mayor why a private firm had been hired to do the investigation and how much taxpayers had forked over to the company to do it. O’Malley answered on both scores that he didn’t know, saying he had put city solicitor Ralph Tyler in charge of the investigation. (Tyler was in the room at the time, but O’Malley did not call him to the mic to answer those questions, although he did call him up to answer several others.)

The Nose happens to know that, whatever the cost of the investigation, the city probably could have gotten a better deal from the Maryland State Police. The Nose recently asked State Police spokesman Greg Shipley several hypothetical questions about background investigations in general (not about the Hamm situation specifically), and he said that if the head of any Maryland jurisdiction asked the State Police to check out the new head of a police department the force would do it. How much would it cost? “Nothing,” Shipley replied.

So, after mayor’s press conference broke up, the Nose tracked down Tyler and asked him why the city hired a private company to do the Hamm investigation.

“I’m not prepared to discuss that,” Tyler replied. Then, how much was this costing the taxpayers? He wouldn’t answer that, either. Who did the investigation? It would be inappropriate, the solicitor said, to reveal that information.

Sources tell the Nose that the Hamm investigation cost the city about $8,000, but this (in addition to the name of the company who did the investigation) will become public soon enough, when the approval for the payment goes before the city’s Board of Estimates. So what gives with the secrecy?

During the conference, Tyler told the assembled members of the press that certain information about Hamm will be submitted only to City Council President Sheila Dixon and Councilman Bernard “Jack” Young (D-12th), chairman of the Executive Appointments Committee, which will conduct Hamm’s confirmation hearing. The exclusive dossier includes information on the acting commissioner’s finances and other “personal” matters.

Tyler also told the assembled reporters that the investigating company had not prepared a written report on its findings—something the Nose finds unusual. When asked about that matter, Tyler contended that, even “had we gotten a written report, it would be protected” under the personnel exceptions in the Maryland Public Information Act. The Nose found his response interesting, considering that the last time the city solicitor tried to protect an investigation from this kind of public scrutiny was during the Clark domestic-violence investigation. In fact, Tyler just lost a court case to the Sun and WBAL-TV in November, when the media outlets demanded that the investigation of Clark be made public.

After doing our own little investigation of Hamm using our sources, some of whom have known him for more than 30 years, we understand that he’s honest and a man of integrity. So why won’t the administration release benign information, such as the name of the company it hired to investigate Hamm and how much it cost, to the public? Under the provisions of the Maryland Public Information Act, the Nose has filed a request for all of the withheld information. We’ll let you know what we find out as soon as the city turns it over.

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