Fox45 News: Baltimore Comptroller 'We Need To Comply With The Law' - City Agencies Not Following State Open Records Law baltimore

November 4, 2022 01:40 AM



By Rachel O’Brien 

Deputy Policy Editor, 


The Maryland Public Information Act (PIA) is a weak open records law. It gives a public body ten days to even acknowledge a request and then 30 days to produce the public documents. For example, even in Illinois, the super bowl of corruption, records have to be produced in five days. 

However, the city of Baltimore can’t even comply with the state’s weak law. 


A recent audit found repeat issues with how Baltimore City’s Law Department handles Maryland Public Information Act requests, claiming the department didn’t heed previous guidance to ensure the city is complying with PIA requirements. 


The city lacks a performance metric to measure whether the public information process is effective, the audit found. But that isn’t new to the Law Department, since a previous review of the office came to the same conclusion.  


The Law Department measures the percent of requests answered in a timely manner by tracking how much time passes between the department receiving requests from agencies and the department responding to the agencies or directly to requestors 


But the Law Department doesn’t track the entire PIA process, beginning when other city agencies receive the requests.


Therefore, this measurement is a portion of the overall PIA process and does not measure whether the City, as a whole, is in compliance with the PIA requirements, the audit found. 


Department of Audits, part of the Office of the Baltimore City Comptroller, completed the audit for FY 2021 and 2020, with City Auditor Josh Pasch recently presenting the report to the Board of Estimates. 


This is the second consecutive audit on the Law Department, the previous of which was for fiscal years 2019 and 2018, where the Audits Department found that “the City had not developed and implemented overarching guidance to provide consistency and oversight of PIA requests,” the audit stated. 


The prior recommendations included that the city administration should consider “centralizing the PIA process; and developing and implementing overarching guidance such as formal (written, approved, dated) policies and procedures to provide consistency, oversight, and citywide tracking of PIA requests. 


What the city did do was create a pilot program for tracking the requests, beginning August 2022. That was long after the first audit report brough the issue to light in December 2020 and after the second report had already begun in July 2022.  


The pilot program, however, is managed by the Mayor’s Chief Data Officer, not the Law Department. 


“Trying to address previous findings halfway through an audit report isn’t an adequate way to respond to a finding – what it shows me is that agencies aren’t taking recommendations seriously,” Comptroller Bill Henry said in a statement announcing the audit.We need to do the right thing and comply with the law even if it isn’t easy. 


“From what my office has researched, every other City uses their law department as the conduit for PIA requests,” he added. “Pushing this responsibility off onto other agencies is not the best long-term strategy.” 


In Maryland, agencies must acknowledge receipt of PIA requests within 10 days. Then, agencies have 30 days to comprehensively respond to the request, but there may be instances where an agency needs additional time to locate and review the requested records,” according to the MPIA manual. 


Agencies either grant the request and send the public records, deny it and explain why, or grant in part and deny in part. 


OpenTheBooks had filed dozens of PIA requests with various Baltimore City agencies. On average, it has taken 1-2 months to receive records or partial records. Not all agencies respond within the 10 days to acknowledge receiving requests. City agencies have outright denied a handful of our requests. 


The Law Department didn’t respond to a request for comment by our deadline.  


Learn more at  


Back to news
Sign the Petition