Taxpayer outrage over paying Mayor Dixon's legal bills
It’s another public relations hit for Mayor Sheila Dixon. As if she needed it.
Not surprisingly, outrage is mounting fast over a plan reported in today’s Baltimore Sun by reporter Annie Linskey for a formal policy that would authorize city tax dollars to compensate the legal fees for Dixon and other city employees involved in a three-year investigation into City Hall corruption.
City Solicitor George A. Nilson discussed the creation of a policy with Dixon last summer. She didn’t object. So the planning is underway. The policy would have to be adopted by the city Board of Estimates, which Dixon, a Democrat, effectively controls.
Among talk show hosts and their callers this morning, there is little sympathy for the high bills facing Dixon, who has hired high-priced attorneys to defend her against the dozen-count indictment on theft, perjury and misuse of office charges brought by the Office of the State Prosecutor earlier this month. The charges stem from Dixon’s personal relationship with a developer who received tax breaks from the city, and from her alleged personal use of thousands of dollars worth of gift cards purchased by that developer and others and intended for needy families. She has said she is innocent of the charges.
The radio show callers say Dixon seems not to recognize the appearance of her actions. They note that Dixon dug her heels in over a recent cost of living increase that she and other city officials quietly approved for themselves, only to promise to donate the increase to charity after days of public outcry.
The legal bills policy has the same feel: something that could wind up getting reversed after outrage mounts.
But here’s the rub: It may be best for city taxpayers if the policy goes through. The plan is modeled after a state practice, which allows compensation for public officials’ legal fees only if they are found not guilty of charges. If they plead or are determined to be guilty, no money.
Nilson says he wants to put in writing something that had been done on a case-by-case basis before. Translation: if the policy proposal dies from public pressure, Dixon and her lawyers could still well get taxpayer reimbursement anyway. So maybe taxpayers should stop and think and ask for a smart policy in writing.
There’s a fairness issue, too. As some radio callers note, lots of taxpayer money was spent on the lengthy investigation into Dixon. Isn’t it right that she taps into public resources for her defense? Sad to say, but it may be there is no way around taxpayers being on the hook for this.
This has the potential to be quite a trial, as the case goes forward. Not only will the fate of Dixon be in the hands of a few notoriously unpredictable Baltimore City jurors, but so will a huge bill for taxpayers.