Mayor Brandon Scott’s senior aides attempted to quell concerns that his administration has a turnover problem at a City Council hearing Tuesday night, just one day after the Democrat asked both his chief of staff and communications director to step down.

Some council members leaned into the uncanny timing of the hearing, which was first called for months ago by Councilwoman Phylicia Porter but rescheduled several times. The first-term mayor’s tenure has been dotted with Cabinet level departures, from former City Administrator Chris Shorter to multiple communications directors.

“The council has yet to see any notification from the administration about yesterday’s two transitions,” Porter said. “When we’re contacted by our constituents about turnover, we need to have an understanding of what’s going on.” City Council President Nick Mosby echoed her sentiment, saying that learning of major staff departures from the media is problematic.

Councilwoman Odette Ramos was blunt: “We need to provide the public confidence in leadership.”

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City Administrator Faith Leach, one of Scott’s most trusted advisors who the council confirmed after a tumultuous do-over hearing in March, pledged to inform the council of future departures. She served as the administration’s main representative throughout the hearing, a role that otherwise would have been held by former Chief of Staff Chezia Cager — one of the two staff members asked to step down Monday — whose testimony was requested by the council.

Leach stressed that the city is grappling with a changing workforce landscape post-pandemic and touted a vacancy rate of less than 5% of executive roles and an employee retention rate around 87%.

“Here’s what I know. We have some of the best professionals working for Baltimore City, and we need to find more opportunities to develop talent,” she said. “While we have work to do to retain talent, we have made significant progress by offering leadership training programs and building succession planning programs to ensure continuity.”

Mosby questioned why the city has so many interim staffers in senior positions, from the city solicitor to the director of the government relations office: “We see permanent acting staffers in really important positions.”

Quinton Herbert, the director and chief human capital officer for the Department of Human Resources, replied that he is where he is today because he first held the role on an interim basis before being offered the job permanently.

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“Sometimes you find the next-level leader in that interim process,” he said. “Our policy doesn’t provide hard and fast timelines for how long someone is acting or interim. Ideally, the you want to find the best person for the job as quickly as possible.”

He emphasized that many senior positions, particularly Cabinet-level roles, often require widespread recruiting efforts that lead human resources employees to industry conferences in search of candidates with niche areas of expertise.

Herbert recalled a recent open role that dozens of candidates interviewed for; none were ultimately recommended for the position by hiring managers.

“We want to put someone in that position who can be successful,” he said. The alternative, he continued, is offering the job to the wrong person, which can have “catastrophic consequences.”

emily.sullivan@thebaltimorebanner.com

Emily Sullivan covers Baltimore City Hall. She joined the Banner after three years at WYPR, where she won multiple awards for her radio stories on city politics and culture. She previously reported for NPR’s national airwaves, focusing on business news and breaking news.

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