The city’s top spending board on Wednesday greenlighted a Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office request to double payments to a former city employee-turned-consultant — a modifcationin the final months of Sheriff John Anderson’s decadeslong tenure

Anderson’s office asked the board to double the contracted hours for consultant Erin Smyth, extending her work for the city to a total of 320 hours and a maximum of $48,000. Officials in the sheriff’s office said Smyth, the city’s former chief purchasing officer, has been instrumental for their procurement needs, especially efforts to comply with a state law requiring law enforcement officials to wear body cameras.

Smyth’s previous contract paid her $150 an hour and expired Sept. 1, but law enforcement officials said she kept working beyond the end date. Some of the payment approved Wednesday will retroactively cover work Smyth already performed, though the sheriff’s office officials didn’t specify how much she has worked beyond the originally budgeted hours.

The Board of Estimates approved the additional hours in a 4-1 vote, with Comptroller Bill Henry dissenting. The board is chaired by City Council President Nick Mosby and includes Mayor Brandon Scott and two of his appointees.

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Anderson, who was appointed Baltimore sheriff in 1989 and won every subsequent election until he was defeated in the Democratic primary this summer, did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. Eness Brown, a human resources official with his office, told the board that Smyth brings important subject matter expertise, particularly when it comes to the acquisition of body cameras.

Henry, the only board member to vote against the payment boost, raised concerns at Wednesday’s meeting that the contract lacks an expiration date, only a maximum number of hours, meaning it could be dragged out indefinitely. He also questioned why the sheriff’s office didn’t seek approval for the extended hours before Smyth had exceeded her contracted hours.

The city has until July of 2025 to outfit law enforcement officers with body cameras, but Assistant Sheriff Sabrina Tapp-Harper told the board that her office has not “started on that project at all.” The department is aiming to have every officer outfitted by the middle of next year, she said, and Smyth will be helpful in that effort.

Wednesday’s discussion comes as the sheriff’s office is about to undergo its most significant turnover in over 30 years. Anderson lost the primary to his former top deputy Sam Cogen, who campaigned on transparent governance and modernizing the law enforcement office. Cogen does not have an opponent in next week’s general election.

In an interview, the soon-to-be sheriff said there’s a “perception” that Anderson is using his lame-duck status to push numerous significant changes under the wire without coordinating with his successor.

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“I find it highly inappropriate that” an administration in its last monthsis entering into contractual obligations for another sheriff who’s gonna be there,” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Aside from the contract for Smyth, Cogen said substantial changes in the sheriff’s office since the primary include the promotion of Tapp-Harper from major to assistant sheriff, a recent decision to begin testing for sergeant promotions, as well as sealing a three-year labor contract, which was also approved at Wednesday’s Board of Estimates meeting.

And Anderson should be safeguarding public funds in his final months, Cogen said, not making expensive procurement decisions on things like body cameras. There’s no urgency to make that decision, still years out from the state deadline, Cogen argued.

Tapp-Harper declined to respond to Cogen’s comments.

Comcast’s franchisee payments slightly off

A new city audit unveiled before the board found that Comcast slightly underpaid Baltimore as part of a franchise agreement that makes it the city’s lone major internet service provider through the rights to construct cable TV systems and access to public rights of way.

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In exchange, Baltimore receives 5% of Comcast’s gross annual revenue from city customers, the maximum allowed by Federal Communications Commission regulations. The city puts the payments toward monitoring the franchise agreement, according to KC Kelleher, Henry’s spokeswoman. From January 2018 through January 2021, the period the audit examines, Comcast paid Baltimore about $19,400,00 in net franchise fees and $4 million in public, education and government fees.

The payments were off by about $16,500 and $3,300, respectively, according to the audit. The agreement calls for interest on any late payments, adding another $2,100 to the money owed.

Auditor Josh Pasch said the error stemmed from a miscalculation. “We did not verify it was a human error. These reports are mostly automatically generated by the system,” he said.

Asked by Henry what steps can be taken avoid future errors, Pasch replied that the city could perform periodic checks on the calculation.

“That is a very detailed and complicated process, so we didn’t make any recommendations to the city to do that,” he said.

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Kristie Fox, a spokeswoman for Comcast, said the company worked with city auditors on their report and agreed with its findings.

“The findings revealed a minor discrepancy, which we will promptly pay with interest,” she said. “We strive to deliver accurate payments from the outset and will work to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Baltimore and Comcast’s most recent agreement went into effect in 2017. It is set to expire in 2027.

This story was updated to correctly identify who is chairman of the Board of Estimates.