Baltimore, MD: City Council to Vote on Restaurants Grading

Mariah Pratt looks on as Nicholas Genna wipes the counter at the York Road Sofi's Crepes.
Owner Ann Costlow said last year she supports the idea of making
inspection reports available online, but didn't like the idea of letter grading.
(Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Mariah Pratt looks on as Nicholas Genna wipes the counter at the York Road Sofi's Crepes.  Owner Ann Costlow said last year she supports the idea of making   inspection reports available online, but didn't like the idea of letter grading.  (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)
Mariah Pratt looks on as Nicholas Genna wipes the counter at the York Road Sofi’s Crepes.
Owner Ann Costlow said last year she supports the idea of making
inspection reports available online, but didn’t like the idea of letter grading.
(Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Restaurants in Baltimore would begin receiving grades based on their health inspections under a bill the City Council will vote on Monday.

Councilman Brandon M. Scott, the bill’s sponsor, said passing the legislation would bring Baltimore in line with many large cities across the country. The bill calls for places where food is sold – including carryouts, grocery stores and food trucks – to post health ratings based on the city’s review of how clean the establishment is.

“It would be in the city’s best interest,” Scott said. “This will help us be more transparent, and it’s something that overwhelmingly the citizens of Baltimore support. It’s something that most people think we should have done a long time ago.”

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is expected to sign the bill, if the council gives it final approval Monday.

Scott was polling his colleagues Friday to ensure their positions hadn’t changed. The council voted 10-5 to give the measure preliminary approval at its March 10 meeting.

Under the bill, establishments would be given grades of “excellent,” “good” and “fair.” The Health Department also would be required to make details of the restaurant inspections available in a searchable online database.

Scott said the bill might be amended to allow restaurants unhappy with their rating to seek expedited re-inspections.

In other business, the council will consider whether to tighten the city’s ethics laws with a collection of bills pushed by the Rawlings-Blake administration.

The legislation would ban city officials from accepting gifts from lobbyists who’ve done business with the city within a 12-month period. That tweaks a previous requirement that’s tied to the actual date the lobbyist registers.

The changes also build on a rule that bars companies affiliated with city officials from doing business with the agency for which the official works. Another change would require city employees to file financial disclosure forms for both the city and state. The final update would clarify which expenses officials can be paid back for.

“These are common-sense reforms that will add clarity to the city’s ethics laws as well as another layer of protection to ensure that public officials are acting in the best interest of citizens,” Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. “I am hopeful that the council will act swiftly on these reforms, and work with my Administration to continue rooting out fraud, waste and abuse in city government.”

Linda B. “Lu” Pierson, chairwoman of the Ethics Board, said the goal is to keep the law as up to date and as clear as possible. The bills are similar to legislation that was filed in previous years, but stalled during the council process, she said.

“Having the law as clear as possible makes it easier,” Pierson said.

City employees with certain responsibilities are required to take a two-hour training course on the ethics rules when they’re hired and again, in some situations, when they’re promoted.

The last major update to the city’s ethics policy came about a year ago when the financial disclosure forms for about 2,000 Baltimore government officials were posted online for the first time. The public can search the records for loans, family income sources, gifts and business relationships for elected officials and government workers. Previously, people needed to go to City Hall to review the documents in person.

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/politics/blog/bal-city-council-to-vote-on-restaurants-grading-20150320-story.html