Thursday •  May 12, 2022

For the 300th time, “I don’t recall!” – The Concerningly Consistent Deposition of County Executive Calvin Ball’s Executive Liaison, Election Campaign Manager & Public Information “Gatekeeper”

 

A recent HoCo Watchdogs post detailed how Howard County Executive Calvin Ball hired and gave unusually generous pay increases over three years to his family member, Jamila Ratliff, who was simultaneously being paid as Ball’s election campaign manager.

 

Specifically, Ball hired Ratliff to be his “[County] Executive Liaison”, which included the responsibility of handling all Public Information Act (PIA) requests that came to the County Executive’s office.  In this position, Ratliff proceeded to repeatedly and wrongly deny the public release of hundreds of emails related to correspondence between Ball and a private land use attorney & developer lobbyist, Tom Coale.

 

A lawsuit resulted from these PIA decisions, and as a part of this lawsuit, certain members of County Executive Ball’s staff, including Ms. Ratliff and Ball’s Chief of Staff, Sameer Sidh, gave official depositions to share their knowledge of this situation.

 

The full deposition transcript for Jamila Ratliff is available here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1dAGQyv56-bKLX59IF8nYqcPdWaV3kWPQ/view?usp=sharing

 

The full deposition transcript for Sameer Sidh is available here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1679GF5-vvJNIP7uzgQ1JdZqF317q8-Jk/view?usp=sharing

 

There is so much to scrutinize in these depositions, but this post will focus on just a few key concerns related to Ratliff’s deposition and how often she tended to “plead the fifth”:

 

1)  During her deposition, Ratliff answered “I don’t recall”, “I do not recall”, “I don’t remember”, or “I don’t know” over 300 times (approximately 320 times, for those counting). This included stating that she could not recall basic personal and professional information such as:

  • When she graduated from high school

 

  • When she attended college

 

  • What her post-college jobs were

 

  • Any details about her employment at the Social Security Administration (which was a federal employee position she held in 2016 and 2017 – only 5 years ago)

 

  • Whether she filed W-2 tax forms for the payments she received as campaign manager for Calvin Ball’s election campaign team

 

2)  Critically, Ratliff could not recall any details regarding the tens of thousands of dollars that she and certain other members of Ball’s administration had received from The Calvin Ball election campaign team (over $100,000 in cumulative payments) while they were simultaneously employed in Ball’s County Executive Administration as paid county employees. This included not being able to recall:

  • Who authorized the campaign payments made to her and others

 

  • What work was performed for these payments, such as the $10,000 in “consulting fees” paid to herself in May 2021 and $1,000 in “Event or Fair Booth Expenses” paid to herself in November 2021 (a payment made just 5 months prior to when she gave her deposition).

 

  • Who determined how much Ratliff got paid and what methodology was used to determine how much to pay her as campaign manager. Ratliff stated that Calvin Ball “didn’t have anything to do” with the over $60,000 in payments that she had received from The Calvin Ball team’s election campaign fund since becoming a county employee in December 2018 as Ball’s Executive Liaison.

 

Shown below are the Calvin Ball election campaign team payments under scrutiny, including $67,307 to Jamila Ratliff (employed by the county as Ball’s Executive Liaison), $27,450 to Safa Hira (employed by the county as Ball’s Social Media Manager and Community Liaison), $12,750 to Jennifer Jones (employed by the county as Ball’s Deputy Chief of Staff) , and $6,500 to Vanessa Halpin (employed by the county as Ball’s Scheduler & Executive Assistant and currently serving in Ratliff’s old ‘Executive Liaison’ position). 

 

Despite being Ball’s election campaign manager, Ratliff claimed that she could not recall any details about these payments, including why they were made, how they were requested and who authorized the payments:

3)  Ratliff also could not recall the reasoning behind her decisions to withhold from public release hundreds of emails exchanged between members of County Executive Ball’s administration and land use attorney/developer lobbyist, Tom Coale, including emails related to a meeting (arranged by Coale) between members of the Ball Administration and the developer of “Dorsey Overlook”, Jeff Kirby, just weeks before a decision was made on this development by the County Council in Fall 2019. This aspect of Ratliff’s deposition will be analyzed in a future Watchdogs post.

 

Readers are encouraged to examine the full deposition pdf files linked above, as well as these past articles that provide much more detail on this concerning situation:

 

HoCo Watchdogs post: Howard County Executive Calvin Ball Hired and Generously Paid Family Member Who Wrongly Denied the Public Release of Hundreds of Emails Exchanged with Developer Lobbyist

 

Maryland Reporter article: Critics Charge Ball Violated Ethics Law by Hiring his Sister-in-Law as his Public Information Officer While she Worked as his Campaign Consultant

 

Below are some important excerpts and full pages from Ratliff’s deposition:

Was Ratliff coached by a legal team prior to her deposition?  If so, why?

 

Why be so legally evasive, claiming “I don’t recall” and “I don’t remember” over 300 times, if all of these election campaign payments and Public Information Act decisions were legitimate? 

 

Why did Ratliff go so far out of her way to attempt to distance her employer, Calvin Ball, from all things related to her county employment, the campaign payments under scrutiny, and the Public Information Act requests that brought about the pending lawsuit?  

 

Was County Executive Ball really not involved in or aware of any of the $1,000 to $10,000 cash payments made by his own election campaign to members of his team that were simultaneously being paid by the county to serve in his County Executive Administration?

 

These are just a few of the questions raised by Ratliff’s answers during her deposition.  Further analysis, along with the contents of specific emails that were wrongly withheld from public release by the Ball administration, will be published in the upcoming weeks.

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