For the most part, Mayor Brandon Scott’s State of the City address, an annual tradition, followed the classic format:
He touted accomplishments of his first 100 days in office – “implementing one of the most efficient snow plow operations in Baltimore history amid a pandemic,” appointing “Baltimore’s first chief equity officer” – and promised a number of concrete actions as well as broad initiatives in the future.
Recreation centers, closed during the past year because of the pandemic, will reopen on April 5.
Local government will be restructured “to bring it into the 21st Century.” He promised “a commitment to equity,” a “top-to-bottom assessment of city agencies and processes” and more.
“Our challenges require a new vision and a new generation of leadership that is committed to bringing people together no matter the cost,” he said, speaking from an auditorium at Baltimore’s Waxter Center to an online audience.
“Establishing trust is key. This is especially true when trust has been broken over and over again” – Brandon Scott.
But the 36-year-old also devoted some time to a subject his predecessors in these speeches have not: restoring confidence in government.
It was an only slightly oblique reference to the 2019 Healthy Holly scandal that led to the conviction of former mayor Catherine Pugh on corruption charges.
“Just like the start of any new relationship establishing trust is key. This is especially true when trust has been broken over and over again,” he said.
“Given the public skepticism and disappointment toward City Hall, it was critical that I work to regain your faith and prove that local government can operate in your best interest,” Scott continued.
Taxes and Translation
Scott used the 28-minute address to unveil a laundry list of initiatives.
He is launching the city’s first “Open Checkbook” tool that will enable residents to “explore city expenditures.” He also plans a “local language access mandate that pushes city agencies to provide access to service in languages beyond English.”
He said his administration will invest approximately $100,000 towards the translation of vital documents to other languages.
The city will “use every tool and resource available to us to make sure no one loses their home to tax sale in the midst of this pandemic.”
On the subject of the upcoming tax sale, Scott said he is directing the department of finance “to use every tool and resource available to us to make sure no one loses their home to tax sale in the midst of this pandemic.”
City Council President Nick Mosby and Comptroller Bill Henry had urged him to simply postpone the sale at a recent meeting of the Board of Estimates.
Touting his appointment of a director of broadband and digital equity, Scott vowed to close the digital divide in Baltimore.
He said this office “will focus on how to expand high-speed, affordable internet access to over 60,000 Baltimore households that are currently without this critical necessity.”
Guns, Crime and Crisis
Noting the 57 homicides so far this year, Scott said his administration is “increasing Baltimore’s capacity to fight crime, addressing trauma and the root cause of crime, and building trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
He pointed to his creation of an Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement and creation of a tool to track the flow of illegal guns into the city.
He said he has asked Governor Larry Hogan to allow him to restart the now-defunct Criminal Justice Coordinating Council out of the neighborhood safety office. (The state cut funding to the group in 2017.)
Also planned is a pilot program to divert some 911 calls to mental health specialists rather than police.
Additionally, he said, the city is working with Behavioral Health Systems Baltimore and other partners on a Greater Baltimore Regional Integrated Crisis System program, which is intended to “develop improved care coordination for those experiencing crisis throughout the region.”
Water Bills and Hiring
Discussing the new public works director announced today, Scott called Jason Mitchell, of Oakland, Calif., “a national leader” who will fix chronic issues.
“We will bring much-needed reform to our City’s water billing system – making it more affordable and accountable.,” he said. “We will move away from outdated forms of waste disposal and towards zero waste.”
On the theme of equity, Scott promised to overhaul procurement practices (“we must make the process more equitable for the women- and Black-owned local businesses right in our backyard”) and to revise the hiring process for public employees.
Scott says he will “suspend pre-employment drug screenings for public employees in non-safety sensitive positions.”
He said he will “suspend pre-employment drug screenings for public employees in non-safety sensitive positions. . . a long-overdue first step to increasing opportunities for our hard-to-employ residents.”
Scott said another goal will be determining the best use of an estimated $670 million in U.S. American Rescue Plan funds that Baltimore is set to receive.
He vowed to prioritize the federal windfall to “get Baltimoreans working again, help our businesses recover and invest in our people and places that have been left out due to the inequitable policies of the past.”