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UMB Welcomes Mayor's Cabinet In The Community

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake brought her cabinet to speak with Westside residents at the Carter Memorial Church on S. Poppleton Street Wednesday night. Although the latest installment in the mayor's Cabinet in the Community program had originally been scheduled at the University of Maryland BioPark, host of the weeklong Westside Public Safety Initiative, strong community response required the larger venue.

Before she turned the meeting over to the city's department heads, Rawlings-Blake took a moment to thank University of Maryland, Baltimore President Jay A. Perman, MD for his work with her on the UniverCity Partnership, which seeks to bolster business and housing opportunities on the downtown's west side.

"We've made such great progress," she said. "Because of our partnership, people see there's a reason for hope."

Councilman William "Pete" Welch echoed the mayor's sentiments, and added praise for the University's outreach in the community. "We visited Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy (in the Franklin Square neighborhood) where they have a dental program," he said. "They have the same equipment as the University of Maryland, Baltimore. And because they do, the University of Maryland (School of Dentistry) will be partnering with Vivien T. Thomas, providing dental services free of charge to residents in our district."

Following introductions, four leaders of city departments or programs addressed the audience of more than 200 District 9 residents and city staffers: Department of Public Works Director Rudolph Chow; Housing Commissioner, Paul Graziano; Police Commissioner Anthony Batts; and Lisa Allen, director of the city's 311 call center.

Introducing Chow, the mayor described her recent test drive of one of his department's new mechanical street sweepers, designed for use in residential alleys. Chow said residents of the Hollins Market neighborhood should see one of the three new machines shortly, adding that their implementation should help deal with the effects of illegal dumping and curb the rat overpopulation problem.

Housing Commissioner Graziano recounted a lengthy list of accomplishments in the area, particularly with the Vacants to Value Program, which promotes rehabilitation, streamlines the sale of vacant properties, and provides incentives for developers and homebuyers. "We'll be spending over $150 million over the next ten years to demolish vacant properties," he said. Graziano told residents that communities in District 9 have also adopted over 200 lots for use as green space and garden plots.

"We're trying to change the way we interact with young people," emphasized Police Commissioner Anthony Batts. "We started what we call the Explorer Camp. We focus on character building and athletics," he said, and provide youngsters breakfast and lunch. Batts also explained that violent crime has been reduced in most areas of Southwest Baltimore, "but we're not just focused on the output of numbers. We're focused on the outcomes and the perception of safety.

The strongest criticism from the audience was focused on the city's 311 call center, which takes residents requests for service and routes them to the appropriate departments for action. "The app (the 311 mobile application released in 2011) doesn't work," said Daniel Rodenburg, a Union Square resident and member of the community association's board. "Some things take 6 months or longer, or don't get fixed at all." Rodenburg said he had tried numerous times to get the city to board up an abandoned building, to no avail. "We're here to help you. We're your eyes and ears," responded 311 call center chief Lisa Allen, promising to look into the matter closely.

At the end of the meeting, cabinet members and their staffs moved to separate areas of the church to interact in more depth with residents. Darl Packard, a 38-year resident of Hollins Street, voiced the concern many residents share about illegal dumping. He urged DPW's Chow to invest time in today's children to change the attitudes of tomorrow's homeowners. "You have to teach the children. We have to go into the schools," he said. "If you teach the children, they'll teach the adults, and we have plenty of adults who are dumping." Chow gave Packard and other residents his direct phone number in order to help them get a speedier response, and expressed his agreement. "If we don't change the culture, we can clean, but in five minutes it will all be ruined again."
Posting Date: 08/21/2014
Contact Name: Alex Likowski
Contact Phone: 410-706=3801
Contact Email: alikowski@umaryland.edu