Baltimore City Council Members Mary Pat Clarke, Nick Mosby and Carl Stokes join us for a roundtable on the latest happenings around Baltimore City Hall, including Baltimore’s childcare programs, school graduation rates, speed cameras and more.
Rush transcript of show included below:
Marc Steiner: Let me introduce our guests. The man and woman you just heard are here with us in the studio. Nicky Mosby’s with us in studio, representing District 7 in Baltimore City. Nick, good to have you in the studio.
Nick Mosby: Thanks for having me Marc.
MS: Welcome. Councilman Mary Pat Clarke is in studio, who represents of course District 14 and is chair of the Education Committee on our City Council.
Mary Pat Clarke: Happy to be here, thanks.
MS: Councilman Carl Stokes will be with us in just a moment, and he’ll be right here, he represents the 12th district and is chair of Taxation, Finance, and Economic Development. Good to have all three of you with us…well, almost all three. (410) 319-8888. Write to us here at firstname.lastname@example.org, you can log on to our facebook page, you can tweet me @MarcSteiner, we’ll check as they come in, join us for your thoughts for our City Council representatives and what you think about the issues facing the city. Of course there’s a lot to talk about. We’ll start with the audits of speed cameras, which will be a good place maybe to begin this conversation. There are many other things to talk about…little items that we saw in the press today – the other day, about the elimination of the Department of Housing and Community Development Childcare Program—
MPC: –Oh yes indeed, I’m very involved in that and there’s a hearing coming up, I hope people attend. It is on the 13th of February, City Hall, 3:00 in the afternoon. The President of the City Council, Jack Young, introduced the resolution, and called for this hearing of my committee, Education and Youth. And basically here’s the problem: Four programs, childcare programs, which are being proposed by the Budget Bureau, for termination. We say no. Too many kids will be hurt by this. The idea is to transfer some of the money to expand Head Start – which we totally support Head Start, however, it’s apples and oranges. And the four school programs are: Waverly’s School-Age Childcare Center, Northwood’s School-Age Childcare Center, and then two little kid Childcare Centers at Dunbar and Dukeland.
MS: I want to be clear about—
MPC: –It’s a budget thing.
MS: But are these – these are run by HCD for their employees, or what?
MPC: No no no no – Housing Department just happens to be the wonderful sponsor of four child programs that have been very successful, and they are in fact – the badges we’re going to wear at the hearing for Waverly is, “Keep Waverly Working”. These programs take care of kids. Now, in Waverly, those children go to Waverly school mainly, their parents are working parents, and a couple are going to get their degrees, ok? And it’s a sliding fee scale, the center operates from six in the morning to six at night, you can get to work, you can drop your kids there, they’ll walk them into the school classrooms, they’ll pick ‘em up at the classrooms and bring ‘em on up…operates all summer long, six to six… So you pay according to your income. And we’ve got like 40 children at Waverly, there are about that same number at Northwood School-Age Childcare Centers. Tuition is paid…and vouchers go into it, and so that whole program at both schools cost $170,000 a year—
MS: –out of the city budget?
MPC: Out of the city budget.
MS: That’s all?
MPC: The rest is tuition. Now…Why are you closing that when you want people to work? I’ve got a crossing guard – that’s a wonderful job but it doesn’t pay much, but that person can get sliding fee scale, and her children are safe. So, you want people to work, you want children to be safe, that does it. These other programs in Dukeland and Dunbar – they’re younger children, it’s the same idea, with the parents being able to work –
MS: –They will all be closed?
MPC: All be closed, June 30th. But the President of the council, and I, and my colleagues say: makes no sense. Makes no back-to-work sense, makes no children sense, certainly makes no fiscal sense.
MS: So what is this about, priorities of budgets and how we do things?
MPC: It’s a mystery.
MS: I mean, $170,000, why that would happen, we’re talking about mostly working class—
MPC: –Now that’s for those two programs. The other two programs have another budget figure that I don’t yet know…Whatever it is, it’s worth every penny. Plus tuition coming in.
MS: That pays for most of it?
NM: Yeah, I mean and then on top of that you have to talk about the jobs that are associated with the four centers, many of which of the employees are Baltimore City residents, so I mean we look at the totality of the situation…we have a lot of questions. And I look forward to the hearing, and I’m glad that Council President and Mary Pat Clarke jumped on this issue and are championing it.
MPC: Man, I have no choice – I have a brand new school built at Waverly, praise the Lord. It is beautiful, the children are all in it, and guess what? Designed in that school – a special area for our Waverly School-Age Childcare Center. Met specifications, and paid money – state money, city money, in order to make sure they had the accommodations required by law – it is beautiful. Finally a beautiful space, and now they’re being told that on the 30th of June – oh, jeez, sorry everybody. Go find someplace else. Won’t happen.
MS: Councilman Stokes, you want to chime in on this?
CS: Well they’ve said it all, it’s fantastic, I mean – We could talk about the larger issues around the budget, and the non-prioritization of children and parents, working parents, and the culture when people talk about crime, they think it’s all about policing – and not about children, and young people, and the culture, and people going to work. When people in this town talk about crime, they want to put millions, and tens and hundreds of millions of dollars into policing which is nowhere near the answer for what’s going on in our town, the violence that’s happening in our town. It’s about another culture issue and about children – you know, we have a very bad Baltimore City Public School System, and I know we’re not supposed to go there—
MPC: –wait a minute – I have three grandchildren in there and they’re sitting there right now—
NM: –I have a daughter in as well…
CS: So anybody who comes to Baltimore right now, who walks in this town right now, within 24 hours can tell you the ten to twenty schools that work in this city. They could tell you – anybody who walks into this city right now from any place can tell you within 24 hours the twenty schools in this town that work. And everybody can tell you the rest of the schools that don’t work for children in this town. Let me say that right now, seven out of every ten black males who enter the kindergarten of Baltimore City Public Schools do not graduate.
MS: Wait, wait, stop—
CS: I know, I’m stopping—
MS: No, no, say that again?
CS: Seven out of every ten black males who enter the kindergarten in Baltimore City Public Schools do not graduate.
MS: Where does that number come from? I’m not challenging – I don’t know, where does that number come from?
CS: It comes from the Baltimore City Public Schools. Have you visited a high school in Baltimore City?
MS: I have not in a while, but I have been…
CS: Right. So go to a place like Dunbar with 800 students and 100 boys, go to Poli and City which used to be predominantly – not predominantly, all-male schools, now are about 80% female schools. Which is fine, which is great for the ladies that go there. But men, boys, black males particularly, are no longer in our high schools.
NM: But you can’t necessarily correlate the number difference between kindergarten students and high school students—
CS: It’s 50/50 in Kindergarten. The number of boys and girls in Kindergarten are 50/50.
CS: Yeah we can correlate it. We can correlate it. The number of black males who are disappearing between kindergarten and twelfth grade is amazing. Amazing.
NM: I’ve never seen the statistics on that.
MPC: I haven’t either, but I think this is a good time to bring something up. Remember a couple months ago when the wonderful Director of City Social Services made the headlines by sending some of her older foster care children up to Pennsylvania to take a test and get a high school certificate. Well, my reaction to that was, shame on us. Shame on us, that we have not developed the kinds of educational opportunities that are appropriate for older teens, like those foster children, right here in Baltimore. GED is a national program, and they have worked with the City of Baltimore, and they are governed by the State Department of Licensing and Regulation, who is very – you know, works with us. But where are the tutorials, and the access, so that our children can take that path, and other alternative, effective paths?
MS: So let me ask you this question. I was not going to go into education today but you all brought it up—
MPC: We live education.
MS: And folks, I want you to join us here, (410) 319-8888. You’ve heard what the councilpersons have said, about education and the childcare, we’re about to talk about the issue of speed cameras and audits…we want to hear your thoughts. (410) 319-8888. These are the people you elect, if you’re living in Baltimore City, these are the people that take care of the city if you work here, and don’t live here. Whatever. (410) 319-8888. Join us, as we talk to our City Council members. But…so here we are in the midst of looking for whoever’s going to be the next CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, whether it’s the interim director now, or whether it’s somebody else, we’re looking for somebody to take over. And, there was great celebration on some level, on some corners, and consternation on other corners, when Dr. Andres Alonso was head of the school system, and the changes he instituted. So, when you say that our schools are in shambles, I think about—
CS: –That wasn’t my word…
MS: What did you say?
CS: I said that Baltimore City has a very poor public school system.
MS: Ok, poor public school system. But again, you said you can name the twenty schools that aren’t in that state, and I think we could name a lot of them off the top of our heads right now…where most of our children might go.
CS: That’s the other point—
NM: –or where we’ve went.
MPC: Let me say this. I always think of this…everyone hates congress but everyone, almost everyone loves their congressperson. There are problems with the school system, but we love the schools where our kids go.
NM: And I think you can’t also – you have to credit, or, you can’t discredit the fact that we have seen significant progress over the past couple of years, and specifically around high school graduation rates around the city of Baltimore, and African American male graduates in the City of Baltimore. I have a school in my district, Frederick Douglass, the state wanted to come in and close it down because it was such a horrible school, forget all the history, forget Thurgood Marshall, and the Mitchells, and the Kweisis, and all the folks that have gone there, and have all this history behind this school. The alumni came in and stepped up, HBO did this documentary to show how bad Baltimore City Public Schools are, you know, how these kids in West Baltimore were acting – but now you look at – you have a strong leader in Dr. Hurt over there, last year they graduated over 200 students, which is the first time in several years, the high school team was competing for the state finals, there’s nothing but school spirit when you walk into that school, in my neighborhood I see children with their Frederick Douglass T-Shirts on – So I think there’s been a lot of gain in this current school system. Are we where we should be? No. But are we on a path or at least progressing? In some areas I would say yes.
CS: I don’t think we have gained. So, if you look at the numbers over the last five years, ten years, no we have not. The numbers are the same when Alonso showed up as where they are now. There was a bump up that really can be credited to the previous CEO – we can go on about this, but let’s just look at the real numbers: One out of twenty high school graduates of Baltimore’s public schools are actually graduating from college. One out of twenty high school graduates, are – I can make numbers for you—
NM: –like the 70%…
CS: I can pull numbers for you, but where are these young people? Where are they when they come out of our schools? How prepared are they? Why are we holding children in school who can get a high school diploma right now, as those foster care children were for Molly McGrath – they were ready to move on.
MPC: And now they have, but they had to be exported for the opportunity.
NM: And Carl, I’m in more agreement than you know. The one thing I wanted to say was, you know when we say that we have a very poor school system, I think we also have to look at some of the things that we’ve seen progress on, that we want to continue to build upon.
CS: Ok. Five children in my house. if half a child gets through, I’m happy about that? No I’m not. It is not progress that moves the greater majority –
NM: So are you saying that the dropout rate has not increased?
MS: Has not decreased, you mean.
NM: No it’s increased. I mean it has not decreased.
CS: I’m with you.
NM: Are you saying it hasn’t decreased?
CS: I’m not saying that at all.
NM: So that’s one key indicator to, at least, I mean when Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke talked about sending some of Baltimore City’s children to Pennsylvania, that’s one area that anybody in the educational field will say—
MS: –so let me ask a question here—
MPC: –will say “shame on us” .
MS: Folks, let me jump in and ask a question… I want to note a couple things. I mean A), when Tisha Edwards was on here last, she was upset about the low rates of numbers of graduates going into college, she was upset about what’s happening to – even though the graduation rate is up, the preparedness – or lack of preparedness, of our kids who do graduate, who end up in remedial classes, who might go to Coppin or Morgan or community colleges, places that care about kids and bring them in but they have to go to remedial classes… So she’s aware of that, she talks about that, in her conversations with me on the air. But as City Council members, other than being angry about it…what do you do about it?
MPC: Well, we, in the City Council—
MS: Or can you do anything about it?
MPC: Of course we can. Of course we can. The reason I’m so hot about this exporting of our children for opportunity is that we spend a lot of time in this Baltimore City Council in the Education and Youth Committee working with the state agencies, education, licensing, the Baltimore City Public Schools, etc, saying: Alright, the state is mandating that you have to stay in school until eighteen years old. That kicks in in a year and a half. And, you gotta either be there, or you gotta have a graduation certificate. So, what are we doing about our older children that have jobs, to help their family, that have children, etc – what are we doing? What are we doing. Bring all these people together, and I’m talking right now about the older children…And so come on, let’s fast track our own children here in Baltimore City, and save a bus trip to Pennsylvania.
MS: We have to take a break. But I guess my question was a larger question about, what can City Council do really about our school system.
MPC: Well that’s what we can do. We have begun to work with the different agencies to give us some alternatives –
MS: We have to take a break. We’ll be right back. Don’t go away Mary Pat, we’ll let you finish when we come back. We have to hit the speed camera questions, and we have an email coming in from Jeff, (410) 319-8888, we’re going to break with Gangster of Love by Johnny Guitar Watson. Stay With us.
MS: We have a bunch of emails coming in I want to read… what [Meredith] just said to us here was that, she thinks that she thinks that this thing with the speed cameras is a fraud, and that our citizens should get their money back, and this is – what is happening here with this? You want it in your committee but it’s not in your committee…right Carl?
CS: Well, it’s not yet. We’ll see after tomorrow. Yes. But…I think that what we have on the speed cameras – I’ll try to tone it down…is a situation where many people have seen that there is great error. Over 10% of a sampling on one day of a third of the cameras, were issuing erroneous tickets. 10% definitely erroneous, another 26% questionable, whatever questionable means.
MS: We can’t know, unless we know what the audit says.
CS: Right. And of course it wasn’t released, and by the way, when it was leaked out, it now is not an audit, and by the way, if it is an audit, the people who did the audit weren’t qualified to do the audit, even though we paid them $250,000 plus… So this is a bit of a mess. I don’t know if anyone saw the Kal cartoon yesterday but it was pretty funny. The mayor didn’t think it was that funny I’m sure. Having said that, this is really not about the mayor doing something wrong, or anyone else except that the citizens know for sure that the speed cameras were not…that they were erroneous to such a large degree.
MS: Wait a minute – this is what Meredith wrote, I just saw this, sorry I said it wrong… “The speed camera issue seems like fraud/victims should get their money back…those who committed the fraud should face fines and jail.”
CS: Well I wouldn’t go so far as the last thing, but I certainly believe that all of the cameras should be rebated –
MPC: Well people should get their money back, amen.
CS: There should be a refund.
MS: But do we even know today why the city had to pay them, what was it, $2.8 million if the thing wasn’t working? What was that money for?
CS: Yeah, we paid both vendors for performing poorly, to get out of the contracts that we had. So, the bigger question for me in some ways – who writes these contracts? Who approves these contracts, that allow—
MS: –Well who does?
CS: I don’t know. That’s part of what we’re going to have a hearing about soon, I hope—
MS: –Does anybody know?
CS: I don’t know. As one member of the Council.
MPC: They didn’t come from nowhere. Here’s how I feel about this whole speed camera thing, in terms of fingers pointing this way and that. Let’s depersonalize just for a minute—
CS: –Absolutely depersonalize it.
MPC: –and talk about, because – the Mayor stopped the operation of cameras when it was revealed that they’re not working, etc. Alright. Let’s just put that aside, and let’s just talk about – the issue to me, is, I got a lot of people, oh man do we have a lot of people in our district – oh P.S. I’m one of them…once…
MS: Me too.
MPC: That – yeah, who hasn’t paid one of these things?
MS: I’ve paid more than one.
CS: Six, here.
MPC: Well, I’m one. But one was a lot to me, because – I can’t imagine it. But I paid it. But… people deserve to be compensated for the money they paid into this system. That’s what I want to see out of this. And then, I would like to see us stop and invest, as I’ve always said – if you want to stop speeding, it’s people to people. You’ve gotta use human beings out there, talking to people, and directing traffic and writing tickets. Really.
MS: Nick, what were you going to say?
NM: See, the problem, when you talk about public perception, is the fact of – you know, as council members, I’m pretty sure we receive outcry when we go to community association meetings, where folks fax in or email in their particular speed light camera tickets, right – and you know, we’re talking with DOT about it, and then there’s this audit that’s going on that no one knows about, it comes to surface, and when you talk about the importance of trying to gain the trust back from the public as it relates to city hall, us as council members, it’s critically important that we stay transparent. And I think that this was a huge gaffe as it relates to city government, that further exacerbates the distrust that folks sometime see with City Hall. You know, at the end of the day, if we’re able to be transparent and we jump out on the issue and we let folks know what’s going on, that’s always the right approach – no matter how matter how tough it is of getting over that particular issue. But in this case, that wasn’t done, and now it’s coming to the forefront – and I think it’s great that we’ll have the details, we’ll know the details, and the citizens will know that at the end of the day, folks are fighting for transparency.
MPC: Well said.
CS: Thanks, Nick. That was on point.
NM: [laughing] Was that you Carl?
CS: But we know… By the way I’m your elder, I’m Councilman Stokes to you.
NM: [laughing] I’m sorry, I’m sorry Councilman, Councilman Carl Stokes.
MS: Let’s focus back in…
CS: We’re teasing, you know we’re teasing, stop Mary.
MPC: I know that.
MS: Go ahead Carl.
MPC: I just feel that I’m the mother here.
CS: I know… I almost lost my point. But, there are a couple larger points here. People are not just frustrated here. You know the water bills are still a major problem in my office. People still call in because they get water bills at four or five times what they normally should be. The water department has told us for the last three years they are on the way to fixing this. And it’s not fixed yet. The historic tax credits – too much, too little – so people are more than just frustrated, they rightfully have some anger over the fact that the city keeps fumbling on these matters, and are not the most transparent, about why these keep happening. And so, this latest deal, where frankly the administration said, we’re going to shut it down because the error rate is one quarter of one percent. One quarter of one percent. When they had in their hands, an audit, a review, a sampling that said it was at least ten percent.
MS: So – I hear what you said Carl. And so, the question is: you said – and I’m not putting this at the Mayor’s doorstep, necessarily, completely—
MPC: –let’s not. Let’s just talk about what we need—
MS: –But: if what Carl just said is reality, and we know it’s reality – then it has to go to somebody’s doorstep. I mean, someone has to take responsibility for the money—
MPC: –Right now it’s at ours, thanks to our colleague Councilman Stokes.
MS: –that $2.8 million left the city budget to pay companies that didn’t do an effective job, that people got perhaps cheated out of lots of money, maybe another two million dollars more out of their parking, speeding tickets they didn’t really do… And doesn’t this also go to the issue of why the Council couldn’t come together to figure out how to create an audit system for the city, that might be transparent, that could tell us where our money’s going?
NM: It goes directly to it. The one thing that I would highlight about this is, it shows the importance of performance audits. I know that we had this debate over and over again, specifically on your show, Mark, but when you look at financial audits versus performance audits – a financial audit of DOT wouldn’t necessarily have brought out these details, however a performance audit on the speed light camera program could have. And I think that we have to develop a way that, one, we have red flags in place that are raised to say, OK, at the end of the day we should look at performance audits in this particular task, in this particular department or agency. And I think that this is one, and I think that for a long time, we’ve kinda known about these issues, like I said – because when I’m out in my community talking to constituents, at community meetings, or even receiving phone calls – you know, folks have always talked about this particular issue. And I think that it should drive to a fact where we have a scheduled audit system of performance audits in the City of Baltimore.
MS: And all politics aside, why shouldn’t that be the Comptroller’s Office, rather than spending all this extra money and doing it from somebody on the outside?
CS: We need audits, period, financial and performance, that’s what the original bill said – but let’s not go off track here. The speed cameras, the red light cameras, are a scam, were a scam, and they really – everybody should get their money back, even if there was quote unquote a legitimate ticket, because the error rate, and the perception – beyond the perception, it’s not perception, it really happened that these cameras were scamming, they were inaccurate – I don’t know if they were inaccurate in terms of calibration, or whether someone intentionally just started stealing money from citizens. It is impossible for people to go by one particular camera, time after time, week after week, and get caught. Because the human mind says, I know that camera’s there. I’m going to slow down to the speed limit, or below the speed limit. Something else is going on here. I think there is a possibility of criminal action. I didn’t want to go there. But certainly people have made statements when they had in their hands the truth. That’s a cover-up. That’s a cover-up.
MS: So is it not a cover-up on some– could it not possibly, be a cover-up on some levels, that some part of our city government, and how far up it goes I don’t know?
MPC: You know, let me be, just… –
MS: –Because why couldn’t you tell us – why did it have to be found out by somebody else?
MPC: I would like to think that the people that developed and set up these cameras had the skill to manipulate…My view of it, and I’m not going to debate it, what do I know – my view of it is, the darned things didn’t work—
MS: –But if somebody in that office knew—
MPC: –And it was incompetence on the part of the vendors.
MS: But – I do want to ask you a question on the subject, but I just really want to get to this – and citizens, I want to know what you think, at (410) 319-8888—
MPC: –We’re like our constituents. We don’t know the answer. But we are about to find out.
CS: We hope we’re about to find out. I am concerned about a white-wash in the City Council, let alone beyond that. I am concerned about a white-wash. I am concerned that certain parties in the City Council will take this, this investigation and bury the real facts. I am concerned about it. I will say it, I have said it. I will stand up again tomorrow and say it. I am concerned that they are trying to bury this.
MS: I mean – so one last thing, it seems to that somebody – if somebody in the city government makes a statement that was untrue, when the audit said something else was true, somebody inside some levels of government knew what was going on, knew what the audit really said, and didn’t come – weren’t honest with the people of Baltimore. And kept us in the dark about all of that, and now we have all this money that we owe to the two vendors, who did a lousy job to start with, and our citizens are being bilked out of millions. Maybe millions.
MPC: Well the money we owe is to our – the people that got the tickets. We should make them the priority.
MS: Well I don’t know. I think this is all priority, because—
MPC: I know. I just want to say that. Because that’s where I’m coming from, and let me say something else: Carl’s the lead on all this, and so many other issues, thanks to him. But at this particular moment in history, I think it’s very important for us in the City Council to close ranks and stand together to get to this – to get for our citizens what they deserve. So, I hear what you’re saying, Carl, but I don’t think…I really don’t think it’s the way to begin a discussion in the City Council in which people are depending on us. I, I hope you’re wrong about what you’ve just said about the Council, but—
CS: –I know better.
MPC: We need to come together and be straight with each other.
CS: I know better. I sat there last Monday night. I know better. I know it’s tough to say people are liars, it’s tough to say people are corrupt, and I know you hate the sound of it. I know you do. And I’m sick of corrupt, lying suns of guns doing this to the citizens of the city. I’m sick of neighborhoods that I represent, that you represent, that Nick represents, getting… – getting ripped off, yes I almost said the word, getting screwed around by people who don’t care, and who – I know it’s tough, to say somebody lied when they may be sitting next to you on the City Council floor – I understand that, but that’s how we all go down. That’s how you lose a nation, a city, or state. And I know I’m being dramatic, but damnit, people are sick of this nonsense.
MS: Nick, do you have anything to say before we move on?
NM: I totally agree with Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. I mean, at the end of the day, I do believe in the process. I think that, you know – outside of just the independent body of the city council, we know that the Sun, who unveiled this, you know, they entered a Information Act request. They got tons and tons of emails, tons and tons of documentation, and I think that in due time, we’ll find out if folks lied, if there was fraudulent activity, if there’s activity that’s pointing back to the actual vendors and providers of these systems. I just think that we have to allow the process – I mean when we looked at it last week, it seemed unanimous that the councilman was completely correct, and he completely got co-sponsorship throughout the entire council, and like I said, I mean at the end of the day, you would be a fool not to continue to dig at this, and not to continue to ensure that the citizens are provided with all the information, in this era of folks not trusting in the government. Transparency is key and we have to drive toward that transparency, and that’s what this process should be.
MPC: Let me just say one thing: A majority of us in the City Council on Monday last, supported Carl Stokes’ resolution. The problem was – that’s eight. Eight out of fifteen. We were – we did.
NM: And I supported it.
MPC: And of course you did, and so did I. But there was a parliamentary thing, where in order to immediately approve his resolution on the night it’s introduced, you need twelve votes, supermajority – it’s part of our rules. Because usually you like things to sit, and people have a chance to look at them before vote. So you needed twelve votes, and they weren’t there. Now. At this point in our history, this City Council – let’s fight it out then, and get it straight. We have to be a place where people can come, where they expect to get a – they expect to get transparency, and response. We’re not perfect, but we shouldn’t – we should not be liars. We should not tell people untruths. And if that’s happening, go talk to those people, and… but let’s get ourselves straight with each other, on behalf of our constituents.
CS: So I just got a tweet. “Stop saying the Mayor’s not responsible.” We don’t know until we review the facts. It’s not personal. Because we say “councilmember”, because we say “mayor”, that’s not personal. What are we avoiding? Let’s lay it out bare. Let’s do the truth. We don’t know what the facts are. We can’t defend – we just need to look at the truth. That’s all we need to do. That’s what people – I go to, like Mary Pat, like Nick Mosby, I go to barber shops, hair salons, A&P – which I know is long gone, but I didn’t want to say any of the others… [laughter] Churches, synagogues, temples – we go to these places. And they’re black, they’re white, they’re Latino, you know – people are just grabbing me – I can’t eat breakfast in the morning without someone coming over to the table talking about what’s going on with this. Cameras, or…anyway – and not just the cameras, it’s just a lack of transparency in city government.
MS: So, let me ask you this question – people are tweeting each other all over about this conversation we’re having on the air, but – you can also call (410) 319-8888 [laughter]… I want to – there’s another bill that kind of, was brought up but it reminds me of another bill that didn’t pass. And I’m curious why you think this – and maybe I’m sharing my thoughts, my view on this, but – whether it’s plastic bags, or Styrofoam ware for food, that we know pollutes the bay and causes all kinds of damage…why this city council has such a difficult time standing up and saying, these things – we don’t need these things in our city.
MPC: Well it was a close call with bags. And basically, I believe there’s enough commitment in the Baltimore City Council – you know, Councilman Brandon Scott introduced the legislation, did a lot of work on it for – well, it was originally twenty-five cents, but he really immediately brought it down to ten, per bag. The idea is, hey, if people have to pay, then they’ll go out and get a bag that – it’s a great year to get free cloth bags and all, because it’s a campaign year for the state. And so, that bill got amended to dedicate all the funds that came in – except the part that went back to the merchants to run it – to Rec & Parks. So basically, it got a good hearing, got a lot of amendments, it was heard, and then it was lobbied against inside the Council, and lost…and so I believe very sincerely that it will come, it will rise again, with a lower cost.
MS: Go ahead Nick.
NM: Well, I was going to say – and I think that, eventually in the near future, it will come back and it will pass – I think the original bill, like Councilwoman said, had the twenty-five cents in, it had bags in it, and it also had criminal penalties in it. So I think that, depending on what council member voted against it, you know, had certain issues with certain things, I think when it comes back out again, it’s going to be a little cleaner, and Councilman Scott will be able to get his bill passed.
MS: But we also know that – I’m sorry, you hadn’t finished…
NM: I was going to talk about the polysteryne, regarding that – we would’ve been the first major city in the country to do it. Unfortunately New York City beat us to the punch, I look forward to that coming back up, I’m a co-sponsor of that – I mean, when we talk about building a sustainable Baltimore, we have to critically talk about the importance of our environment and the environment that we lead to our children. So I think the more and more we talk about these issues in the Council, the easier that it will be to get them passed, and I look forward to getting that passed as well.
MS: Well…how much of a role did the high-powered lobbyists, who came out of former administrations, who represent the chemical industry – play in all this? Because, they clearly were lobbying Council members to vote against this.
NM: I’ve always had a huge environmental focus when I came, and so they don’t really come to me – but I will say, for the plastic bag tax, they didn’t come in until the last minute. They came in at the eleventh hour, they did the commercials, they were calling out constituents – they really didn’t do a good job of organizing, and like I said – I really think next go-around it will pass.
CS: I think in some ways, it turned into another tax on people, as opposed to being an environmental issue. I think certainly putting a fee on paper bags – at least from where I was – hurt this particularly…I don’t think that we should have a fee on paper at all, I think that defeats the purpose of discouraging people from using the plastic and Styrofoam. I think it has to be more comprehensive and not put a couple of different bills but put one in there. I think it will come back, I agree with my colleagues on that. I mean D.C. – I saw D.C. two years ago had reduced the use of plastic bags, and in California – it’s no big deal, you just go in and they don’t give you plastic at all, unless you absolutely ask for it and absolutely pay for it. So, it’s a natural order of things.
NM: And in the larger picture from an environmental perspective, folks feel like, to produce the paper bags, you use even more dirty energy in the generation of it and the manufacturing of it, so, from an environmentalist perspective that’s what it is – but I do agree, I think the bill should just come in with plastic bags, I think that’s a huge step forward in the City Council.
MPC: –but still dedicated to Rec & Parks.
NM: Oh definitely.
MPC: So basically, everybody just had two minutes of hearing the kind of discussions that go on, and sometimes why bills go down and then come back, and that’s how it gets done.
MS: Shirley just called in and asked, what is the city’s procurement policy with regard to contracts?
MPC: Board of Estimates.
MS: That’s Board of Estimates, right?
CS: I was just going to say, well, yes, but – the settlements that were paid out did not come to the Board of Estimates. The settlements that were paid out to the two vendors who performed poorly on the speed cameras, did not come to the Board of Estimates. They were paid out.
MPC: And they should have. I mean basically, the Board of Estimates—
MS: They should have what?
MPC: They should have come to the public forum of the Board of Estimates. I chaired that board for eight years when I was honored to be President of the City Council, and so I’m kind of familiar… And certainly in my day and Mayor Schmoke’s, whether he liked it or not or whatever, it would’ve been there. And certainly the members of the Board of Estimates would have known about it, and if it had recommended to – not be … it wouldn’t have been. So basically, the Board of Estimates is composed of three city-wide elected officials and two agency heads, and they are the Board of the City of Baltimore, the Executive Board of the large corporation. So, our business should be known, because it’s the people of this city, and state, who are paying the bills. And it’s all about transparency, and that’s just not a cute word – it’s the law.
MS: One person tweeted in here, I don’t know quite what he means by this, but I’d like him to write me and tell me what he means by this… Andrew tweeted in saying, Open primaries? A TIFF for the people, i.e. radical property tax reform? How can we fix infrastructure? Um…that’s a lot there.
CS: That was a lot.
MPC: Open primaries, I guess what he’s asking about is, everyone can vote for – whatever you are, you can vote for—
NM: –You’re not restricted to your party.
MPC: Oh that’s a good way to say it. [laughter]… That’s why I like the City Council. I love the City Council because they finish my sentences.
MS: So I ask Andrew, write me in more about what you’re talking about, and we can bring some of these up at another program because I’d like to hear about it. Jeff wrote in – I think he’s also proposing a program on this, which we’ll do… 52, 523 Baltimore households need subsidized housing.
MS: So we’re talking about maybe 200,000 of our citizens, between 150-200,000 of our citizens—
MPC: –And I have a bill in City Council right now that says that you can’t discriminate based on source of income, i.e. based on vouchers.
CS: I think what our citizens need are jobs that pay living wages.
CS: Subsidized housing is about jobs. More than it’s about housing. Folks can’t afford the rent, they can’t afford the mortgage. We need jobs in this town for people. We need an education system that gives them the skillset to be able to get their qualifications up.
MPC: And there’s a rally this morning at 11am, at St. Vincent DePaul Church – that’s that big white church at President and Fayette, and it’s a great choice because it’s a place that welcomes people of all income levels and ages and whatever. And so 11 o’clock, to noon, rally, on the $10.10 minimum wage bill that the state has. And if we don’t get that, Carl Stokes, Mary Pat Clarke, Nick Mosby – we’re bringing in, in the meantime, living wage for Baltimore City.
CS: We will.
MPC: And this time, it will pass. If the state can’t do it for us.
MS: And as a possibility, it might not pass in the House of Delegates. It might not get out of committee because the chairman of the committee doesn’t agree with it.
MPC: And we’ll be standing by, and this time we just gotta do it.
MPC: But it will be more than $10.10 if it comes to the City, because living wage right now is about eleven dollars at least.
MS: Oh I think living wage right now should be like seventeen dollars right now, because that’s what it takes to survive places like this.
MPC: I’d settle for fifteen just to get it passed.
MS: Ok. I’ll go with fifteen… Jeff also wrote here, that Baltimore taxpayers are on the hook for potentially – he’s quoting from the Brew… millions of dollars of costs relating to the new Central Avenue Bridge linking upscale Harbor Point to Harbor East…the City has agreed to pay for any additional bridge cost not covered by the TIFF, Tax Increment Bonds issued by public infrastructure at the waterfront site, documents reviewed by the Brew showed… These costs, which have associated as the estimated one of the bridge has risen, could amount to as much as $3.4 million, in a memorandum of understanding approved by the Board of Estimates, on January the 8th, DOT director William Johnson agreed that the City will pay all eligible costs in excess of 6.6 million in TIFF bonds allocated for the project, and in private placement memorandum signed by the Mayor, the City agrees to assume “all costs in excess of the budgeted cost, including the cost of applicable change orders and supplements”… On that note, we have to take a break.
MS: Things just seem upside down…in terms of really understanding the city has to spend and where it’s spending it, and how it could be spent so it’s not – so it’s maybe centered on lifting up people from the bottom with jobs and work, at the same time as you’re attracting in people of means to the city, which any city needs. They’re not contradictory.
CS: No they’re not. There just has to be a balance struck, and that’s what many people are asking or wondering. For example, I think, and many people think that what we did at Harbor East and now Harbor Point, at least Harbor East – much of it was money well spent, because it has shown growth. At the same time, three blocks away, at Perkins Homes or at the City Springs Elementary School, they don’t have elementary school programs or […] job training for people who are living in public housing. So there’s not a balance struck. And we have, for example, this Enterprise Zone, which is supposed to help draw funding to certain parts, and certain communities, so that the whole community gets lifted up. That didn’t happen, for example, to go backwards in terms of the Harbor Point. And now, as our writer sent in to you, we’re going to spend even more money for things that are not covered under the TIFF program. So people are very much not only wanting to have this conversation, they are having the conversation out on the streets. But it seems that government is not working for them or listening to them, and trying to strike a balance between what should happen for kids, and people struggling to make ends meet.
MS: We had another tweet by the way: Recognize the success of Frederick Douglass High of Common Schools in Partnership. And I will just say Frederick Douglass has come up a long way.
CS: It has, Douglass is doing great with Dr. Hurt.
MS: Their program, in terms of modern technology, it’s amazing what the kids are doing. So I want to applaud them and that school.
CS: It has come a long way. And it’s great. And they have a great leader there. So often, in life, leadership is everything. And certainly Douglass and some other schools in our town have great leaders. But we don’t yet have something that’s institutionalized across City Schools. But this is great what’s going on with Douglass.
MS: So Carl, in closing out what we were talking about earlier, what do you think’s going to happen with this whole question we were talking about, the cameras. We don’t know whether it’s going to be in your committee – that’s up for vote, right?
CS: Right, it is up for vote – we ask for it to be in our committee, and—
MS: As opposed to whose committee?
CS: Legislative Investigations.
MS: Which is?
CS: Councilman Craft. From the First District. It could be a joint committee. Frankly, I would prefer it in my committee, not because I’m the chairperson, but because I said it already – it bothers people, I don’t want this to be white-washed in any way. I’m not going after anybody or anything, but what the truth is, what the facts are. And I think we have to lay this bare, political considerations aside. The citizens in this town, whether it’s in the barber shop, beauty salon, church, synagogue, temple, are all asking – where’s the transparency in city government? It’s not just this matter, Marc. It is the water bills that were made up, estimated, guesstimated, sometimes outright just done in a crooked manner, some people are out at the golf course and they set it a meter that they never bothered to read—
MS: Is that true?
CS: Yes it is true. It’s documented. That is documented that two or three meter readers were sending in false meter readings on a daily basis.
MS: And what happened to them?
CS: They’re fired.
MS: And what else happens to them?
CS: I don’t think any jail happened to them…but this happened. This is real. The Sun paper documented fact – Thank goodness! Frankly, for the media Marc, thank goodness for you, the Brew, the Sun […] – but why? Why do we have to wait for the media to tell us what’s going on […] in city government. It’s – it’s unfair. And I don’t think that frankly we’ve done great investigative work on following up on what we get from – unfortunately we’re getting it from the media – and so I am concerned. That in the matter of these speed and red light cameras, that the counsel won’t do as thorough an investigation as is necessary to get to the bottom of all this.
MS: When will we know where it sits, in terms of what committees get the next hearing?
CS: The next hearing is tomorrow at 11am on this matter. It will be in judicial investigations tomorrow morning at 11am to determine whether it comes back into the Tax Finance committee, or it disappears, or it goes to some other committee. We vote on that tomorrow at 11.
MS: Carl Stokes, I appreciate you staying a little longer here—
CS: Thank you Mark, I appreciate being here. I know I get riled up at times. That’s because you stick needles in me [laughter]… Listen, I have great colleagues in the City Council, I hope I didn’t impugn anyone there. And certainly we are working together as much as we can. But, the citizens expect us to be over-the-top at times, and so we should be.
MS: Do you mind taking one more call before we leave? At (410) 319-8888, hear what you have to say to us here. These are important subjects. Alexis, you’re on the air.
Alexis: Good morning Mark, good morning Councilman Stokes. I just want to say, I’ve been listening to the conversation and one of the things that I will say – I understand, Councilman Stokes, your disappointment that government hasn’t been as transparent as you would like for it to be or as it should be. But one thing I will say is thank goodness for the press – that so often we see that our press is negligent in what it reports and how it reports, and thank goodness to our Baltimore press for doing the investigations, for digging, for asking the questions, and bringing information to life to continue the process. So, I just wanted to throw that out there, and just ask for your reflection on that.
CS: I agree with you I think we just had a couple of minutes on that same matter, Alexis, Mark and I just went over how grateful we are to the Baltimore press who have really done a great job, who get stonewalled often, unfortunately – but they have done a great job of bringing to light so many of these issues. And again the next phase is for the counsel at this particular phase to get down into the weeds so to speak.
MS: Before we move on into our Veolia Transportation conversation, let’s take one more call in, and then we’ll let Councilman Stokes get on to his day and work, (410) 319-8888. Leo, you’re on the air.
Leo: […] I am impugning the integrity of the Council, brother Steiner. We’ve got – I was at the meeting on Monday a week ago at the City Council, when this issue about speed camera-gate came up, and the Council divided, Marc, along racial lines. The only white person who supported Carl Stokes, and thank god for her, was Mary Pat Clarke. The rest of them, I’m talking about Councilman Kraft, who I don’t trust – he’s the judiciary committee chair. And this lady, who’s been in Council too long – Rochelle Rikki Spector, 37 years too long – she was busy working the tables during the debate, ensuring to try to block Carl Stokes’ effort, and I’m watching all of this maneuvering, so that he didn’t get the twelve votes he needed to solve the problem at that time. That’s why tomorrow morning at 11 o’clock it’s very important. But they’re circling the wagons, Marc Steiner, and they’re trying to block progress and justice. And it is a disgrace and the Mayor – the buck stops with the Mayor, and of course the Governor, Martin O’Malley, has her back. So she feels like, as long as Martin O’Malley will go along to get along, she’ll allow Rochelle Spector, Rikki Spector, to lead her around with a ring in her nose, because that’s how I interpret it. It’s an outrage.
MS: Thank you Leo.