In her first State of the City address, Mayor Catherine E. Pugh outlined plans to fix the city’s ailing schools and police force and continue Baltimore’s rebuilding process.
Pugh kicked off her address by reiterating her pledge to direct $180 million over three years to partially fill the Baltimore City Public School System’s $130 million funding deficit. The money would come from the City’s “rainy day” fund, as well as by tightening up police and city agency overtime and asking Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young to use the city’s newly-established Children and Youth Fund.
Pugh seemed confident that Governor Hogan and Maryland State Senate President Mike Miller would bring additional funds to the table in time to turn the city school system’s status around by the time the next school year starts in September.
“I am confident we will see that help in our state budget around March 20,” Pugh said.
Pugh said she would continue her drive to regain authority for city officials to make appointments to the school board. The effort rests with a pair of bills currently before the state Senate and state House of Delegates.
Turning to public safety, Pugh looked to citizen involvement in law enforcement as a meaningful measure to combat police corruption and move the law enforcement forward. Among the reforms she seeks is the placement of public citizens on the Baltimore Police Department’s internal disciplinary trial boards.
“Two citizens on our trial boards are essential to building trust between the community and the Police Department,” the mayor said.
“I have also issued a call-to-action to get community members to partner with me to develop workable solutions that brings the community into the action,” Pugh said, adding that she has already held two community meetings to solicit feedback on improving police-community relationships.
“Thank you to all of you who are currently at the table helping us meet the challenges of an unacceptable crime rate,” Pugh said.
Pugh has also called for a forensic financial audit of the police department’s budget and use of overtime following the recent indictment of seven Baltimore police officers on federal corruption charge.
Finally, Pugh promised to enhance economic development opportunities throughout the city.
“I directed my department heads to find ways to include people of color and minority classes in those opportunities,” Pugh said.
Among the mayor’s programs is a first-ever job fair to be held by the city’s Office of Human Resources. City contractors and corporations will be asked to join the event to offer employment and training opportunities to more than 76,000 unemployed Baltimoreans, including 10,000 ex-offenders.
Pugh said she is restructuring the Baltimore Development Corporation with the goal of “moving our city toward a more inclusive vision and not just developer driven,” she said. Pugh said she wants the BDC to spur investments in local enterprises and expand business in West and East Baltimore communities “as well as investing in Baltimoreans who have the capacity to participate in the opportunities to rebuild Baltimore.”
Following the mayor’s address, City Councilman Brandon M. Scott (D-2) said that he is hopeful about many aspects of Pugh’s agenda, but felt that dipping the Children and Youth Fund to resolve the school system’s budget crisis is not an option.
“I heard a lot of what I needed to hear. I heard that we’re going to finally look at adding more civilians to the police department. I heard that we are going to look at the Public Safety problems in the city in a long-term way,” Scott said.
“However, I heard [the Mayor] suggest that we go to the Children and Youth Fund to help with school funding for this year,” he added. “The Children and Youth Fund was passed by this body [the City Council] and voted on by the citizens. For me, that’s a non-starter.”
Veteran Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (D-14) said Pugh has spent her first 100 days on the job connecting with people to move her initiatives forward.
“She’s familiar with specific things that are going on, she knows people by name, she’s one of us. We’re together and that’s the most important thing,” Clarke said. “I’m pleased with a lot of the initiatives she’s mentioning. I believe she can get them done with our help.”