Mosbys under investigation
Last week, The Baltimore Sun reported that federal prosecutors had launched a criminal investigation into Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and her husband, Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby. This came after months of dogged reporting on various financial matters relating to the couple by the Baltimore Brew. The investigation has in many ways highlighted the amount of work all city leaders and institutions must do to truly free Baltimore of the stigma of corruption.
Some of the questions that should have been immediately answered after the investigation was made public: Should Nick Mosby, who sits on the Board of Estimates, have influence over the way the city spends its money when he himself is under increased scrutiny for his own financial matters? Should Marilyn Mosby continue to work with federal agents as part of her job heading up the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office if she is also under federal investigation? Would either Nick or Marilyn be taking a step back while the investigation played out?
The two have not stepped down or stepped back, and have, through their lawyer, defended their innocence. In the time that authorities need to complete their investigation, they and other city leaders need to be as transparent as possible. So far, this has not happened.
Mayor Brandon Scott had just spoken about the need for transparency in his State of the City address the day before the news broke.
“Given the public skepticism and disappointment towards City Hall, it was critical that I work to regain your faith and prove that local government can operate in your best interests,” he said.
However, it took Scott three days to address the fact that two high-ranking city officials were being investigated by the federal government. When he did, he treated it as an annoyance instead of a potentially swirling mass of conflicts of interests.
“I am focused on my work,” he told local press. “I don’t have time with the amount of stuff happening in Baltimore to worry about other people’s work.”
We reached out to Comptroller Bill Henry, who sits on the Board of Estimates along with Scott, Nick Mosby, City Solicitor Jim Shea, and Acting Director of Public Works Matthew W. Garbark. Henry, who made increased transparency one of the hallmarks of his campaign for comptroller, said he did not have a comment.
The Baltimore Sun’s editorial board, the opinion arm for what is effectively the city’s paper of record, also failed to rise to the moment. They issued a weak piece that not only downplayed the seriousness of another federal investigation for Baltimore City, but neglected to include the fact that the Sun had previously issued two other opinions about the Mosbys: once to endorse Nick Mosby, and once to ponder what it would mean to have a married couple in power at the same time (in the last State’s Attorney’s race, the newspaper endorsed Ivan Bates over Marilyn Mosby).
“This is a powerful, public couple holding a lot of responsibility in the city, and they have two young children,” the board wrote in this week’s piece. “The less time we spend in speculation, the better for all involved.”
However, it’s because the Mosbys are so powerful that this case deserves scrutiny. Scrutiny will help Baltimore actually recover from past political scandals and make sure that the problems it is currently facing can be avoided in the future.
Scrutiny also means the city’s future leaders would know that they must be prepared to be fully accountable to the people of Baltimore, bringing their best to the job each and every day.
Baltimore City Schools Update
Baltimore City Schools teachers received word from North Avenue this week that procedures around expanded in-person learning, which began in February, were changing.
“Starting April 12, under certain conditions, fully vaccinated staff members will no longer need to participate in pool testing and will no longer need to quarantine if they are a close contact with a probable or confirmed COVID case,” the email from Baltimore City Schools to teachers, reads.
Additionally, Baltimore City Schools said, “we will no longer be implementing the 2 pod/48-hour rule. Staff will be able to interact with different groups of students as needed (while maintaining masking, social distancing and all other mitigation strategies) — both within a single school location or across multiple locations.”
Pool tests are group screenings of students and staff all collected together, according to Baltimore City Schools. The samples are also tested together, with a single result for each group. If the pool tests positive, all students and staff are notified and asked to quarantine for two weeks.
Positive COVID-19 cases are rising in Baltimore City. According to the Baltimore City Health Department’s online dashboard, cases are up 100% from four weeks ago. As of the publication of this piece, there have been 137 positive cases reported in City schools pods or learning sites since September 28, according to their online dashboard.
The issue of in-person learning in the midst of a deadly pandemic has been fraught. The Baltimore Teachers Union, like several unions around the country, have fought to slow the rerun, citing safety concerns.
“Members of the Baltimore Teachers Union are very concerned about the relaxing of safety guidelines at a point in time where the case rate and positivity rate are on the rise,” said Teachers Union president Diamonté Brown in a written statement to The Real News. “It is irresponsible to remove vaccinated members from pool testing, quarantining, and pod limitations since vaccines protect against symptoms but not necessarily the spreading of the virus to others, not to mention the new variants which science has yet to conclude how effective the vaccines are against.”
Some teachers are also reporting that they are running into technical issues as they attempt to teach classes both in-person and to students who have opted to continue learning at home. We reached out to City Schools to see if they were aware of the problem and working on it.
This is what they said: “To mitigate the impact on network performance, ITD has been optimizing the configuration of the network, is in the process of acquiring additional datacenter components to increase speeds and is working with service providers to increase bandwidth. We have been in touch with other Maryland school districts and districts around the country who are experiencing similar challenges to share best practices. In the meantime, immediate action is necessary to prevent a disruption in network reliability for City Schools staff and students and to resolve the issue in the short term.”
We assume this means they are aware of the problem and working on it?
Howard County Terminates ICE Contract After Years of Protest
After years of protests, this week Howard County Executive Calvin Ball agreed to terminate the contract that allowed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to detain immigrants in local jails. The decision comes after two years of sustained pressure on Ball, a Democrat, from the Howard County Coalition for Immigrant Justice, which consists of more than 20 nonprofit and grassroots groups including Conexiones, an organization that provides support to Latinx students in Howard County schools.
“We have worked for nearly two years to end Howard County’s contract with ICE and to bring about progressive legal change for immigrants,” said Thais Moreira of Conexiones. “Our coalition has held demonstrations, testified at public meetings and hearings, collected thousands of petition signatures from community members, mounted social media campaigns, held vigils, and met repeatedly with elected officials. We are proud that our efforts have succeeded. Organizing works!”
Calls For Senate President to Protect Renters Facing Eviction
Warning of an “eviction tsunami,” as CDC protections against evictions are set to expire on March 31, renters’ advocates are calling for Maryland’s Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore) to pass emergency protections to halt the over 100,000 potential evictions.
“When it comes to eviction protection in this COVID-19 emergency, we know that housing is a tool of public health,” said Zafar Shah of Public Justice Center in a press release that noted over 3,000 Maryland families have been evicted during the pandemic. “There is only one bill before the Senate that sets out to provide immediate help to ensure tenants will stay housed during the crisis and during the economic recovery, SB-910, sponsored by Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Will Smith.”
From Bessemer To Baltimore
Baltimore educators played a significant role at local protests in support of the nearly 6,000 mostly Black Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, who are currently voting on whether to become the company’s first unionized facility in the country.
“The Baltimore Teachers Union is pretty powerful. And we still were unable to secure safe working conditions for staff and students prior to them entering school,” Baltimore Teachers Union president Diamonté Brown said at a rally at Amazon’s BWI facility on March 20. “So can you imagine how difficult it is for a group of workers to have no collective bargaining agreement to ensure their safety.”
Amazon has been accused of intimidating and firing workers seeking to raise awareness of unsafe working conditions during the pandemic. At least 8 Amazon workers have died of COVID-19 and thousands have contracted COVID-19. Amazon’s public relations efforts (which included rhetoric from Jay Carney, the former Obama spokesperson and senior vice president of global corporate affairs for Amazon) were recently roasted on Twitter as the company tried to defend itself from accusations of union-busting and reports workers were forced to urinate in bottles to keep up with the company’s unrealistic productivity goals. The local off-duty cops Amazon is paying to provide security during the Union Drive routinely harass union organizers, More Perfect Union reported.
Baltimore Public School teacher and activist Franca Muller Paz noted the nearly $70 billion increase in Amazon founder Jeff Bezsos’ wealth, “is over 40 times all the hazard pay of all the workers at Amazon over 2.5 million workers all their hazard pay put together.”
The vote in Bessemer has gained growing national attention, and actor-activist Danny Glover, former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders are meeting with workers before voting concludes on Mar. 29. Last week, The National Labor Relations Board found Amazon retaliated against workers organizing for safer working conditions during the pandemic in a Chicago facility last year, The Intercept reported.
There was scant local media coverage of the multiple rallies held over the past month in support of the Bessmer workers, but the Real News covered both, including speaking to current Amazon employees who shared their own stories of unsafe working conditions.
$2.25 Million For Community Land Trusts
The grassroots movement for affordable, community-controlled housing hit a major milestone this week when Mayor Brandon Scott awarded $2.25 million to three Community Land Trusts (CLTs)—real estate that’s controlled by a local nonprofit over the span of a 99-year lease—for affordable housing development.
“Equitable community development in our historically redlined neighborhoods is at the top of my agenda,” Scott said in a press release. “Community land trusts are one tool to provide permanent affordable housing across our neighborhoods, while helping close the racial wealth gap.”
“This award was long awaited, it was all but a dream in 2016. Now, as we are here, it’s amazing to be among the first recipients of a fund created by the people and for impacted communities,” Meleny Thomas, Development Director of the South Baltimore CLT, which received $750,000, told The Real News.
The funds will help develop 26 homes for residents who earn below 50% the area’s median income. CLTs can also build wealth: when occupants sell the property, they split the house’s equity with the land trust.
“This [money] allows residents who dreamed of owning a home to be able to benefit from quality housing while building equity and advancing other community priorities,” Thomas said.
The funds are the result of nearly a decade of activism that demanded, “development without displacement.” After years of broken promises to create affordable housing, the group United Workers helped campaign for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to get on that year’s ballot, where it was approved by voters. In the following years, activists continued to pressure elected officials to fund the program, and then to ensure resources went to CLTs.
“For whatever reason if it seems like the money is not going to permanently affordable housing, we will fight you,” community leader Destiny Watford promised officials at a 2019 hearing.
Over the past century, Baltimore was a pioneer in residential segregation and redlining, which denied African American communities opportunities to build wealth through homeownership granted to whites. In recent decades, city leadership offered wealthy real estate developers millions of dollars of subsidies in exchange for building affordable housing, which often never materialized.
“We cannot control what we do not own,” said Thomas. “This is the beginning of an equity-led democratically-governed process that could offer a blueprint of real change.”
Under Watch, Baltimore Magazine.
Grids Are Not Neutral: A Year on Zoom, Bmore Art.
Ferguson: Police Reform Must Be Top Priority in Final Weeks of Session, Maryland Matters.