Is Bureaucratic Incompetence Contributing to Baltimore’s Intractable Social Ills?
A panel of journalists explores how errant water bill liens, tax breaks for developers with little oversight, and general lack of transparency all exacerbate the city’s list of mounting problems by Stephen Janis and Taya Graham
Stephen Janis: I’m going to start this discussion with a question. What type of city could put two sports stadiums up for auction to pay a relatively meager water bill? That’s exactly what happened in Baltimore. Last week, The Baltimore Sun reported the city actually offered the right to foreclose on Oriole Park and Ravens Stadium to satisfy a disputed water bill. The move highlighted just how petty the city can be, critics say, and how policies like taking people’s property for a small water bill debt are seriously flawed. Perhaps the whole ordeal is a metaphor for the seeming futility of the city in general. We spend more on police year over year, but crime goes up. We give big tax breaks to developers, foregoing billions in future revenues as our schools underperform and it all begs the question what’s wrong with this place?
To help me answer this question is a panel of the best journalists in town. Jayne Miller is an award-winning investigative reporter for the WBAL-TV. Luke Broadwater is also an award-winning investigative reporter for The Baltimore Sun who covers city hall and Taya Graham is a reporter for the Real News Network. Thank you all for joining me. I appreciate it.
Luke Broadwater: Thank you.
Stephen Janis: Before we get started, let’s watch a quick package from Taya.
Taya Graham: To get a sense of how Baltimore works or doesn’t, it might be helpful to start with a story about a park. For nearly 10 years, Phillip Bass has been trying to get the city to spend $30,000 to expand recreational offerings for West Baltimore.
Phillip Bass: I did some research and found the city’s given over $30 million in tax breaks. This is less than 1% to fix all of this up, less than 1%. I guess the kids of this neighborhood aren’t worth it.
Taya Graham: His plan is simple, a small play area for children and lights for a basketball court nearby.
Phillip Bass: One of the things that bother me, I was reading a old term paper from college about Marcus Garvey. He said three things you had to worry about, subjugation, exploitation, elimination. Subjugation, the kids aren’t worth it. Exploitation, you’re taking our tax dollars and giving everybody else tax breaks. Elimination, when I spoke with the previous mayor about the situation, she cut me off on the telephone.
Taya Graham: He says it’s a modest investment in the city’s future, but despite his best efforts, it hasn’t happened. It’s a lack of attention to communal concerns that Bass says goes a long way to explaining Baltimore’s seemingly intractable litany of social ills.
Phillip Bass: You have kids that are 30, 40 years old. They have never played, they have gone to this elementary school right here and have never played on the playground at recess.
Taya Graham: The city has invested heavily in policing and tax breaks to developers with little to show for it. In fact, city councilman, Bill Henry, has been forced to call a special hearing just to learn how much the city is on the hook.
Bill Henry: It would be good to not just review these one at a time, but to see them in the perspective of what we have out there and where we are in it.
Taya Graham: A lack of oversight that he says speaks volumes.
Bill Henry: The council has been lax in not asking for a regular report.
Taya Graham: A fact only made more obvious when the city mistakenly put up two publicly owned stadiums for auction over an unpaid water bill. Critics say it was a move that highlighted just how incompetent the city can be and it’s why Bass says the city needs to rethink its priorities or continue to suffer the consequences of misguided strategies that still define its future.
Phillip Bass: When I [brought 00:03:33] it up several years ago, it’s like, “Okay,” but as I walk by here all the time, it really started to click, right. I said, “Wow, we can’t even get a playground?”
Stephen Janis: I want to start with the water bill situation. What happened and what does this represent about the city’s water bill situation? We have two stadiums that the city puts in the auction. What does that mean just so people understand it?
Jayne Miller: That’s just the worst of the … There’s been this problem of A, a system that was inaccurate for a long time and now, switching to a new system and they’re still plagued by inaccuracies and a lot of concern about it, but the issue as you raised and has been reported for years is the taking of property to pay off a water bill, which now has been highlighted in grand fashion by two-
Stephen Janis: Two stadiums.
Jayne Miller: Enormously worth … Yes, valuable properties.
Stephen Janis: Three hundred million dollar properties for a couple thousand dollar water bill.
Jayne Miller: Absolutely, easy. Correct, correct, correct, correct.
Stephen Janis: Luke, you’ve written a lot of stories about water bills and how unfair. Is this exemplary of the flaws in the process?
Luke Broadwater: Yeah, absolutely. Not only do you have the issue of erroneous water bills. These stadiums, you can’t even legally sell their debt, so the city went ahead … Not only did they give out a water bill, which may or may not be accurate, then they went ahead and put them in the tax sale. They can’t do that, they’re prohibited from law from doing that. It does underscore, lots of people are saying, many people in the city council are saying if they can do this to the Ravens and the Orioles, imagine what they’re doing to-
Stephen Janis: Doing to individual people.
Luke Broadwater: Yeah, to regular Joes in West Baltimore and East Baltimore.
Jayne Miller: It begs the question, it really begs the question is how would that happen?
Stephen Janis: Right. That’s the thing-
Jayne Miller: If it’s not supposed to happen, how does it happen?
Stephen Janis: Didn’t anybody in city hall say, “This is Orioles Park, do you guys want to put this in the tax sale?”
Jayne Miller: Right. Yeah, correct.
Stephen Janis: Doesn’t anyone look it over? It talks about a sort of incompetence, right, and an insensitivity I guess we …
Luke Broadwater: Yeah. Our reporter who looked at the tax sale found this within an hour of looking at the records. Clearly, either the people that were looking at this at city hall weren’t paying attention or no one looked at it and they just dumped anybody with a perceived debt into the tax sale. That’s a problem for a number of issues. One, if you are a regular homeowner in Baltimore, companies from overseas, many [times 00:05:50] from other states who come in and buy your debt and then, they add on a bunch of fees so now you not only have to pay back the debt, which may or may not be accurate given the reliability of the water billing system-
Jayne Miller: Correct, the system, the system.
Luke Broadwater: But now all these fees will [inaudible 00:06:02] it. Somebody in Germany or Switzerland or Florida is now getting rich off of your debt and you may end up losing your home and now, we have another vacant property in Baltimore and potentially a homeless person. It seems to me that this creates a cascade of problems.
Stephen Janis: Yeah. Taya, this has been going on for quite some time. We’re not talking about like this is yesterday’s news. This is long-
Taya Graham: Right. City comptroller, Joan Pratt in 2012 did an audit where she found that the citizens of Baltimore have been overcharged by $7 million. Luke brings up a great point. This tax debt is bought and it can be a very small amount of debt. Your bill becomes delinquent at just $250 and paying two quarters late. It only takes I think as little as $500 for your debt to turn into a tax lien against your property. Now considering we have 40,000 vacant homes, we have homeless people that we’re unable to take care of, how can the city risk kicking more people out of their homes?
Stephen Janis: While the city is messing up, Taya, these water bills, they’re considering bringing back the speed camera system, which is pretty controversial.
Taya Graham: Right.
Stephen Janis: What did the mayor announce last week and what’s going to happen?
Taya Graham: She just awarded $10 million worth of contracts to Conduent and American Traffic Solutions, and they’re going to handle our red light speed cameras and Luke’s written a lot about this. In their previous incarnation, they were incredibly inaccurate. Hopefully now, they’ve made a few changes. One is that they’ve removed the bounty so there’s not the same profit motive for the companies. Before, they got a little portion of every ticket, which of course, makes it more enjoyable for the companies if the speed cameras err on giving out these tickets to people. Hopefully, removing the bounty from this process will help them be a bit more accurate.
Stephen Janis: Jayne, talk a little bit about the [optics 00:07:43] of when the city seemed to be incapable of doing simple things, bringing back a system that was pretty much universally unpopular and as Luke’s story, reporting and your reporting showed was very inaccurate.
Jayne Miller: Inaccurate, sure.
Stephen Janis: What are the optics in this? Is this a good time for the city to be revisiting this program?
Jayne Miller: I think what’s at work here is A, there is a revenue side of this and second is the safety aspect of it. I live on a city street that is a commuter raceway during rush hour. I would love to have speed cameras on it.
Taya Graham: Me, too.
Jayne Miller: Because it’s almost impossible to cross it and there are a number of those types of throughways in the city that not-
Stephen Janis: Sure, we live on [crosstalk 00:08:21], same thing, yeah.
Jayne Miller: Sure, exactly. Where people have gotten so used to being able to fly down the street, but I think on the upside, I think Luke and I have talked about this, on the upside, they’re bringing the program back in a much smaller form at the moment. It’s only 30 cameras I believe, 10, 10 and 10 and then, there’s six commercial cameras.
Stephen Janis: Instead of like 80.
Jayne Miller: Right, instead of … Yeah, it’s like over 100, right, before.
Luke Broadwater: Over 100-
Stephen Janis: Yeah, we had more than any city, I think you reported than any city in the country, right, close-
Luke Broadwater: Yeah.
Jayne Miller: I actually think breaking up the contracts is a very good idea so that rather than have one overall vendor who also did the auditing, right. When [Xerox 00:09:01] had it before, they did the …
Luke Broadwater: That’s right [crosstalk 00:09:03], yeah.
Jayne Miller: They audited themselves. Now, there’s three companies, one to do the speed cameras, one to do the red light cameras, and a third company with a much smaller contract to do the auditing, to do the calibration. That sets up a checks and balance internally that if the third company obviously needs to live up to its contract, then it’s got to do a good job of calibration so that you have some measure of reliability that maybe you didn’t have before. Jurisdictions use these systems. One of the arguments for them is that you don’t have to put a police officer in traffic enforcement if you have the traffic enforcement camera-
Stephen Janis: [Crosstalk 00:09:37].
Jayne Miller: Right, right, but I firmly believe that red light cameras in particular are a safety measure because I think it does make people much more cognizant of how they go through an intersection if there’s a camera on it.
Stephen Janis: Luke, I don’t usually use the word iconic with journalism, but the story you did about a car at a stoplight getting a speeding ticket from the speed camera became iconic about the dysfunction in the system. Do you feel-
Jayne Miller: It is, when you think about it, think about it.
Stephen Janis: It was. The car’s only, we’re going to show it, the car was literally stopped. Do you feel like from your investigation that they can overcome the technical hurdles to make this something more than just a bounty hunting for money? Can it be effective?
Luke Broadwater: I think what we saw in that case and in other cases where we’ve seen big problems with the speed camera system is very much what we were talking about with the tax liens where you don’t have a real human being who’s actually looking at things and saying are things done right before sending it out and trying to collect money? With the old speed camera system, you had police officers who by law have to approve these citations, reviewing somewhere between four to six speed camera tickets per minute.
Stephen Janis: Right.
Luke Broadwater: That’s barely the time needed to load the ticket onto your screen, press approve and go to the next one. How much review was actually being done? Clearly, not that much if you can look at a video of a car parked at a red light and say that car’s speeding.
Stephen Janis: You give a speeding ticket, right.
Luke Broadwater: Click approve. I think a smaller system if it is actually good, human oversight, not machines determining who’s breaking the law and who’s not, but actual humans could be more effective if done right. Jayne did a story some years about 2,000 red light camera tickets that were given out and were signed by a dead officer.
Stephen Janis: I was going to say the second most iconic was the dead officer.
Luke Broadwater: That was the red lights.
Jayne Miller: He was killed in a traffic accident.
Stephen Janis: Oh, God. That’s horrible.
Jayne Miller: That’s what the irony is that-
Stephen Janis: Do you think the system is going to fix it to the point where that’s going to happen?
Luke Broadwater: I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see.
Jayne Miller: That’s a really good question about that human oversight.
Luke Broadwater: Certainly, we are going to be looking very hard at it and if we get complaints like we still do with the water bills … I remember the water bill system was supposed to be fixed, this whole overhaul-
Jayne Miller: I know. It’s amazing.
Stephen Janis: That’s what I’m saying. It’s been five years.
Luke Broadwater: The complaints just flooded in [crosstalk 00:11:52] system-
Jayne Miller: As a matter of fact, in some ways, they’ve increased and I think the new system has exposed the old system even more.
Stephen Janis: In the water bill you mean?
Jayne Miller: Yes. I think that the old system was done on estimates and that kind of thing, and it probably was just … People were being underbilled, they were being overbilled and with no rhyme or reason.
Stephen Janis: Yeah, I think you’re right.
Jayne Miller: Now, they may have a better billing system in terms of accuracy, but what’s drawing complaints is that people are getting much higher bills than they had gotten before and it’s very hard to figure out why is that?
Stephen Janis: Coupled with the fact that the city has raised water rates exponentially-
Luke Broadwater: That’s right.
Jayne Miller: My God, 9, 10, 11% a year for the past …
Luke Broadwater: Every year.
Stephen Janis: Yeah, every year, for the past 10 years.
Jayne Miller: We still leak sewage into the harbor.
Stephen Janis: Yeah.
Jayne Miller: [Crosstalk 00:12:37].
Taya Graham: The process is [crosstalk 00:12:37].
Luke Broadwater: We leak sewage in the harbor.
Jayne Miller: That’s right, on purpose.
Luke Broadwater: On purpose.
Jayne Miller: We had this problem with … just imagine if you can wrap your head around this, there’s a big pipe that feeds the sewage treatment plant in the eastern part of Baltimore City. Actually, it’s in Baltimore County and that pipe sits at this level and the entrance to the plant sits at this level. I’m being really simplistic about the problem. The result of that is that sewage backs up because it can’t flow easily into the plant.
Stephen Janis: Right.
Jayne Miller: During a rainstorm with all the pressure on the storm water system, etc., etc., it causes it really to back up and so they have now two places in the city where they have relief valves and they just eject sewage into the Jones Falls and one other place.
Taya Graham: Oh, that’s awful.
Jayne Miller: To relieve the pressure. That’s the … Hey, look, I’ve had to struggle through physical science and all that stuff in college, but that’s the lay person’s explanation of the problem.
Luke Broadwater: Yes, when it rains too much, we purposefully dump sewage into the harbor.
Jayne Miller: Exactly. We purposely dump sewage so that it doesn’t go into people’s basements, so it doesn’t back up into their homes, which has been a problem for a long time.
Stephen Janis: We’re not going to be swimming in the harbor anytime soon.
Jayne Miller: No, but just think about all of this.
Stephen Janis: Yes, sure.
Jayne Miller: Is that here’s a city that takes money from people in property tax and water rates.
Stephen Janis: And cell phones and energy.
Jayne Miller: And cell phones and energy and parking … all these ways that the revenue gets collected by a jurisdiction and it can’t seem to get the most basic functions of municipal government down.
Stephen Janis: Yeah. That is inarguable.
Jayne Miller: Right, it’s like wait a minute. I hate to say that because I actually am a volunteer in different and I’ve had very good response on different … Like the sanitation division I think has literally worked hard, but I just think that overall, it is a system that is inefficient and ineffective at so many things that the public has almost zero confidence in the government’s ability to provide service.
Stephen Janis: Taya, amidst all this, you had a conversation with Bill Henry-
Taya Graham: Right, who I personally begged for a speed camera for my street actually.
Jayne Miller: I am ready to [pose them 00:14:55], like okay, give me your top 10 choices where you want a speed camera?
Stephen Janis: I can’t agree with that. I don’t want a speed … I hate … Anyway, but we had a conversation it was interesting about tax breaks, which, Jayne, the city has been very efficacious at giving out, which are tax breaks to developers.
Jayne Miller: That’s true. That’s one thing they’ve been very-
Stephen Janis: We’ve been really good at, we’ve been writing big checks really fast.
Jayne Miller: Yeah, correct.
Stephen Janis: No problem. He says something that’s interesting about that. What did he say?
Taya Graham: Sure. He said he wanted to have a hearing and he wanted to bring in these city agencies like the BDC and do a review of the performance of those tax breaks so we could see how they’ve been benefiting the city, how it’s been benefiting residents. I think that is an excellent idea, but what’s an even better idea is to have an independent audit of these tax breaks before they’re given out, which is something city councilman Stokes fought for, especially in relation to the Port Covington TIF, which is our first and hopefully only mega TIF that’s been given out in Baltimore City.
Stephen Janis: Right.
Taya Graham: Not only do we need a performance review of how these tax breaks perform, but maybe we should actually audit them before we give them out.
Stephen Janis: Yeah. Luke, you’ve done a lot of reporting on these tax breaks. The TIFs to Harbor Point, TIF to Port Covington or [the pilots 00:15:57]. Do you feel like the city has any grasp of how these are performing, how much money we spent, how much they’re committed and what it really means for the city economically in the future?
Luke Broadwater: They do some tracking of how many jobs have come into the properties and that type of thing and whether they can make the bond payments on them obviously, but in terms of a policy, I think they really believe in this, otherwise, they wouldn’t do it anymore, right. What we’ve seen actually is an escalation. Starts with small TIFs, then goes to bigger TIFs, then even bigger TIFs. Same thing with [pilots 00:16:31] and apartment tax breaks and enterprise zone and everything. I think [under guarding 00:16:39] the whole thing is the idea of the property tax rate in Baltimore City is twice of the surrounding jurisdictions.
Jayne Miller: Yeah, tax-
Stephen Janis: Yeah, sure.
Jayne Miller: When developers come to town, they say, “I can build in Baltimore County or I can build it here.” They say, “Let’s figure out a way to make your tax rate lower and we’ll give you this deal or that deal.”
Jayne Miller: There’s also been this culture of fear-
Stephen Janis: Yeah, sure.
Jayne Miller: -in city government for as long as I’ve been here and that it is, “Oh, my God, people are going to go build somewhere else.” I’m sorry, Baltimore County can’t really offer a Port Covington site with that kind of access to 95 and-
Stephen Janis: Or Harbor Point site, which is situated right in the harbor.
Jayne Miller: No, that’s correct. I believe that Baltimore City and the leadership of Baltimore City for a long time has totally sold themselves short when trying to lure business, etc., etc., in that this is a waterfront city with a very good port and rather than to build in those strengths, they get into a panic that if we don’t give these tax breaks, etc., etc. I understand that, but they can go to Baltimore County and they don’t need a tax break to do that.
Stephen Janis: No, they actually have to pay extra money to develop housing, they pay [inaudible 00:17:47] fees, yeah.
Jayne Miller: Yeah, that’s correct, yeah, that’s correct. It’s just been a bad combination of having this handicap so to speak of having a property tax rate that is double and then just the whole attitude about the city is negative and that adds to it.
Stephen Janis: Yeah. Yeah. Go ahead, Luke.
Luke Broadwater: One thing I know that the some on the city council are looking at is what DC uses, which is a tiered tax rate. They have four different tax rates and they charge a higher tax rate on these out of town owners of vacant properties that just let them sit vacant. These people need to pay more taxes is the argument in DC and they have lower taxes in other parts of the city.
Stephen Janis: That’s interesting.
Luke Broadwater: Perhaps there is a way to revise our tax system to be more creative because it seems that right now what we’re doing is we’re just repeating the same cycle over and over again where we incentivize people to build around the waterfront. It does not trickle down to the neighborhoods, to the communities, and we don’t see the benefits that these projects are supposed to bring to the [crosstalk 00:18:56].
Stephen Janis: You have the incompetency of the water bills and other things we talked about, the speed cameras. Isn’t it safe to assume that they’re not doing a good job of tracking these or really taking into account? [MuniCap 00:19:10] who does the analysis is paid for by the developer.
Jayne Miller: Right.
Stephen Janis: How do we know that any of these deals are good deals? Jayne, do you think-
Jayne Miller: They do on the TIFs, they do a tracking of …
Stephen Janis: The payments.
Jayne Miller: Yeah, and also they have a … I’ve seen these charts of-
Stephen Janis: You mean in terms of the jobs, the jobs?
Jayne Miller: No, in terms of whether the city has had to get involved in paying the-
Stephen Janis: Or doing a special assessment, a special assessment, yes.
Jayne Miller: In other words, does the property tax … Right, and I think that’s only happened once.
Stephen Janis: EBDI.
Jayne Miller: Is it EBDI? I thought it was-
Stephen Janis: I think EBDI did a special assessment.
Jayne Miller: It’s not Clipper Mill?
Stephen Janis: It might be Clipper Mill, but I know EBDI did-
Jayne Miller: That was done during the recession, but there is that measure of them is that-
Stephen Janis: Yes, but I mean it’s not really [crosstalk 00:19:53].
Jayne Miller: No, that’s only … Right. Correct.
Stephen Janis: You’re talking about committing hundreds of millions of dollars of future tax revenue and the only thing we have is something from MuniCap, which is paid for the developer. How do we know that they’re doing a job sufficient and if they can’t run a speed camera, how can they run a $600 million-
Jayne Miller: That’s my point is the-
Stephen Janis: Is that a reasonable question?
Taya Graham: That’s a good point.
Jayne Miller: There’s not a lot of confidence that the measurements that are used in the tracking is accurate.
Stephen Janis: Speaking … Go ahead. Sorry.
Luke Broadwater: Certainly, everyone who is running for mayor, every single candidate believed that the city was doing a bad job in terms of tracking-
Jayne Miller: Sure, it’s always a popular campaign mantra.
Stephen Janis: Right, but then it needs to translate. Taya, moving onto something that really, talk about lack of information, we found out that the five officers are being disciplined, the Freddie Gray officers, five of the six are being disciplined. What did we find out about what has happened to the internal investigation of these officers and the fate of the Baltimore Police Department?
Taya Graham: Montgomery and Howard County were tasked with doing the review of these officers and, of course, I think it was Justin Fenton who was able to give out some information that three of the officers are actually facing termination. Two of the officers, I believe Nero was one of them, they’re only facing five days suspended pay. One of the officer doesn’t seem to be receiving any sort of administrative discipline.
Stephen Janis: Right. That would be William Porter.
Taya Graham: That would be William Porter.
Stephen Janis: William Porter is not subject to any internal charges, right.
Taya Graham: Right.
Stephen Janis: Because then three of them have internal-
Taya Graham: Now they do have the opportunity to have an internal disciplinary trial board hearing so there’s a possibility of them contesting either their termination or even the five-day pay suspension.
Stephen Janis: Right. One of the questions, Luke, they say we can’t we hear about this or that we can’t read this report, what are they basing that on?
Luke Broadwater: Yeah, they’re calling it in an internal document and they’re not releasing it-
Stephen Janis: It’s based on personnel stuff, right, as you-
Luke Broadwater: Right. Now what is interesting is these trial boards are going to be opened because of the new state law.
Stephen Janis: Right.
Luke Broadwater: We will actually get to hear in open court so to speak the arguments for and against these officers.
Stephen Janis: Right.
Luke Broadwater: We’ll get to see the reasoning there.
Stephen Janis: If the officers ask for it, right-
Jayne Miller: I think you’re assured that Caesar Goodson and Alicia White and Brian Rice-
Stephen Janis: If the commissioner takes the recommendation to fire them though, right. He doesn’t have to do that.
Jayne Miller: No, no. They have to … They can accept … My understanding of the way this is worked in Baltimore and I would assume we’re under the same, even though it was outside police agencies that did the investigation.
Stephen Janis: Right.
Jayne Miller: Is that they were served with what’s a formal notification of allegations and then it has a summary of punishment attached to it, which is to say if you take this, we’re done. If you don’t, then you have to seek a trial board. They also have the option to … I have to read more about this because it almost never happens, but there’s also an administrative law judge option to hear a case.
Stephen Janis: That would all be public, right.
Jayne Miller: Yes, yes.
Luke Broadwater: Yeah, except that what’s interesting about the state law is-
Jayne Miller: If they go-
Luke Broadwater: The hearing is open, but not necessarily the decision.
Jayne Miller: Correct.
Luke Broadwater: Yeah. Right. You might sit through a whole court case and not get-
Taya Graham: That’s great.
Jayne Miller: I got to tell you, I’ve done these stories recently, this is interesting, worth noting, I’ve done these stories recently about an incident in 2013. It was actually captured by our helicopter at WBAL-TV in which there was a teenage car theft suspect. He was in chase and he bailed out and there were four cops that had him on the ground and he was handcuffed, and another cop comes in and slaps him. You could see him slapping him on the video.
Stephen Janis: Right.
Jayne Miller: That officer was adjudicated criminally. He got a PBJ for a misconduct charge and then, he went through the internal process. Then fall of 2016, he was found guilty by the trial board of misconduct and excessive force. Recommendation of the trial board was termination and a short time later, Commissioner Davis fired him. Now, I’ve been doing this story because he went to a circuit court judge and the judge overturned it and ordered him reinstated.
Stephen Janis: Right, right.
Jayne Miller: That’s why I’ve been doing this story, but the interesting thing is that this whole process is public because of his appeal of the-
Stephen Janis: [Crosstalk 00:23:57].
Jayne Miller: Right. Think of the bar that’s set. Here you’ve got an officer who slapped the kid four times. Kid was not hurt seriously, etc., and he’s fired. Nobody died. There was no … It was a misconduct and it was essentially a second degree assault. Those were the criminal charges that were brought in the case. Think of the bar that that sets. You have an officer who is fired for slapping a kid four times.
Stephen Janis: Officer Rivieri was fired, the officer who-
Jayne Miller: For yelling at the kid on the skateboard.
Stephen Janis: Skateboard-
Taya Graham: And also put him in a choke-hold.
Luke Broadwater: He appealed all the way up to the Court of Appeals.
Jayne Miller: They upheld it.
Luke Broadwater: They said Commissioner Bealefeld had the right to fire him even though the trial board had only recommended what, two days suspension?
Jayne Miller: Correct, correct.
Stephen Janis: Yeah, two day suspension, yeah.
Jayne Miller: Correct, correct.
Luke Broadwater: It is ultimately up to Davis I think even if these trial boards come back and say, “You know what you guys win,” Davis could still say you’re fired.
Jayne Miller: Not if they’re found not guilty.
Stephen Janis: Not if they’re found not guilty?
Jayne Miller: My understanding of this process is that if they’re found not guilty by the trial board, that’s it, done, cleared.
Taya Graham: Then Davis doesn’t have any power to still fire them?
Jayne Miller: Correct. That’s the process. That’s correct.
Stephen Janis: Luke, there’s something we talked about in the past that’s happened because of all this. Some of the people on the council, some of the council members, even the mayor started talking about taking money out of the police department and [we can tell 00:25:11] taxpayers that. Can you talk a little bit about that? This is the first time I’m seeing this.
Luke Broadwater: Yeah. Traditionally, the push in Baltimore has always been for more and more money for the police and we’ve seen the police budget rise by $130 million over just seven years. It’s been a rapid rise, but this year for the first time, the city council president, a lot of the new council members are saying, “We are going to cut $10 million from the police department. We don’t know exactly where yet, but we’re going to do that and we’re going to give it to the schools.” They’re actually talking about $13 or $14 million total cut and then use some of that money for after school programs as well. They’ve been very vocal. They’ve said it publicly they’ve yet to do it. We’ll see if they do it. Their hearings are about to come up, but yeah, we are seeing a turn in the tide.
Stephen Janis: On the way down, yeah, on the way.
Luke Broadwater: Of from more funding for the police to now, let’s rein in some of these funds and use more money for education.
Stephen Janis: Taya, we’ll do a round everybody because obviously, we’ve highlighted a tremendous amount of problems, which isn’t hard in Baltimore. That’s part of the reason we’re here. This is something we do, but …
Jayne Miller: Plenty to do, that’s for sure.
Stephen Janis: Plenty do. As reporters, it’s a target rich environment I always say.
Jayne Miller: That’s correct.
Stephen Janis: That if you’re a reporter in Baltimore, if you can’t find a story, you need to get into a different profession. Anyway, what do we do?
Taya Graham: I think there are two things that dovetail into each other that are absolutely essential. The first one’s transparency and the second one would be accountability. Transparency meaning placing a civilian on the internal disciplinary trial board so that there’s actually community oversight when a police officer is having a hearing.
Stephen Janis: Right.
Taya Graham: Having mediation hearings when someone has a water bill that they want to contest. If you don’t … or in the case of Kevin Plank, actually having an independent audit before they’re awarded $600 million worth of future revenue. Transparency is really important because if you don’t have it, bad behavior flourishes behind closed doors.
The second would have to be accountability. If we have six officers who are involved in the in-custody death of Freddie Gray, our city and the taxpayers have to pay out $6 million. My employer, if I cost him $6 million, I assure you I would not have a job any longer. If someone is a bad actor, they commit a crime, not only are they a bad actor and they’re not following general orders and they need to be disciplined or fired, but they’re also tainting the other people that work with them, they’re corrupting them. You need to have that accountability there. That’s what I would say would be transparency and accountability.
Stephen Janis: Luke, how about you? You covered city hall for quite some time. Do you see anything, trends emerging that could actually offer some hope to [inaudible 00:27:45] people with this idea that nothing’s going to change?
Luke Broadwater: Yeah. I think there’s a lot of positive things going on in Baltimore. In spite of a lot of real structural problems, you do have tons of success stories. I actually just interviewing a kid this week about … He’s the first national chess champion ever from Baltimore. We do have success. The issue though is … I’m just going to compare Baltimore briefly to DC.
Stephen Janis: Sure.
Luke Broadwater: DC takes in $5.1 million a year from property taxes-
Stephen Janis: Billion, right.
Luke Broadwater: Billion from property taxes and income taxes. Baltimore takes in $1.3 billion. [Inaudible 00:28:22] the same size city, right, so they have a lot more money to do things for people and that’s all about reversing the population decline, which was first to be Stephie Rawlings-Blake’s, the former mayor’s chief strategy was to-
Stephen Janis: Ten thousand families.
Luke Broadwater: Yes, get people to move in and instead, the population decline has continued.
Stephen Janis: Yes. She’s off by 16,000 right now. There’s 6,000 left.
Luke Broadwater: What do people say about how you get people to stay? That’s I think a lot to do with crime, better schools and lower taxes. If the city can get those things under control and moving in the right direction, then we can have even more success.
Stephen Janis: Listen, I really appreciate you all coming and talking to me. Certainly, I think people in the community should be thankful to have all of you people reporting because it really does make a difference. It is all the work that you’ve done, Luke has done, Taya’s done. It’s just amazing. I just want to say that.
Luke Broadwater: Thank you, Stephen and you as well.
Taya Graham: Thank you, Stephen.
Jayne Miller: It’s really important to have these kinds of conversations-
Stephen Janis: It’s important to have these kinds of conversations because you have to understand the details and the minutiae of this to really solve the problem. My name is Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network and thank you for joining us on The Real Baltimore.