Schmoke's Next Four Years

November 06, 1991

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke set a monumental challenge for his second administration during the final weeks of the just-concluded campaign. "We are essentially going to remake government," he pledged. "We are going to reorganize." Now, having won a strong mandate for a second term with his victory over Republican Sam Culotta last night, Mr. Schmoke must keep his promise.

There is no question Baltimore City needs to revamp its municipal bureaucracy. The current structure, after all, evolved haphazardly on the optimistic assumption that it was only a matter of time before the city reached 1 million in population. Instead, Baltimore's population has plummeted from about 900,000 to 736,000 in the past three decades and the city continues to lose 5,000 residents a year to surrounding counties, where taxes are lower, car insurance rates cheaper, schools are better and the streets are safer.

A gradual reduction of the municipal work force began in Mr. Schmoke's first term. That is only the first step. Baltimore still has a bloated payroll of 26,000 employees that can no longer be justified by the city's population or its shrinking tax base.

A glance through the municipal telephone directory reveals a number of instances of departmental duplication. Public Works has a bureau of construction management, for example; Housing and Community Development has a division of construction and building inspection. The Transportation Department has a bureau for alleys and footways; HCD takes care of sidewalks, as does Public Works. HCD also looks after "street trees," although Parks and Recreation has a forestry division.

There are other examples: Abandoned vehicles are removed by Public Works, but are the responsibility of HCD if illegally stored. Several agencies have graphics shops and professional photographers. Two departments have planning offices.

Perfectly legitimate reasons may explain some duplication but we are certain much of the overlap can and should be eliminated. Bureaucracies that ballooned during the years of plenty must shrink during these years of famine.

Now is the time to re-examine all functions of municipal agencies, eliminating duplication, streamlining and innovating. Some changes will be painful but necessary. Although many bureaucrats in the city and neighboring county governments seem to think the current economic hardships are just a passing phenomenon, they are seriously wrong. What is happening throughout the U.S. economy is a fundamental, structural change that will forever alter the way we do business.

In declaring that local government must reorganize, Mr. Schmoke showed he is aware of the transformation required of Baltimore's municipal agencies. How he decides to remake the city's government during his second term will test his imagination and leadership. The responsibility is his; the changes Baltimore City faces are too complicated to be entrusted to turf-protecting bureaucrats.

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