During his five years in office, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has often been an unconventional politician. So it is not surprising that he has launched a major reorganization without the public fanfare that usually accompanies such overhauls.
The first stage involves merging the 1,843-worker Department of Transportation into the Department of Public Works. The result: a huge bureaucracy of 6,250 employees, second in size to the Department of Education. The merger should be completed in a few months.
Mayor Schmoke "didn't think it merited any big announcement or press conference. He is just going ahead with it," said Planning Director Ernest Freeman, who recently headed an in-house study group that recommended sweeping organizational changes to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
This merger was among those recommendations. It became timely when Herman Williams Jr., the transportation chief, was named to run the Fire Department. Another recommended merger: combine the planning and housing departments with the quasi-governmental Baltimore Development Corp. and Community Development Financing Corp. But the mayor stopped any steps toward merger. "He thinks a free-standing [planning] commission has value in this city," Mr. Freeman said.
We agree with the mayor's decision. The merger proposal never satisfactorily explained how those somewhat overlapping but distinct agencies would have meshed. Instead, Mr. Schmoke should fine-tune existing organizations and delete duplication.
Such savings are expected from Mr. Schmoke's decision to consolidate city printing and graphic facilities. Currently, they are widely scattered, with the Police Department, public schools, Finance Department and the Office of Employment Development having their own printing shops and graphic artists. In the meantime, the main printing shop has been running at 70 percent capacity.
A number of other cost-cutting moves are under way. Various community and human relations services are being streamlined. Officials, headed by Finance Director William R. Brown Jr., are also considering changes in the delivery of health benefits for municipal employees, a big-ticket item that costs the city more than $100 million a year.
We welcome this overhaul as an encouraging sign of the Schmoke administration's fiscal prudence. It is a promising overture to an even bigger reorganization that is being mapped out through charter revision.