Evaluating Baltimore's Government

January 09, 1993

Councilman Lawrence A. Bell has done the citizens of Baltimore a favor by calling for the police commissioner's firing if the city's crime rate does not abate by summer. It is time the City Council began measuring top municipal leaders' performances by achievement.

The defensive reaction from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and his minions shows they do not get it. Baltimoreans are sick and tired of witnessing the rapid deterioration and decline of their beloved city.

While City Hall bureaucrats offer excuses for passivity, streets are filling with trash, crime is rampant, boarded-up houses multiply. It's time for action. We hope Mr. Bell's ultimatum brings results -- and that similar ultimatums are issued to the chiefs of other city fiefdoms.

From Mayor Schmoke's office to the cubbyhole of the humblest clerk, this city needs a new sense of urgency. A sense that Baltimore's decline can be turned around if everyone joins the effort. A sense that the city's streets can be made safe again, its schools returned to learning and teaching. A sense that Baltimore and Baltimoreans can look forward to the future with hope.

This is more than a public relations problem -- although public relations is a key element in creating a shared feeling of dynamism and achievement.

It is a pity that three of the city's key officials -- Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods, Housing Commissioner Robert W. Hearn and Mayor Schmoke himself -- are men with communications problems. They are such decent and well-meaning public servants that they often seem too nice and vacillating for jobs that require occasional displays of ruthlessness and toughness.

Not surprisingly, each of them has a problem in being taken seriously by their underlings. The lack of urgency and follow-up in their own offices shows that. Equally unfortunate is that none of them has been successful in communicating any compelling vision to the broader community of city taxpayers and metropolitan inhabitants.

These failures are now catching up with them. Surprisingly, it took the equally mild-mannered Councilman Bell to vocalize the public's disenchantment with the performance and leadership of the Police Department and, by implication, of the entire municipal bureaucracy.

Mr. Bell moved to issue his ultimatum because as the chairman of the council's subcommittee on public safety he could not get any cooperation from Commissioner Woods. The councilman did not act hastily. "I've had this feeling for a long time but I've been kind of biting my tongue," he said.

This is the time for evaluating the performance of the whole city government.

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