No City Flag Waver

March 25, 1995

The Internal Revenue Service's plan to consolidate its operations in the metropolitan area has all the potential of developing into another nasty controversy between two major jurisdictions.

But unlike the protracted Health Care Financing Administration feud, which involved new jobs at a new headquarters, the IRS decision will affect some 200 federal employees currently working in downtown Baltimore and nearly 300 in the growing Baltimore County edge city of Owings Mills.

Our feeling is that Baltimore City should fight for these jobs tenaciously. Unfortunately, the city is in a poor position to do so.

The city's flag waver in these matters is the Baltimore Development Corp. But its president, Honora M. Freeman, is on extended sick leave. Her deputy, Robert L. Hannon, is expected to defect next week to Baltimore County -- to become County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III's economic development director.

Unless Baltimore City has an aggressive and workable economic development agency, it will have a difficult time retaining existing jobs or attracting new ones. We urge Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to bite the bullet and revamp BDC.

In recent months, as BDC has come under public criticism, the mayor has refused to admit the obvious: That his administration's quasi-governmental development agency is in disarray.

He is about the only one happy with it. But, then, BDC is a creation of Mr. Schmoke, who in 1991 ordered its formation through the merger of the Market Center Development Corp., Charles Center-Inner Harbor Management Corp. and the Baltimore Economic Development Corp.

The marriage of these conflicting interests and responsibilities never quite worked out, particularly because BDC lacked a president who had governmental experience and the respect of the business community.

That was not BDC's only weakness, however. It is mind-boggling that the organization's structure is such that its No. 3 official, Michele Whelley, is responsible both for downtown development and industrial projects in Fairfield, even though they require totally different expertise and experience.

The type of person we have in mind for a future BDC president is someone like former economic development officials Bernard Berkowitz, Mark Wasserman or Joel Lee, all of whom forged successful records as demanding taskmasters in delicate political situations.

The main thing for Mayor Schmoke is to end his procrastination and act on revamping BDC. Economic development in an aging city is such a difficult task that it should be pursued by a first-rate organization. Otherwise, the city will continue to lose out on jobs and economic growth.

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