Diane Bell, who has been running the day-to-day operations of Baltimore's empowerment zone for the past six months on an interim basis, is the new president of the multi-million-dollar federal revitalization effort.
Ms. Bell, a former high-level aide to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, won the unanimous approval yesterday of the executive committee of the board overseeing the empowerment zone.
Her appointment at a salary of $95,000, which requires no further ratification, comes a year and a day after Baltimore was one of six U.S. cities to receive an empowerment zone designation. The designation includes $100 million in federal funds to revive some of the city's most distressed neighborhoods and tax breaks for businesses worth an estimated $225 million more.
The empowerment zone board had conducted a nationwide search, paid for by two private foundations, for a permanent chief executive officer to run the effort for the remainder of its expected five-year term.
But a search committee decided that Ms. Bell was superior to any of the 18 leading applicants. Members of the empowerment zone board and officials in the mayor's office persuaded her to be a candidate for the job left open since June by the resignation of Claude Edward Hitchcock.
Ms. Bell, 44, has a reputation for having good rapport with community representatives, many of whom have complained recently that they have not had enough say in how the empowerment zone board allocates funds.
"She is well-respected by the community as being straightforward and honest," said Mathias J. DeVito, chairman of the empowerment zone board, who also praised her management skills.
Arlene Fisher, a community leader in West Baltimore, one of three areas in the city scheduled for revitalization with the empowerment zone funds, agreed that Ms. Bell "knows the community."
Ms. Bell, who was making $70,000 as a mayoral assistant, has been running the empowerment zone since the resignation of Mr. Hitchcock, a corporate lawyer and longtime political associate of the mayor who left after just six months to return to his law practice.
Mr. Hitchcock had been paid at a rate of $120,000 a year.
During Ms. Bell's tenure, the empowerment zone has fulfilled federal requirements to begin using funds, approved several neighborhood "village centers" and begun the development of vacant industrial land in Fairfield in South Baltimore.