Sharing the power Empowerment zone: Argument over community leaders' input may be settled.

January 10, 1996

WITH THE appointment of Diane Bell as president of Empower Baltimore, pessimism among some Baltimore neighborhood leaders about their role in this project has turned to optimism. They believe their complaints have led to better cooperation with the business-oriented members of the empowerment zone board.

That is good to hear. Baltimore's success last year in winning a coveted empowerment zone grant was due in part to heavy business-community-government interaction. The success of the program will hinge on making that cooperation an on-going reality.

That's Ms. Bell's job. As acting head of the empowerment zone management corporation for the past six months, she has already played a central role in reducing the fears of some neighborhood leaders. "She goes everywhere, she listens real hard," says Arnold Sherman of the Washington Village/Pigtown Community.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke says past arguments between the business-dominated board and the advisory committee of community leaders centered on their different views of how far the empowerment zone grant could stretch. "The community leaders were looking at $100 million as if, boy, this will take care of all the problems. The business leaders were looking at $100 million as a fairly small investment in a billion-dollar problem," said the mayor.

What they need to do, of course, is find the right mix. The $100 million won't go very far if it's thrown at every social problem affecting neighborhoods in the Empowerment Zone.

However, the zone board has also said it will make drug treatment a high priority. It recognizes that providing a safe environment will be as important as tax incentives and job training in luring businesses to neighborhoods in the zone. We hope the communication and cooperation anticipated under Ms. Bell's direction will lead to similarly pragmatic decisions by the board and advisory committee.

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