For the next mayor, a list of key issues

August 31, 1999|By Mary Roby

AS THE mayoral campaign winds down, many of us have all but memorized the top candidates' responses concerning such major issues as schools, crime and neighborhood renewal.

But there are a number of other issues important to the life of the city that I'd like to see each candidate adopt as part of his or her platform. Here's that list:

Return the City Hall operators to full-time duty. The use of voice mail and repeated messages for callers to wait for assistance are not appropriate for City Hall, many people's first contact with city government.

Any city correspondence (condemnation and zoning notices, etc.) should contain the department from which it originated and the telephone number of the appropriate person to contact.

Create a Public Appearance Commission responsible for making sure that Baltimore's public buildings and spaces are clean, functional and beautiful. Columbia, S.C., which has such a body, has clean, neat and welcoming streets.

The city's business development efforts should target downtown and the neighborhood business districts. Ideally, we would tax land, not buildings, to encourage redevelopment of long-vacant buildings. More small business loans would help such areas, too.

Ask for federal assistance in making the Housing Authority of Baltimore City divest itself of scattered-site housing. If a house sits vacant for a year, it should be made available to any interested person who is willing to rehabilitate it and live in it, returning it to the tax rolls. Low- or no-interest loans should be made available (and the process streamlined for their acquisition). Over time, such loans may be forgiven.

Structure city offices to achieve the greatest efficiency. For example, in the Building Permits Office, there are three computers -- one for electrical permits, one for mechanical permits and one for other general building permits. So a person seeking permits for a single construction job may have to stand in line three times. Instead, each computer should be programmed to handle all types of permits.

Empower middle-level managers to handle their own budgets. When I was employed by the health department, my boss had to get six approvals to purchase a computer system that cost less than $3,000. Purchases of a relatively modest amount should be entrusted to such managers, if the amount is available in their budgets.

Work to get the court system back on track. I think the courts should operate 12 hours a day until the backlog of criminal cases, which led to delays and dismissals of some cases, is alleviated.

Consider making the city's slogan, "Baltimore, the city that's clean." To boost recycling efforts, cut city trash pick-ups from twice to once a week. This will encourage city residents to recycle. Then pick up all types of items for recycling once each week.

The Police Athletic League centers provide great programs for youths, but we need police officers back on the streets, not in the PAL centers. Let the Department of Recreation and Parks run the PAL centers.

Put some fun back in city life. Bring back the City Fair, the Constellation 10K Race, the March of Dimes Walk-a-thon and many other activities that pay back much more in intangibles than they cost the city in expenses.

Mary Roby is a community organizer for the South East Community Organization.

Pub Date: 8/31/99

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