Baltimore business leaders agreed yesterday to help Mayor Martin O'Malley in his attempt to improve city finances and services by conducting in-depth management studies of key city agencies.
The city's leading business group, Greater Baltimore Committee, will join with the President's Roundtable, an organization of minority business executives, to evaluate city agencies for up to four months. Departments to be scrutinized include public works, housing, health, recreation and parks and fire.
The effort resembles a task force formed by former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell in 1992 that helped that city save $150 million. The 40-member Mayor's Private Task Force on Management and Productivity in Philadelphia made 400 recommendations to the city, 90 percent of which were undertaken in some fashion.
As O'Malley takes office, Baltimore is in the same financial shape as Philadelphia was eight years ago. Over the next four years, city income is expected to fall $153 million short of spending. O'Malley and business leaders are hoping that introducing such business practices into City Hall will result in a similar reduction of government waste.
Business leaders will first concentrate on public works, housing and recreations and parks, with the health and fire departments as subjects for future study.
"Hopefully we'll experience the same as Philadelphia," O'Malley said after a morning meeting with the business groups. "They're going to have the run of the joint, and I'm going to instruct all of the agency heads to cooperate."
The idea was presented to the city two months ago by David L. Cohen. Cohen served as chief aide to Rendell, who faced a projected $1.4 billion, four-year deficit when he was first inaugurated. The Rendell administration eradicated the red ink by gaining pay and health benefit concessions from city workers, allowing private companies to bid on services and creating a labor-management panel.
Seven years later, the city ended its budget year with $70 million surplus. The Philadelphia efforts became the subject of the 1996 book "Prayer for the City," which recounted Rendell's and Cohen's success.
The Baltimore study will be the first formal partnership between the GBC and President's Round- table. GBC President Donald P. Hutchinson yesterday lauded the new mayor for reaching out to the business community to help improve city services.
"It's a great first step," Hutchinson said. "Hopefully for the city it's going to, one, be a financial savings and, two, create a better method of providing services."
The impending Baltimore budget deficit has forced the city to study hiring private companies to handle some city services. Yet after his meeting with the GBC yesterday, O'Malley said he wants to include city unions and front line workers in the discussions.
In Indianapolis, which has led the nation in allowing private companies to bid against city unions to provide services, labor has won a majority of the contracts.
"I don't want labor to be viewed as the enemy, labor can be a partner in this," O'Malley said. "Part of the momentum for change is getting the opinions of the organization."
O'Malley intends to post the business leaders' findings on the Internet when they are completed for everyone to see, he said.
"It's going to be part of our move toward open, honest and transparent government," O'Malley said.