Balto. County blacks press executive on concerns

Development, hiring and schools top their list

April 06, 2003|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

More than 50 African-American Baltimore County residents met yesterday to discuss problems with development and schools in the county's growing black population and the paucity of minorities in the upper echelons of county government.

Representatives of community groups, churches and other organizations at the meeting said they had been complacent for too long and pledged to find ways to force the county government to address their concerns.

"The education of our children is suspect and lacking, and the overall quality of life for African-Americans is substandard," said James R. Pennington, president of the Banneker Community Development Association and one of the lead organizers of the event. "We need to get up and get active."

Pennington has been advocating for increased hiring of minorities in the Baltimore County government for more than 20 years, and in recent weeks, he and other members of the Banneker association have attended County Council meetings to press county department heads who are up for confirmation on their hiring records.

He said he also sent a letter to County Executive James T. Smith Jr. in January requesting more effort in hiring, training and promoting blacks to key positions in the government. Smith has not responded, Pennington said.

Yesterday's gathering at the Banneker Community Center was an attempt to involve African-Americans from other communities in the effort. The Banneker neighborhood is a historically African-American community in Catonsville, but the meeting drew participants from Randallstown, Woodlawn, East Towson and other predominantly black areas of the county. No elected officials attended the meeting, but several former candidates for office were there.

"We need to give the county executive some suggestions," said N. Scott Phillips, an attorney and former candidate for the House of Delegates. "Don't allow him to think on his own because he may not do it."

Attendees also discussed what they see as the low quality of development in African-American communities, notably the Liberty Road corridor; allegations of discrimination in the county's police and fire departments; and efforts to increase voter registration and turnout among blacks in the county.

The 2000 Census reported 151,000 African-Americans living in Baltimore County, or just more than 20 percent of the county's total population. A decade before, 85,000 blacks lived in the county.

Hiring by the county has not kept pace with the growth, Pennington said. Organizers of the meeting passed out statistics from the county's Office of Human Resources showing that 13.7 percent of the county's overall work force is black. The percentage for supervisors is much lower, said Bob Gates, a member of the Banneker Community Development Association, and another organizer of the event.

Attendees said they were hopeful that they would have influence with the Smith administration because precinct-by-precinct results from the 2002 election showed that the heavily African-American precincts on the county's west side were key to Smith's victory.

"We put him in office, and it kind of feels to me like he's putting us to the side," said Chris McFadden, a longtime community activist from Randallstown.

Smith has appointed most of the county's department heads and filled the executive office staff. He reappointed the one African-American department head from the previous administration, Dr. Michelle A. Leverett, director of the county Health Department, and he named as his special assistant Harold Reid, an African-American who previously served in the county's Department of Community Conservation.

Smith has three more department head nominations to make, but two of them are Human Resources, and Employment and Training - departments that have a direct role in hiring and promotions.

Reid, who attended the meeting, said Smith was aware of the participants' concerns and will address them. Reid noted that Smith has been in office for only four months and has been swamped with dealing with the transition, lobbying the General Assembly and preparing his budget. But he said people can expect to see more focus on his campaign promises to diversify county government soon.

"He's committed. He understands the politics of his election and doesn't necessarily need to be reminded all the time," Reid said. "Things are in motion, but after four months, there's not a whole lot you can show."

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