Dixon chooses transition team

47 members named, including leaders in business, health care, clergy, nonprofits

November 18, 2006|By Doug Donovan and John Fritze | Doug Donovan and John Fritze,Sun reporters

City Council President Sheila Dixon, who will become Baltimore's mayor in January, announced a 47-member transition team yesterday that includes business, nonprofit, health care and church leaders who will help hire employees and craft policy priorities for her administration next year.

The team, which is made up of five committees - leadership, economic and neighborhood development, education and intergovernmental affairs, constituent services, and community and social services - draws on a wide range of Baltimore institutions, including the Johns Hopkins University, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and several prominent businesses.

"The response was overwhelming, and I appreciate their efforts," said Dixon, 52, who will become the city's first female mayor next year. "I shared with them that many of my friends and supporters stressed to me [that I should] surround myself with smart people and talented people."

Dixon and several members of the committee confirmed that the group met for the first time yesterday in the offices of Atwood "Woody" Collins III, head of M&T Bank Corp.'s Mid-Atlantic division. Dixon said she asked the group to be candid about how city agencies are functioning, to evaluate their performance in the context of the new citywide master plan, and to set broad goals for economic development.

The council president will become mayor in January when Martin O'Malley is inaugurated as Maryland's governor. Dixon will serve until December, but must run for election in September's primary - and November's general election - if she wants to serve a full, four-year term. Many believe that the election will, in part, be a referendum on her next several months in office.

Dixon has quickly assembled a transition plan and a team of well-respected Baltimoreans to prepare for the next several weeks. If many current administration members follow O'Malley to Annapolis, Dixon will have to recruit candidates to fill vacancies on her Cabinet, in the mayor's office and throughout city government - fast.

"I think generally she is doing all the right things," said Lenneal J. Henderson, a political science professor and a senior fellow at the William Donald Schaefer Center for Public Policy at the University of Baltimore. "What she has going for her is a tremendously detailed and in-depth experience in city government. This is no place for a rookie right now."

Dixon - who has served on the council for nearly 20 years, the past seven as president - appears to be surrounding herself with a team of equally experienced people.

Betty Bland-Thomas, president of the Sharp Leadenhall Planning Council, and Collins will co-chair the transition team. Andrew Frank, executive vice president of the Baltimore Development Corp., and Otis Rolley III, the city's planning director, will co-direct the effort. Both men are considered young stars in city government who are able to balance community and business interests.

That business-neighborhood nexus has been reflected throughout the wider transition team as well, displaying Dixon's hope of crafting policies that link economic and community development. But the larger team also appears to show her commitment to include public health and public schools in the equation.

"I'm impressed with the group that Sheila has brought together, and I think it should be a nice transition, building on what Mayor O'Malley has done," said James Piper Bond, chief executive of the Living Classrooms Foundation, who is serving on the committee. "The group she has brought together are people who are committed to helping Baltimore City be the best possible and to do more for the citizens."

Henderson said Dixon will have to orchestrate a successful transition to offset criticism she will face from the many candidates expected to challenge her in the 2007 election. A state prosecutor's investigation into city contracts that involved her sister and her former campaign chairman are likely to play a major part in the election.

Dixon has said the inquiry will not impede her ability to govern because she has done nothing wrong and has fully cooperated with investigators.

Each of her committees is expected to review city agencies and report on its finding within 45 days.

Kenneth R. Banks, a developer, will head up the economic and development committee. Banks, a native of Yonkers, N.Y., started his company in 1980 and is treasurer for the Maryland Democratic Party.

Former state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman is leading the education and intergovernmental affairs committee. She is a partner at the Artemis Group, a consulting company specializing in ways to establish partnerships between public agencies and private firms.

Mark L. Wasserman, senior vice president of external affairs for the University of Maryland Health Systems, will chair the committee focused on the constituent services and the mayor's office.

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