Dixon's chief of staff resigns

Rolley to help launch nonprofit regional transportation advocacy group

October 17, 2007|By John Fritze | John Fritze,SUN REPORTER

Otis Rolley III, who has served as Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon's chief of staff since January, resigned from his powerful position and will help launch a nonprofit advocacy group focused on regional transportation, city officials said yesterday.

Long considered a rising star in city government, Rolley submitted his resignation last week, according to a Dixon spokesman. His departure, which came as a surprise to many, represents one of the first major shakeups in the administration since Dixon won the primary election last month.

Rolley, who had served as director of the city's Planning Department under former Mayor Martin O'Malley, will become president and CEO of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, a new advocacy organization that supporters said will educate the public about the need for improved transportation.

James Shea, chairman of the law firm Venable LLP and chairman of the advocacy organization, said the group will look for regional solutions to the gridlock he said is gripping Baltimore and the Washington suburbs. He said the alliance may ultimately lobby lawmakers in Annapolis.

"We're trying to bring the power of a collective effort in both planning, thinking about and then pushing for much better transportation in the Central Maryland region," he said. "We need more and better alternatives to the automobile."

A national report released last month by the Texas Transportation Institute found that the average number of hours a Baltimore-area commuter spends in traffic delays has quadrupled since 1982. The region ranked among the fastest-growing in the nation for road capacity demand, the report found.

"Transportation has emerged as one of the most important and multifaceted issues facing the Baltimore region," Dixon said in a statement. "There has been a lot of talk. It's time for action."

Although the organization is ostensibly separate from city government - and, according to its supporters, focused on regional solutions - City Hall released the announcement of not only Rolley's departure but also an explanation of the alliance's mission, structure and board members.

Its 23-member board will include some of the city's most powerful leaders, including Laura Gamble, who is president of the Maryland, Bank of America; C. William Struever of Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc.; and Michael Sarbanes, executive director of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for president of the City Council this summer.

Several people involved with the alliance said they expect it to be modeled after Citizens Planning and Housing Association but would focus solely on transportation.

Rolley, 33, rapidly climbed to the top at City Hall. He was tapped by O'Malley as an assistant housing commissioner in 2000. He went on to lead the Planning Department, helping to craft a land-use plan frequently touted by Dixon as a blueprint for the city's future.

Last year, as Dixon prepared to take over the mayor's office from O'Malley, who was elected governor, she named Rolley co-chair of her transition committee. In early December, she picked him to be her chief of staff, one of the most powerful positions in city government. He received a $150,000 salary.

Rolley has been involved in many of the Dixon administration's most important decisions - including the announcement this month that Frederick H. Bealefeld III would become the city's new police commissioner. Rolley also launched Dixon's successful election campaign this summer.

He holds a master's degree in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor's degree in political science from Rutgers University.

Anthony McCarthy, Dixon's spokesman, said Rolley resigned Thursday and that his last day will be Nov. 9. He said the mayor expects to announce a replacement in coming weeks.

"I am excited to be a part of this effort and look forward to continuing to serve the public in this new and challenging role," Rolley said in a statement.

Shea said the organization would have a budget of $700,000 a year and that it will initially be funded by foundations, including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Baltimore Community Foundation and the Goldseker Foundation. In the future, Shea said, the group might seek funding from private businesses.

"We need a concerted political and educational effort with a specific focus on the gridlock that exists in and around the city of Baltimore," Shea said.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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