To prepare for the meetings, the mayor directed each agency head to compose detailed answers to a seven-point questionnaire. While sources said the Cabinet members are not being required to reapply for their jobs, the interviews indicate she is scrutinizing her top aides critically.
"It's good leadership and management to have them come in and do a performance evaluation," he said.
Through a spokesman, Rawlings-Blake declined to comment on her interviews with Cabinet members.
Spokesman Ryan O'Doherty did not comment in detail, but said in an emailed statement that Rawlings-Blake "is constantly evaluating the leadership of all city agencies and is going to continue to demand results from everyone."
"The Rawlings-Blake administration has made a lot of progress for Baltimore over the past 19 months, but the mayor has made clear that now is not the time to take the foot off the gas," O'Doherty said. "She wants to take Baltimore to the next level and focus on growing the city."
Sources said the mayor has met with several Cabinet members and plans to meet with all 40 in coming weeks. Those who have approached the interview informally were surprised by the intensity of the questions, they said.
While Rawlings-Blake has appointed several agency heads since she took office after the resignation of Sheila Dixon in February 2010, many are holdovers from previous administrations.
After sweeping last month's Democratic primary, Rawlings-Blake is all but guaranteed a victory in the general election in heavily Democratic Baltimore. Some observers expect her to act more boldly as she moves into a full four-year term.
Public Works Director Alfred H. Foxx said he sat down with Rawlings-Blake to discuss some of her goals and objectives.
"I think the leader of an organization must have a vision for what they want from you," he said.
Foxx, who was appointed by Rawlings-Blake, said he did not feel that he was on the defensive during the interview.
"I looked at it as my boss giving me the visions and goals and objectives," he said.
Cabinet members said Rawlings-Blake's questionnaire — which reads like a creative-thinking essay test for bureaucrats — sparked philosophical discussions within their agencies.
"Our staff met and went over it last week," said William Gilmore, director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts. "They were really thoughtful questions. It sounds like she's really interested in how we felt and our approach to the coming administration."
Gilmore holds a Cabinet seat although his group is a private nonprofit. He said that mayors — he has worked under six administrations — often evaluate the Cabinet during a transition. However, Rawlings-Blake's questions prompted him to conduct a deeper analysis, he said.
"What was unusual was they were very thoughtful questions," he said. "They weren't just bottom-line, look up the figures and tell us where you stand kind of questions."
The questions indicate that Rawlings-Blake wants to expand the population of the city — which lost 30,000 residents over the past decade — while better meeting the needs of residents and workers.
She asked Cabinet members to explain what their department should accomplish in the next year and the next four years to "move our city forward and get Baltimore growing again." She asked what her administration should do to support those efforts.
Cabinet members were also asked to describe a city leader who "taught you the most about effective management," detail one thing they would change if they were mayor for a day and explain how the city should "improve its relationship with customers."
The questionnaire asks Cabinet members to specify which programs could be cut and which deserve more funding. The city has faced three years of budget shortfalls, and the outlook for the coming fiscal year appears grim.
M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's quasi-public development arm, said he urges his leadership team to focus on "continuous improvement."
"To have the mayor ask those very intriguing questions made us think about it more," he said.
Brodie, who has not yet had his meeting with the mayor, said he wished he had more space to respond to the questions. The mayor asked Cabinet members to limit their answers to two pages.
Rawlings-Blake has indicated that she plans to implement significant changes at the BDC. In her first interview after the election last month, she said she would continue to reorganize the agency and shift its focus to retaining more businesses in the city.
Donald Norris, chairman of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said political leaders often re-evaluate their deputies after an election.
"This is a reasonable time to expect those kinds of things to begin happening," he said.
"She now has been elected on her own. She's clearly going to be setting her own agenda and putting her own people in power," he said.
City Solicitor George Nilson said he did not read the questionnaire as "a reapplication document."
Nilson said he scrambled to answer the questions after returning from a vacation. He has not yet met with Rawlings-Blake.
"I'm assuming she's going into all of these conversations with an open mind, but anyone in her position would have notions and preliminary thoughts after working with these people closely in the past year and a half," he said.