Pugh pledges to restructure Baltimore housing, economic development agencies

On first full day in office, Mayor Pugh announces plans to reorganize housing, economic development.

Mayor Catherine E. Pugh announced plans Wednesday to reorganize Baltimore's housing and economic development agencies and reiterated her intention to fire the housing commissioner.

The new mayor said she wants to broaden the role of the Baltimore Development Corp. and split the housing agency into two departments. She said both actions are aimed at directing investment to all corners of the city.

"We are reviewing how we will operate economically," Pugh said. "Who is going to be responsible for bringing manufacturing back to the city? … Who is going to be responsible for making sure economic development goes on in every part of our city? What do we need to do to be a force to be reckoned with?"

In a wide-ranging news conference during her first full day on the job, Pugh also said she wants to complete negotiations with the Department of Justice on reforming Baltimore's Police Department. And she does not plan to sell city-owned parking garages, a proposal pushed by former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Her focus Wednesday was on economic development and housing.

Pugh said the housing agency — run by longtime Commissioner Paul T. Graziano — has lost federal money because it combines community development and the operation of federally subsidized housing programs. She did not have an estimate for how much money she believes has been lost.

The housing operations were combined over multiple mayoral administrations before Graziano's tenure.

"I want them separated so that we can get a clear focus on what needs to take place in these neighborhoods," Pugh said.

The new mayor pledged during her campaign to fire Graziano. On Wednesday, she said requiring him to leave immediately is complicated. The commissioner's employment is determined by both the mayor and a board whose members are appointed by the mayor.

Graziano runs both the federal Housing Authority of Baltimore City and the city Department of Housing and Community Development, known together as Baltimore Housing.

"He will not be the housing commissioner, period," Pugh said.

If the board doesn't understand that, she said, "then they have a problem."

Pugh said she is looking for a new commissioner. She also is working with various good-government groups to restructure the housing agencies. No timeline has been set for either action.

Graziano's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Joseph Lee Smith, chairman of the housing authority board, said he has not spoken to Pugh about Graziano's future. The board meets this month.

Pugh also reaffirmed support for agreeing to a consent decree with the Justice Department, which released a report in August documenting dysfunction in the city Police Department and widespread civil rights violations by officers.

If an agreement is reached, it is expected to the cost the city millions of dollars. Pugh said she wants to ensure Baltimore doesn't "get a bill" from the federal government for reforms it has made already, such as outfitting police with body cameras.

Charles D. Ellison, a veteran political analyst and host of "The Ellison Report" on WEAA radio, said the scope of Pugh's announcements Wednesday was not surprising.

"Mayor Pugh wants to show folks she is a 'roll your sleeves up, down in the trenches' — and to a certain degree — 'policy wonk' type of politician," Ellison said. "She wants to send the signal coming out of the gate that she means business."

Pugh, who will earn $171,000 as mayor, said she also is evaluating which members of former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration to keep.

She said she will keep Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and Fire Chief Niles Ford. She also wants William H. Cole IV to continue leading the Baltimore Development Corp.

Pugh said her transition team is holding meetings and will make wide-ranging recommendations about what changes to make to city government. She also is recruiting staff, and said she will focus on hiring city residents.

"There are a lot of things that are going to take place here as it relates to creating a more transparent and efficient government," Pugh said.

So far, Pugh has named former interim city schools CEO Tisha Edwards, former Del. Peter Hammen and former Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. as top advisers.

Edwards, the chief of staff, will earn $190,000. Both Hammen, chief of operations, and Smith, chief of strategic alliances, will make $175,000.

Pugh faces a number of matters left unresolved by Rawlings-Blake, including settling a dispute over selling city-owned downtown parking garages to raise money for recreation centers.

She indicated she would back off Rawlings-Blake's plan to sell. The former mayor battled with City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who said the garages were a revenue-generating asset.

"I am going to evaluate the parking garages, because they are an asset," Pugh said. "They give off revenue. I just don't see how we as a city can afford to give away or sell revenue.

"Sometimes we do things for expediency, and I am more interested in what we do for the long haul."

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