The new board chair of the Greater Baltimore Committee said Monday the organization would put an emphasis on finding ways to boost employment chances for ex-offenders and people arrested but never convicted after last month's riots.
David Warnock, a senior partner at Camden Partners, a Baltimore-based private equity firm, said the organization would support automatic expungements of non-convictions and press for the change before the state legislature. The proposal was one of several efforts Warnock said would be included in an urban improvement agenda that he said would help address the problems that helped produce the April riots.
"The last two weeks was a wake-up call, Freddie Gray's death was a wake-up call," said Warnock, also chairman of the Center for Urban Families, speaking at the Greater Baltimore Committee's annual meeting held Monday at the Hilton. "The seeds of social change and the seeds of economic revival over and over in our history have sprung from times of trouble, and I think that's the case today."
The GBC, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary, is a public-private partnership of business and civic leaders focused on economic growth, job creation and quality of life. It's known for championing major developments such as the Inner Harbor, Red Line and a new arena.
It opposed the "ban the box" legislation approved by the City Council last year, saying it would put city businesses at a disadvantage by complicating the hiring process.
GBC President and CEO Donald C. Fry said the group supported amendments to the bill that would have allowed businesses to check applicant's criminal records before a job offer was on the table.
He said the GBC has pushed for more socially oriented efforts, such as drug treatment, in the past, but its development ideas often receive more attention. It has been some time since the GBC put forward a legislative agenda that would emphasize social issues, he said.
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"Those are issues that we do pay attention to, but I think now it is particularly important," he said. "These are different times and different strategies need to be examined. We need to be open."
Monday's meeting was focused on how to rebuild the city after the riots, in which more than 350 city businesses suffered damage, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in her remarks. A call for donations by text to help rebuilding efforts raised more than $200,000, including a $50,000 match by the GBC.
The room, where more than 800 of the city's business leaders gathered, broke into applause when departing chairman Brian C. Rogers, the chairman of T. Rowe Price called for different policies and funding mechanisms.
"I think we have to try some different things in Baltimore," he said. "Much of what we've done over the last 30, 40, 50 years in Baltimore maybe hasn't worked as well as it should have and we really have to step back."
Rogers added that he's been struck by the energy and "creative tension" precipitated by the election of a Republican governor, saying that sometimes divided government can be good.
Rogers said T. Rowe Price is "bullish on Baltimore," but predicted that the damage done to the city's image will take five to 10 years to dissipate.