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A Progress Report on our 2014 Resolutions

A Progress Report on our 2014 Resolutions
1. Get the murder rate under 200

Well, so much for getting the murder count below 200. Baltimore saw 211 homicides in 2014, a dozen more than our arbitrary resolution of 199, and it's still horrifying to say that's progress. Yeah, we had just 197 back in 2011, but every other year in the past decade there were more Baltimore murders than 211. In 2007 there were 282 people killed here. Last year there were 235. Obviously the murder tally is just one horrific statistic. The resolution called for a new way of thinking by Baltimore's criminals—a no-murder policy that's about as culturally relevant to the city's drug dealers and robbers as a no-arrest policy would be to the police. Cops and the mayor both attribute our lower violent death rate to Operation Ceasefire, a program to monitor known violent knuckleheads. Most violent crime was down, police say.

Grade: C
2. Do financial and performance audits on every city department, at the department level

The audit train is a slow-moving train, ain't it? In 2014 we resolved to get those dang audits done, fer chrissake, and all year we heard yet more excuses (with a little bit of data coming out). The Department of Recreation and Parks, where the movement started, is still where it goes to die. That audit was "complete" in late April after at first sending bogus financial records to the comptroller, who says she doesn't have the staff or budget to audit 13 big city agencies as directed. And, so far, none of the other audits are done, more than a year after the voters mandated them with a charter amendment. Thus the mayor moved to hire outside auditors to do the big agencies, because as everybody knows, outside auditors (whose purse strings one controls) are "more cost-effective." Didn't the big banks prove that?

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Grade: D-
3. Help people, not corporations

We resolved, on behalf of the Baltimore Development Corporation and the Rawlings-Blake administration, to stop handing out hundred-million-dollar tax breaks and taxpayer-financed bonds willy-nilly to every sharp young dude sporting a $2,000 suit and too much hair product. And no one listened, but we did not see any more of this guff. Sure, the new casino opened, to tepid traffic and revenue shortfalls (who could have known!). But that was Old Business, as was the Harbor Point project, which got its tax increment financing bonds on schedule last spring. Next up is State Center, a stalled project that doesn't quite fit the mold. Governor-elect Hogan says he's "undecided" on that. Meanwhile, though, a new "sustainable communities" tax credit from the state is pumping a few million bucks into human-scale Baltimore projects in Fells Point, Broadway East, Stone Hill, and Charles North. So, progress.

Grade: B-
4. Stop busting DIY arts venues and start encouraging them

We asked the police, and the city administration directing them, to lay off the overheated raids on DIY spaces such as the Broom Factory Factory and Coward Shoe. But if this happened, it looks like it's more because 2013's raids and arrests drove the scene more underground—and scared the landlords. The Broom Factory tenants were thrown out in favor of a distillery, for instance, ending that as an underground music venue. The Copycat has a MICA card scanner now, and the shows in most spaces lean more toward art than music. Perhaps coincidentally, the Big 2013 Arts Crackdown has given a big boost to the (above-board) Station North scene, where the Crown is now king of the small music venues.

Grade: B
5. Hold open primaries for all elections

Despite ongoing evidence of a disengaged electorate, and increasing indications that a good-government solution to this locally would be a simple matter—holding open primary elections, instead of continuing to exclude a large and growing segment of Baltimore City's electorate from the leadership-selection process—nothing has changed.

Grade: F
6. Clean up the harbor

While significant public investments continue to seek to plug up Baltimore City's chronically leaky sewer system, which pollutes the harbor on an ongoing basis, the water's still disgusting, despite the goal of having a fishable, swimmable harbor by 2020. But some new technology is being tried out that may prove useful in more efficiently finding and plugging sewer leaks, while the long-sought plan to reduce stormwater pollution is now an enforceable commitment, so hopefully the situation will improve.

Grade: B
7. Produce more college-ready graduates

While overall college readiness of a school system's students is hard to measure, graduation and dropout rates are not, and Baltimore City's continue to improve. For the class of 2013, the latest for which figures are available, the graduation rate increased to 68.5 percent from 66.5 percent the year before, while the dropout rate declined from 14.1 percent in 2012 to 12.1 in 2013.

Grade: A-
8. Extend closing time to 4 a.m.

Alas, local night owls are forced out of local bars by 2 a.m. despite the obvious benefits of allowing establishments to stay open later—the safety of a more staggered egress, revenues, tourism. Indeed, things got considerably worse for night owls under 17, who now face one of the strictest curfew laws in the country and must be in by 10 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends.

Grade: F
9. Make arts districts more accessible

Last year we proposed that there be a new circulator line to connect the city's three arts districts—Highlandtown, Station North, and the Bromo Tower arts districts. Since then, the head of the Charm City Circulator has been indicted and audits have shown that the lines are in huge debt. Nevertheless, there is a cool new bus stop—which spells out the word "bus"—in front of the Creative Alliance in Highlandtown. And there is more connection between various venues within the arts districts themselves—Alloverstreet in Station North and the Holiday Hike in Bromo come to mind. But there still is not a lot of connection between them, which is one reason that we devoted our State of the Arts issue to addressing the "siloing" of the city's arts scene. Maybe next year.

Grade: C-
10. Spend our way to the World Series

Nearly two months after we suggested the Orioles pony up more dough to make a real title run in 2014, the club shrewdly signed Nelson Cruz to a one-year deal at $8 million. Cruz would go on to lead the club in home runs and RBIs. Just before that, the O's signed pitcher Ubaldo Jiménez to a team-record four-year deal worth $50 million, which, um, didn't turn out as well. But that didn't stop the O's from making it all the way to the American League Championship Series, where they lost to the Royals, showing that we weren't far off in our resolution. Now, with Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller gone and owner Peter Angelos seemingly tightening the purse strings once again, we'd like to reiterate our plea.

Grade: B+
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