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Open Society Institute plans to set goals for new Baltimore elected officials

The Baltimore Sun
A citywide summit led by a nonprofit will hope to create goals to better Baltimore this November.

A Baltimore nonprofit plans to bring together city government leaders, activists and community members to create goals for city officials who take office after the November general election.

The Open Society Institute-Baltimore will announce a "Solutions Summit" Thursday, a Nov. 12 meeting where participants will craft a plan for jobs, criminal and juvenile justice and behavioral health, among other issues.

Organizers said they hope to channel civic interest following the Nov. 8 election into real progress for the city.

"There is so much attention on the election and so much focus on Baltimore after the uprising," said Evan Serpick, the nonprofit's spokesman. "We really just don't want to lose that energy."

Four co-chairs with ties to the city will lead the initiative: Kurt L. Schmoke, University of Baltimore president and former mayor of Baltimore; Mary Miller, a former U.S. Treasury leader; Eddie Brown, CEO of Brown Capital Management; and Mark R. Fetting, former CEO of Legg Mason.

Diana Morris, director of Open Society Institute-Baltimore, said she hopes the summit will help make residents from different neighborhoods more aware of each other, particularly the different living conditions they face.

She hopes the dialogue will not just bring residents together, but lead to change.

"We want to focus particularly on those things that the mayor and City Council have the ability to either move on or influence significantly," Morris said.

Donald F. Norris, director of University of Maryland, Baltimore County's School of Public Policy, applauded the intent of the program but said he was skeptical it would lead to results.

"I think it's a highly worthy enterprise, but these kinds of things generally don't work," he said. "That's just the sad reality."

Norris said building consensus among different stakeholders with varying opinions is difficult without making goals less specific, which makes them less useful.

"It's not bad to have a plan," Norris said. "What's bad, in my view, is to have a plan that does not get implemented because that breeds false hope."

The major institutions that have the money, staff and power to pursue on the group's goals have to integrate them into long-term planning to have an impact, Norris said.

Fetting said he hopes the support of the nonprofit coupled with the diverse experiences of the co-chairs can deliver a useful blueprint for city action.

"Can it get past the platitudes, that will be the test," Fetting said.

Billionaire investor George Soros started the Open Society Institute-Baltimore in 1998. Since then, it has sponsored similar initiatives in New York in 2013 and Washington in 2014.

Morris said the effort in Baltimore will be different because the nonprofit has a local base in the city. She also said there will be a concentrated effort to continue the discussion and follow up, which was not part of the plan in Washington or New York.

The nonprofit plans to present its recommendations shortly after the Nov. 12 meeting to the newly elected mayor and City Council. Organizers plan to follow up periodically.

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