At a meeting with maintenance workers yesterday, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke pledged to improve safety in the public housing projects and to provide the workers with more supplies and better training.
The mayor also told the meeting of several hundred workers at the War Memorial Building downtown that the city's Housing Authority is trying to come up with a performance-based incentive system.
"We don't want to pay people dragging their feet the same as people busting their butt," Mr. Schmoke said.
The meeting was one of a series between Housing Authority administrators and workers designed to "expand dialogue," said Danise Jones-Dorsey, interim deputy director of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, which has more than 500 maintenance employees.
Many of the city's 18,000 public housing units have been plagued by crime and maintenance problems. Last January and February, Mr. Schmoke instituted a shake-up in the top management at the Housing Authority and closed a high-rise building at the Lexington Terrace complex in West Baltimore.
Mr. Schmoke told the maintenance workers he came to their meeting "to encourage you to let us know when you have ideas how things can be improved. . . . As a team, I know we can turn around the problems we have seen in public housing."
Workers peppered Mr. Schmoke and Housing Authority officials with complaints and questions about tenants who did not take care proper of their buildings and the extent to which repair work was being contracted out.
The city's preference is to use maintenance staff for all but major renovation work but flexibility in union work rules was needed to do so, the mayor said.
He also said that conversations with other housing employees indicated that a small percentage of maintenance workers abused alcohol and other drugs on the job. "Please don't tolerate this nonsense," Mr. Schmoke said.
Several workers said they were pleased with the meeting and hope that improvements will be made. "Talk is fine. Follow-up is what I'd like to see," said Dallas Fitzsimmons, a maintenance worker at Cherry Hill Homes in South Baltimore.