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1. Please describe your educational and professional background and how it has prepared you to serve on the City Council.

I moved to Baltimore twenty years ago to pursue my education at Goucher College my bachelor's degree is in a self-created major I called Social Justice, which was a combination of Public Policy with Women's Studies, Environmental Studies, and Peace Studies. I have a Master's Degree from the Eagleton Institute of Public Policy at Rutgers University in Policy Analysis and Public Policy. My education has given me the tools and the moral conviction to be an advocate for social causes.

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I am also a small business owner and bring that experience to the council position. I am the founder and CEO of Strategic Management Consulting, LLC, (SMC) a Baltimore-based MBE that works with non-profits, small businesses and community groups to help them run efficiently and effectively.

As the lead management consultant at SMC, and through my activism, I have the excellent opportunities to work with so many organizations in Baltimore and Maryland that have innovative ideas. For instance, I learned about vacant properties and solutions to address them through working with One House At A Time, St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center and other community development corporations; I learned about the plight of our disability community and solutions to address it through working with the Maryland Disability Law Center; and learned about the need for significant and effective after school programming and youth jobs by working with Peer to Peer Youth Enterprises, and the Maryland Out of School Time Network. Each client I encounter, I am able to learn from, making it possible to have a comprehensive approach to our city's issues.

I have a long history of community activism and leadership, from working to pass Question 6 and being the president of the Student Government Association for 3 years at Goucher College, to leading the Baltimore Neighborhood Congress in 1999, to starting the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance, and then starting my own business in 2005. These experiences and more prove that I am the best person to represent the 12th District in the City Council.

2. Why do you want to serve on the council? What would your top priorities be if you are elected?

I want to serve on Baltimore City Council because I know that City government can be a more effective advocate for its citizens and can work better and more efficiently to meet the needs of Baltimoreans. As a community activist and management consultant, I have had the opportunity to work with many groups doing great work in Baltimore. As a member of council, I feel I will be better able to help strengthen our neighborhoods that have traditionally been ignored by City government. The 12th District residents deserve a city council person with leadership, integrity, and serves with no excuses. A leader brings people and resources together to get the job done. I will serve with integrity -- this job is not about me, but about serving the 12th District residents. Often we hear so many excuses as to why things do not get done, and that will end now. If we can't get things done in one way, we'll try another way. Each and every resident deserves a great council person who is a staunch advocate for the neighborhoods, a cheerleader to bring in people and resources, and a fighter to get the job done right. I will be that council person and have the track record that shows I can do the job. In the 12th Council district, the major issues I hear about from constituents are vacant housing, opportunities for children, jobs, the need to improve public safety and the need to improve basic customer service from City government.

The city has a number of tools at its disposal to deal with vacant homes and commercial spaces, but those tools are seldom used in the 12th District. One that I often mention to constituents is the receivership process, through which privately owned homes can be taken to court and put in the care of a non-profit receiver. Then, pre-qualified buyers can buy the homes at auction (with liens re-billed to the previous owner) and turn them into habitable housing stock. This is an important problem to target because with vacant houses comes crime, drugs and sanitation problems. In addition, people who live between two vacant houses also get their homeowners insurance canceled, which is simply intolerable. I will target vacant houses, work with our state officials to change the laws on insurance, and also ensure the City continues to transfer its properties to non-profit and small developers, and individuals to ensure good rehabs (taking down houses is also an option). The council person in the 12th District has to be an advocate to make this happen, and not take "no" for an answer.

Though it didn't happen because 2011 is an election year, there was discussion about closing four recreation centers in the 12th District. As a member of council, I would not allow this to happen. A vital component of improving public safety and improving the long-term health of our communities is giving youth something positive in which to be involved after school and during the summer months. It can cost up to $100,000 per year for the state to incarcerate a juvenile, yet an after school or summer job program only costs the city $1000-$4000. We need to bring quality programming into communities, whether it's in recreation centers, schools that are empty in the after school and summer time hours, or other buildings. The Maryland Out of School Time Network has quality standards for after school and summer programs, which can serve as a guideline for city programs. More importantly, a council person needs to bring in the resources needed for young people. I have a proven track record of doing this, having helped start the Village Learning Place from the closed St. Paul Street Pratt library, and Re-Wired for Change which is located at the Village House. Both organizations are non-profit groups that provide educational and recreation opportunities for young people in the after school and summer hours.

The 12th District is home to a number of neighborhoods that have been touched by crime and violence. Many district residents express to me their fears and frustrations with regards to safety in their neighborhoods. I have been surprised and heartened to see the success that police in the Eastern District have had with their Transformation Team that works to prevent crime by addressing the issues that cause it: vacant houses, lack of jobs, disinvestment in young people. I will work with them, and expand these efforts to the other districts in the 12th councilmanic district. I will also ensure the police have the resources they need to continue to fight crime. I want to also make sure we have community policing, meaning police officers getting out of their cars. The presence in the neighborhood works. As the councilperson for District 12, I will partner with law enforcement to institute innovative ways to ensure public safety.

Every person I talk with mentions that jobs are extremely important. The person either needs a job or knows someone who does. As a small business owner myself, I know that if we can expand and support our small businesses, there will be more jobs. Baltimore City encourages larger businesses to move in and hire with tax breaks. It is our history that either local hiring requirements are waived, or the company ends up leaving. Our small businesses are grounded in the community, and need support in order to grow, expand, be successful and even strengthen our commercial corridors. I am the Chair of the Baltimore Hispanic Chamber. Through this and my own business Iknow there are ways to ensure our small businesses are successful, financed, and part of our solution to the jobs issue. I also will bring in industries in the green economy to the 12th district, and currently working on a few deals to make this happen.

Finally, I hear a lot about the need for the City to improve the delivery of its services. Quality of life issues like illegal dumping, lot mowing, rats, and more, are issues that each person I talk with mentions. I already do lots of constituent service because the 12th District has been ignored. For instance, the 1900 Block of Cecil Avenue's street lights were off for weeks, then I came to the block, talked with the residents who said they had called BGE and the City who said it would take 45 days to repair. I made a few calls to people critical to this issue, and the lights came back on 2 days later. It's this responsiveness and, more importantly, setting the District as a priority, that is needed. The 12th District is my first priority. This highlights another issue: the need for an efficiency audit of the City to see where systems can be changed to include more efficient and effective service, and lower costs for that service. As a management consultant, I know there is a need.

3. Do you support Baltimore's current crime-fighting strategy? What changes, if any, would you advocate for to improve public safety in the city?

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I applaud the Baltimore City Police Department for the work they've done in bringing violent crime rates down, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. I support wholeheartedly the current enforcement strategy of heavily targeting gun crimes and, as city council person, would lobby our State officials to continue passing tougher sentencing guidelines for crimes involving guns. I also want to work on witness protection, because without it, people feel they can't report crimes for fear of retaliation.

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However, there is no amount of officers we could put on the streets or resources we could allocate to the department that would completely eliminate crime. Realizing this, as a member of city council I would advocate on behalf of the police who are employing creative methods and long-term strategies to attack the root causes of crime. I think a great example of this is the work being done by the Eastern District police and their Major, as I mentioned in a previous question. The Eastern District has put an emphasis on engaging the community and building a cooperative relationship between its officers and the community they serve. They have also set up the "Transformation Team" comprised of business leaders, community members, and the faith community to address some of the issues that continue to encourage and increase crime -- like addressing vacant houses, more jobs, opportunities for young people, and more. (full disclosure: I have been asked to be part of the team tackling vacant houses). I'd like to see this model expand city-wide. Only by addressing the long-term causes of crime will the city see a sustainable reduction in crime rates and make our neighborhoods safer.

4. Do you support the recent reforms in the Baltimore City school system? Do you believe any changes are needed in the schools' governance structure (such as direct mayoral control or an elected school board)?

I am encouraged by the progress Baltimore City Public Schools but City schools still lag behind their Maryland counterparts. I do support the reforms instituted by Dr. Alonso and want to give them more time to fully take effect.

I am against Baltimore City adopting an elected or hybrid school board. We need only look at the Texas State Board of Education to see the extreme effects of what the pressures of running for elected office can do to public education. Forcing school board members to raise money and campaign may take focus away from doing what is best for our schools and the students they serve. However, there is a need for greater local accountability. As councilperson, I would try to work with our Mayor and state elected officials to find a solution that gives the Mayor and Council greater input into the selection and retention of school board members.

5. How would you address the city's backlog in school maintenance and renovations, estimated to be as much as $2 billion?

City school facilities have been ignored for too long, leading to the major backlog of maintenance and renovation needs. Many schools do not have air conditioning or even basics like clean drinking water. One way I would address this problem is by working to find creative ideas and efficiencies in other areas of city government that can be applied to the capital budget. For instance, there is federal money available for solar panels, and we need them on our public buildings to reduce energy costs. If we can reduce our energy costs, we can have more funding for other priorities, like capital investments to get air conditioning in our schools.

However, to truly make progress on this backlog, Baltimore officials are going to need help from the State. The councilperson in District 12 has a unique opportunity to work with our state officials to help make sure Baltimore City gets its' fair share of school construction money in Maryland's Capital Budget. District 12 shares precincts with five of the six current Baltimore City legislative districts, giving the representative of that district an opportunity to work with most of our City Delegation to form a coordinated plan of attack to secure school construction and renovation funding. No other council person in the 12th District in recent history has taken advantage of our position to advocate in the state legislature, and I will do that.

6. Property taxes have become a major issue in this year's election. Do you believe the city's tax rate needs to be cut? If so, by how much, and what steps would you take to keep the city's budget in balance while lowering the rate?

I believe that many of the people who are upset about relatively high property tax rates feel that way because they are not receiving the type of customer service they expect from City government. As a member of City Council, two of my top priorities will be constituent service and improving communication between city departments and the residents they serve.

That is not to say that high tax rates in relation to surrounding counties is not a long-term impediment to bringing people back into the city. First, however, we need to improve city services, by making them more efficient and effective. We can lower costs at the same time.

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I think that any candidate promising an immediate cut in tax rates without a cut in city services is fooling themselves, but by promoting policies that promote living in Baltimore city -- including making it easier to buy and rehab vacant homes and expanding our stock of affordable housing -- we can expand the city tax base and gradually reduce the property tax rate accordingly. There is not a quick fix to the problem and no realistic way to immediately cut the tax rate without cutting needed services and investing in our schools. But my 2 pronged approach of finding efficiencies and innovative ideas for cutting costs, and attracting people to Baltimore, will help to -- in the long run -- reduce our property taxes over all.

7. The city has faced large budget shortfalls in recent years. If that trend continues, what top priorities would you protect from cuts? In what areas would you pursue spending reductions?

Should the annual budget shortfalls continue, my top priorities to protect would be full funding for our police and fire departments, education and investments in our young people.

Even if the budget situation improves, I still feel there are many areas where the city can save itself much-needed money. If elected, I will propose that all City departments undergo an efficiency audit to see where they can improve customer service and save money. To be clear, this is not about reducing the City workforce, but about seeing where we can do things better. I would also look for areas where we can make investments that save the city money in the long term. A great example would be ramping up efforts to put solar panels on City-owned buildings. There are incentives and funding available through the Federal government to help offset the cost of the panels, plus we'd save immensely on energy costs in the future.

8. Baltimore has lost tens of thousands of jobs in the last decade. What would you do to encourage economic development and provide employment opportunities for city residents?

Lack of jobs is a huge issue for many in the 12th District. As a small business owner who works with other small businesses, I want to work on a comprehensive approach to expanding our small businesses and strengthen our commercial corridors, which will create sustainable jobs in Baltimore. Currently, our City is only thinking about bringing in big businesses, including those with questionable labor practices. Tax credits are used to entice them and many times they leave after a few years. Small businesses need these tax incentives to get started and thrive and we should make it easier for small businesses to access them. This is a huge effort, and I have been getting people together to make it work already.

Of course, there is no quick fix on the jobs issue. However, I feel that extending tax incentives to small, community-based businesses, expanding access to the small business and job training resources already offered by the City, and making it easier for business owners to own the buildings they set up shop in will all provide sustainable long-term employment for Baltimore residents. I will encourage the green industries to come into the 12th District which will provide jobs and also fill in our vacant industrial buildings.

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