We know you’re a busy fellow these days. The gifts, the sleigh upkeep, tracking elf overtime and who knows what it costs to keep reindeer in tasty grasses, ferns and moss as you get ready for the big night. But here in Baltimore, we could use a little help. Not a big thing, mind you. We’ve been focused on reducing crime and improving schools, but those things are a little larger than we can expect from a seasonal visitor with a sack of toys and a weakness for milk and cookies. And not just a fun little indulgence like crabs for Christmas (although we’re always hoping that “wish’ll” come true, as the song says). No, it’s a simple present, really but something that could make a big difference in our lives.
Could we just have scandal-free Baltimore city government for a while?
Maybe you caught last week’s news about the indictment of a Department of Public Works supervisor who used city workers, equipment and materials to do work for private developers and property owners for cash under the table at bargain rates. Federal prosecutors outline a pretty sweet operation — if you don’t mind extortion, fake invoices and $64,000 in ill-gotten gains. The defendants will get their day in court, of course, but it doesn’t look good.
There are always people on the naughty list, as you know, but we’ve seen quite a run of bad news in Charm City of late. If it’s not the DPW, there’s a new perjury charge filed by the state prosecutor against former Mayor Catherine Pugh for failing to disclose income from her “Healthy Holly” books (on top of her federal charges). And that news came out just days after former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who had her own public scandal not so long ago, tossed her hat into the ring. That’s a lot of disgraced former mayors in the news without even mentioning that the current one, Bernard C. “Jack” Young, last week promised to return a $1,095 property tax credit he wasn’t due.
And then there’s the full accounting of police officer corruption for 2019 — 20 arrested, sentenced or suspended for the year, some of them associated with the notorious Gun Trace Task Force. Nor does it help that State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby worries that the number of city police officers who lack credibility is many times more than that — 305, according to her most recent list. Maybe this kind of self-examination, this exposure of possible malfeasance, is all part of the reform and repair movement, Santa, but it doesn’t make it any less painful to bear witness. And don’t get us started on excess overtime for ineffective trash collection.
Here’s our pitch, Big Man. We promise to work on making Baltimore a better place. Thousands have made that commitment already. And, oh, Santa, you should spend time with the folks who are struggling to make this happen from single parents working two jobs and grandparents raising kids traumatized by violence, to community leaders marching for safer streets, and, yes, to teachers and dedicated municipal workers who see their work as not just a livelihood but a calling. We want better schools, we want well-paying jobs, reliable public transportation, effective community policing, safe and affordable housing. But it’s so much harder when we are reminded each week, each day in some cases, that some people won’t, shall we say, be eligible for the “nice” list anytime soon.
Baltimore is a big city, and bad things will happen, of course. Making it better is chiefly on us, not you. All we’re looking for is a little inspiration, a little yuletide magic, to allow us a scandal-free month. No new corruption scandals or reminders of scandals past, no ethical quagmires coming out of city government, no more embarrassments. We have much to be proud of here in Baltimore. Lamar Jackson and his fellow Ravens appear to be working hard to give us an especially happy new year, perhaps even on Feb. 2nd in Miami (hint, hint). What would make it even better is to see more football victory walks and fewer perp walks from public figures, at least for a little while.