I continue to view Dec. 6th, 2016, as a very fine day. That's the day Catherine Pugh was inaugurated as Baltimore's 50th mayor. However, while the shadows cast by the tragically flawed leadership of Kaliope Parthemos and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake have lifted, I have yet to discern evidence that the new mayor has begun to cast bright healing light upon Baltimore's most profound ailments.

The mayor is a person of high intellect, compassion and great ideas. My sense is that she is being tugged at from all sides. Therefore, my first bit of advice is to remind her that it is not her job nor the City of Baltimore's duty to solve everyone's problems. The city's responsibility is to provide reliably efficient executive branch governance through the orderly functioning of city agencies. Accordingly, the new mayor should focus her laser-like attention during the balance of her initial year upon the city's agencies. She is above all the CEO of city government.


One can understand why any mayor would be tempted to focus on other things, including new initiatives that relate to bulking up labor force participation through mobile job centers or establishing new retail corridors in struggling neighborhoods. Managing city agencies requires meetings, data analysis and other mundane activities.

But restoring morale among city agencies and their workers represents the highest priority. When I speak to employees of city agencies, whether in law enforcement, housing or other departments, I sense that morale remains incredibly low. Contrary to commonly expressed narratives, city agencies are packed with talented, entrepreneurial people who are desperate to make a difference in residents' lives and to elevate Baltimore's rank among American cities. These leaders within agencies must be empowered, but that requires direction from the city's top elected leader regarding priorities and frequent reminders that the work of agencies is of vital importance.

At the top of the list for Mayor Pugh's focus should be the Baltimore City Police Department. This year, Baltimore City has managed to produce 32, 22, 25, 29 and 38 homicides each respective month from January through May, which translates into nearly one homicide per day.

Interestingly, while homicides were up 32 percent on a year-to-date basis during the January-May period, the number of shootings remained relatively constant. In some sense, this suggests that violence in our city has become less random and more personal. Many appear to have become emboldened to solve their grudges in permanent fashion because they believe there will be few if any countervailing consequences. The implication is that law enforcement must credibly establish a reputation for relentless pursuit of justice in defense of the victims of crime.

In the 21st century, leadership requires data. It is therefore of enormous importance that the Mayor's Office of CitiStat re-emerge as a powerful force for efficacy in Baltimore. On its website, CitiStat is described as a "small performance-based management group responsible for continually improving the quality of services provided to the citizens of Baltimore City." Perhaps it shouldn't be so small. It is often said that what gets measured gets done. So let's continuously measure how many dilapidated houses are torn down, how many gang members convicted, how much trash is collected, how many potholes are repaired, how free-flowing is I-83, and how much public art is displayed.

There is another benefit to measurement. While there is considerable talent within city government, there are also underperformers. The Baltimore City taxpayer should not be asked to pay the salaries of those who are either unwilling or incapable of delivering public services effectively. The presence of underachievers in any organization is anathema to talented, conscientious workers. Part of restoring morale is removing the deadweight.

The importance of restoring confidence in and within city government cannot be overstated. I continue to believe that if Baltimore City is unable to begin to solve its most pressing problems of crime, physical decay, schools and taxes, bankruptcy is forthcoming. That probably seems like a strange thing to say given the abundance of real estate investment presently taking place and planned for the city. But demographics will become increasingly problematic as the 20-somethings who have moved in large numbers into swanky apartment buildings enter their 30s en masse over the next 10 years. Baltimore has been losing population even with the influx of young professionals. Imagine what happens if and when they begin to move out.

Anirban Basu is chairman and CEO of the Sage Policy Group, Inc.; his email is abasu@sagepolicy.com.