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Baltimore officials rethink process for renaming streets, buildings after dispute over ceremonial street sign

Baltimore officials are nearing completion of a revised ceremonial street-naming policy and pushing forward with an effort to review the names of other city buildings and monuments following a dispute over a ceremonial street sign erected for a resident with a criminal record.

The street sign policy, a Department of Transportation program that allows residents to submit an application and pay $150 to see a name of their choice hung on a city signpost for one year, has been rewritten to close loopholes, Liam Davis, legislative affairs manager for the department, told members of the Baltimore City Council in December.

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The policy is next due for a review by Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott, possibly early in 2022, and will then be open to the public for a 30-day window for comments and feedback, Davis said. He did not provide details on what might change.

“It’s definitely a stronger policy, and it should prevent any similar cases from coming up in the future,” he said.

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The case Davis referred to was that of Anthony Covington, a 27-year-old resident who was shot to death in the 1100 block of Washington Boulevard in March 2020. On the first anniversary of his death, his sister, Aniesa Covington, paid to erect a street sign in his honor in the Pigtown neighborhood where he died. It read “Anthony Mo$ Covington Way.” Aniesa Covington previously told The Baltimore Sun that the sign brought comfort to her family.

But it prompted complaints from Pigtown residents who have fought to take back their neighborhood from drug dealing and violence. Covington was arrested in 2013 as a suspect in a series of armed robberies in Pigtown — a case that wasn’t prosecuted. Four months later, he was arrested in the area with 15 bags of crack cocaine and received probation.

In 2017, Covington took a plea deal for a drug distribution charge near a school. He was arrested during a raid of a stash house near Carrollton Ridge where heroin, cocaine and guns were recovered. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

After complaints in September from neighbors about his sign, City Hall swiftly removed it. A department spokesman called the sign an “oversight,” and the ceremonial sign program was suspended.

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The City Council is also reviewing policies for naming city property and streets. Democratic Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton called for a recent investigative hearing “in light of national trends, so that our standards better foster equity and unity.”

Council members learned that there is no citywide standard for naming city property. Individual agencies, including Recreation and Parks, the Department of Transportation and Baltimore City Public Schools, each have policies.

Melissa Broome, director of policy and legislative affairs for the school system, said the district has a “very deliberate process” with numerous requirements for engaging the community, school leaders and elected officials.

“We try to be very thoughtful about this because there’s so much in a name,” she said.

Jenny Morgan, legislative liaison for Recreation and Parks, said the department receives numerous requests to rename buildings and parks. Applicants have to write a letter to the director and include letters of community support. They are also asked to create an escrow account to assist with maintenance of named structures, but it’s not required, she said.

Middleton asked city officials about the possibility of creating a streamlined naming process for all city agencies.

“It sounds like all the agencies have their own way of doing things,” she said. “It needs to be a check-and-balance point that everyone is following.”

Eric Holcomb, executive director for the Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation, said he has been exploring creating a commission to review Baltimore’s contested monuments, outdoor signage and place names. The group would discuss whether names are appropriate or not and make recommendations to the City Council and city agencies, he said.

Holcomb said he envisions the group being similar to a commission convened in 2016 to review Baltimore’s Confederate monuments. The group, assembled by then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, reviewed four city monuments and recommended removing two. In 2017, Mayor Catherine Pugh ordered all four taken down days after a deadly clash in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Since then, several other monuments to controversial figures in Baltimore have been damaged. On July 4, 2020, a statue of Christopher Columbus was tossed into the harbor by protesters. One month prior, red paint was splashed onto a monument to George Washington in Druid Hill Park.

Holcomb said the city needs a “consistent, efficient process everyone can understand and use” for naming property.

Democratic Councilwoman Odette Ramos said she supported Holcomb’s effort to standardize the process, but the city also needs to consider more than just historical aspects of a name, she said.

“There’s certain names that invoke various emotions and actually may not be appropriate,” she said. “So how do we figure that part out?”

Lindsey Anderson, a representative of the school system’s Office of New Initiatives, cautioned that different agencies might have different needs.

“I could see how the criteria for renaming a street might be different than renaming a school,” she said.

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