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Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott names new DPW director

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott has named a new head of the city’s Department of Public Works.

Jason Mitchell, the assistant city administrator for Oakland, California, has been tapped to head Baltimore’s public works operation, one of the city’s largest departments. Mitchell, who was previously director of Oakland’s public works department, is due to begin work in May in Baltimore.

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“Identifying committed, transformational leadership for the Department of Public Works has been a top priority since taking office,” the Democratic mayor said Thursday in a news release. Scott called Mitchell a “veteran public servant who cares deeply about building local governments.”

“From reforming the city’s broken water billing system to moving Baltimore toward zero waste, Jason’s strong leadership will be a crucial part of our administration,” Scott added.

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The Baltimore City Council recently approved a pay increase for the public works chief, hiking the salary set by city ordinance from $188,000 to $245,000. Scott and members of his administration said the increase was necessary to attract a top quality candidate.

When council members voted on the increase, they cautioned that they expect to see substantive results from the leader of the embattled public works department.

Baltimore’s DPW director oversees the city’s water system, owned by Baltimore City but also serving Baltimore County. The system has been plagued for years by billing problems. In December, a report by city Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming and Baltimore County Inspector General Kelly Madigan highlighted millions of dollars in lost revenue due to thousands of broken meters and more than 8,000 unresolved “tickets” on problems with customers’ accounts.

Also, Baltimore is subject to a $1.6 billion consent agreement with the federal government to overhaul its sewer system and stop wastewater from polluting the Inner Harbor by 2030.

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Trash collection, also within DPW’s purview, has been strained by the coronavirus pandemic. Parts of the operation remain suspended, and the city halted curbside recycling collection for six months to focus on trash pickup, which has increased by 22% during the pandemic. Recycling service restarted in January with the help of five contractors who could cost the city up to $7 million this year.

DPW employs more than 2,700 of the city’s 13,000-member workforce, and the department has a more than $607 million annual operating budget. Baltimore’s DPW director also sits on the city’s powerful spending board, the Board of Estimates.

Baltimore has been without a permanent director in DPW since the retirement of Rudolph S. Chow in early 2020. Deputy Director Matthew Garbark has served as acting director since then; Scott’s office has not yet disclosed Garbark’s new position.

In Oakland, Mitchell managed more than 2,500 employees, according to Scott’s news release. He assisted there with implementing a zero waste program and focused on increasing the city’s capacity for waste diversion — when solid waste is sent to places other than landfills. Mitchell also spearheaded a master plan for stormwater and sewer infrastructure, and led an initiative to streamline city permitting, according to the news release.

“Mayor Scott and I share a commitment to solving problems and building cleaner, greener and more equitable neighborhoods,” Mitchell said in Scott’s news release. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mitchell is a graduate of California State University, East Bay. He earned a master’s degree in business administration and a doctoral degree in organizational leadership from the University of San Francisco.

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