When the Baltimore Development Corp. (BDC) announced the latest additions to its board of directors April 23, the Nose noticed that the quasipublic economic-development agency got a little less quasi, and that Baltimore's strong mayor got more than a little stronger.
While the city's chief executive has long had the power to appointment BDC directors, Mayor Martin O'Malley has flexed those muscles a little more strongly, packing the 16-member board with four members of his cabinet.
In the past, the mayor has traditionally placed two voting members on the board--the housing commissioner, for obvious enough reasons, and the finance director, for even more obvious reasons. But as soon as O'Malley was sworn into office, he added a deputy mayor to the mix. And now, the director of the newly created Mayor's Office of Minority Business Development has landed a place at the BDC decision-making table as well.
With these appointments the board also grew in size, for the second time since O'Malley took office 17 months ago. The panel was composed of 10 members when it was created in 1995 under the Kurt Schmoke administration, 12 when O'Malley was inaugurated on Dec. 7, 1999, and 14 by that year's end. It now stands at 16 volunteer members--a way of doing more with less, O'Malley contends, given that these days BDC is, like most city agencies, short on funds.
Owen Tonkins, the city's new minority-business guy, is a no-brainer addition, the mayor insists: "It seems like we're always getting asked about minority participation on the back end." As for Laurie Schwartz, deputy mayor for economic and neighborhood development, O'Malley says her presence helps coordinate public investment and public services.
As for the increasing presence on the board of mayoral yes-people, Hizzoner makes no apologies. "How 'quasi' has it ever been? My gut reaction is that they'd better [vote with me] or they'd better find another board to sit on." As for the public perception that BDC deals too often cut out the public, O'Malley says there's plenty of opportunity for public input on development plans, including City Council and Planning Commission hearings. Not to mention the fact that "the board is controlled by a publicly elected mayor." So there.