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Help Wanted: Gadfly

Posted 3/16/2005

When longtime Charles Village resident Gren Whitman stopped by to drop off a packet of papers to the Nose earlier this week, he delivered with them a note, the contents of which may take some by surprise: “F.Y.I., I am moving to Rock Hall,” it read, “25 miles southeast of Baltimore (if you’re a crow), but 95 miles by road. From the Rock Hall waterfront, you can see Baltimore’s tall buildings!”

Indeed, after 40 years, the neighborhood activist (and lately, thorn in the side of the Charles Village Community Benefits District, a neighborhood-booster organization paid for by a tax-surcharge on all Chazville properties) is leaving town.

“As of March 22, when I sign a bunch of papers under the watchful eye of a real-estate agent, I will no longer be a property owner in Charles Village,” Whitman tells the Nose. “It’s like ripping out roots. . . . Being very frank, it was very hard for me to decide to move from the city, but now that the decision is made, it’s less difficult.”

Whitman, who originally hails from Boston, moved to Baltimore in 1966. Since then, he’s been a familiar face in the greater Charles Village area—he has helped shut down rowdy bars in the ’hood, maintained a small community green space on 32nd Street, and been part of a larger group of neighbors intent on keeping the quality in the Village’s quality-of-life. But he’s probably best known these days for his crusade against the benefits district, an organization he thinks has failed to live up to its mandate to fight crime and grime in the area.

Whitman has been single-minded in his attempt to shut down the organization, which relies on authorization from the city to maintain its charter to work for Charles Village residents. In fact, on Jan. 25, Whitman and a group of other residents displeased with the Charles Village Community Benefits District (CVCBD), filed suit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, claiming that the organization is in violation of the state Open Meetings Act for holding executive committee meetings without giving residents “reasonable advance notice” and then refusing to allow plaintiffs to review the meeting’s minutes.

Though Whitman likely won’t be in town by the time the complaint is reviewed, he says his imminent departure won’t preclude him from remaining active in it: “Under the Open Meetings Act, any citizen in the state can file suit,” he says. “I will continue as a plaintiff in the suit unless there is a technical reason for me not to.”

But he will be passing the torch when it comes to acting as the CVCBD’s public enemy No. 1. After March 22, he says, “I will then shut up—I will have no
standing.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean the CVCBD’s board members and supporters can now relax. Whitman has allies in the neighborhood ready to break free from their gadfly-cocoons. He says there are other “solid” residents (one to watch, he says, is retired Morgan State University math professor Stephen Gewirtz) ready to lead the charge to have the organization dismantled, and he’s leaving the fight in their care.

“It’s always a mistake to have only one person involved in anything of significance,” Whitman says. “I usually say one person is crazy, two people are a committee. . . . Nobody can do anything by themselves.”

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