City Council Reorganization, Vaccine Rollout, and Spy Plane Lies

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This week’s news includes: The new City Council president plays politics, spy plane turbulence, nobody puts labels on Larry Hogan, and more reporting from Baltimore Brew, Maryland Matters, Baltimore, and others.



Councilmen Zeke Cohen, Kris Burnett, Ryan Dorsey and John Bullock lose their chairmanships in Nick Mosby’s reorganization.

Mosby’s reorganization – demoting progressives, boosting Young’s allies – sparks a furor
by Fern Shen
Published December 13 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: Calling for an end to “petty personal agendas,” incoming City Council President Nick Mosby gave an inaugural speech urging fellow city leaders to commit to more “collaboration and partnership.”

Just hours later, Mosby released a restructuring plan that stripped chairmanships from four incumbent councilmen, including popular progressives allied with Mayor Brandon Scott.

The new set of chairs unveiled on Thursday rewards those closest to outgoing Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and includes four of the Council’s most conservative members – Eric Costello, Sharon Green Middleton, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer and Robert Stokes – based on their voting records.

Online, the reaction was scathing.

Shocked community leaders and others called Mosby’s changes “backroom dealing,” a “Politburo” move and a “declaration of war on progressives and activists.”

See also:

Mosby Halves Committee Structure At Term’s First Council Meeting
by Emily Sullivan
Published December 11 in WYPR

Mosby shares his vision for Baltimore with a speech and special video
by Fern Shen
Published December 10 in Baltimore Brew



Holdovers from the Young era: Daniel Ramos and Olivia “Sunny” Schnitzer have retained their top positions in the mayor’s office.

Scott retains two insiders for top posts in his administration
by Mark Reutter
Published December 15 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: The rhetoric may be about change (“the status quo cannot continue,” Mayor Brandon Scott declared in his swearing-in speech last week), but his administrative actions so far exemplify continuity and caution.

There’s been no shakeup in city government, and no resignations of agency heads or cabinet members announced by the new mayor.

A few key personnel, such as Kimberly Morton, Jack Young’s powerful chief of staff, left voluntarily last month, while others (Housing Commissioner Michael Braverman and Public Works Director Rudy Chow) were fired or let go earlier by the outgoing mayor.

Yesterday, Scott further strengthened his links to his predecessor by promoting and retaining two key members of Young’s inner circle – Daniel Ramos and Olivia “Sunny” Schnitzer.




Civil Liberties Questions Plague Baltimore’s “Spy Plane” Experiment
by J. Cavanaugh Simpson
Published December 16 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: The Baltimore Police Department’s aerial surveillance pilot program likely strayed outside its own civil liberties assurances by tracking some Baltimoreans over multiple days and failing to delete images after 45 days, according to a new report by New York University’s Policing Project.

The city’s recently concluded Aerial Investigation Research (AIR) pilot program, better known as the “spy planes,” launched into the skies over Baltimore in May. The six-month police department experiment was aimed at helping identify suspects or others linked to violent crimes—primarily murders, shootings, and armed robberies.

In public statements and contract documents, the Baltimore Police Department and private company, Persistent Surveillance Systems, have stated that the Cessna plane’s 12-camera array would only record “short-term surveillance” and track images “linked to a crime scene” based on police requests for that data. The BPD has repeatedly emphasized privacy limits, assuring that individuals would not be tracked over multiple days (the planes did not fly at night) and any images not related to investigations leading to arrests would be “stored for 45 days, after which point it will be deleted.”

The Policing Project at NYU School of Law found that’s not exactly how things went down.

See also:

Baltimore Police Lied About Almost Every Aspect of Its Spy Plane Program
by Todd Feathers
Published December 10 in Vice



Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) discusses the state's COVID-19 vaccination plan at a State House news conference Tuesday. Screen shot.

As State Prepares Wider Vaccination Distribution, National Guard Will Provide Logistical Support
by Bruce DePuyt
Published December 15 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: The Maryland National Guard will provide logistical support for the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced on Tuesday.

Guard personnel will assist state health officials with vaccination planning, operations and distribution support, he told reporters at a State House news conference.

“We’re going to be utilizing them as we launch what will be the largest and most important vaccination campaign in the history of our state and our nation,” Hogan said.

The state’s initial allotment of the Pfizer vaccine, 155,000 doses, will go to people in group “1A” of the rollout – front-line health-care workers, nursing home residents and staff, and first responders.

Amid reports that two counties in the hard-hit western panhandle of the state would not be getting doses of the long-awaited vaccine, Hogan stressed that “over the course of the next week… every single hospital and every region of our state will begin to receive their first COVID-19 vaccines.”

See also:

Hogan: All Maryland Hospitals, Nursing Homes Will Have Vaccine By End of Month
by Rachel Baye
Published December 15 in WYPR



Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks at a Purple Line event in Lanham, Maryland, on Sept. 5, 2019. Capital News Service photo by Elliott Davis. Last month, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, R, pictured in this 2019 photo, announced $1 million in funding that would go toward testing wastewater for coronavirus in vulnerable communities in the state. (Elliot Davis/Capital News Service file photo)

Maryland examining wastewater for coronavirus
by Ryan McFadden
Published December 14 in Capital News Service

Excerpt: As coronavirus cases continue to rise across Maryland, the state is looking into testing wastewater as another way to help combat the pandemic. Widespread testing is expected to begin later this month, according to Maryland’s Department of Environment.

Last month, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, R, announced $1 million in funding that would go toward testing wastewater for coronavirus in vulnerable communities like correctional facilities, nursing homes, and public housing units. The testing will be led by Maryland’s Department of Environment in close coordination with the state’s health department.

“This is using cutting-edge science to have a pooled estimate of a county spread, so we can detect and respond to outbreaks particularly in vulnerable communities,” Suzanne Dorsey, assistant secretary for the Department of the Environment, told Capital News Service. “We go in, do the testing then notify the health departments and housing management teams so they can respond.”

This second phase of Maryland’s COVID-19 Sewer Sentinel Initiative comes after a 90-day pilot program where the department examined the effectiveness of wastewater testing in five different locations statewide from July to October.

“What we know is people begin to shed the virus in their waste before they show any symptoms, said Dorsey, Ph.D. “We are able to detect virus shed from asymptomatic spreaders, and those are the people we think are most responsible for the spread.”



A Baltimore City garbage truck at work is a reassuring sight these days. (Mark Reutter)

City spends millions on Covid-related supplies and services
by Mark Reutter
Published December 16 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: Since September, Baltimore has signed $16.3 million in contracts with private vendors for masks and gloves, home-delivered meals, fruits and vegetables, and hotel rooms for homeless people, the Department of Finance disclosed today.

Over the same period, the city approved $320,000 in new desks and chairs for its Emergency Operations Center and purchased “routing software” for garbage trucks costing over $790,000.

All of the supplies and services were acquired without competitive bidding, as normally required for contracts above $50,000, under the emergency Covid declarations by Gov. Larry Hogan and outgoing Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young.

The expenditures came before the Board of Estimates with its three new members – Mayor Brandon Scott (replacing Young), City Council President Nick Mosby (replacing Scott) and Comptroller Bill Henry (replacing Joan Pratt).



Image courtesy of CDC.

Maryland’s daily number of new coronavirus deaths continues to rise
by Marcus Dieterle
Published December 16 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: Maryland officials on Wednesday reported 64 more coronavirus-related deaths, the highest daily death total in seven months since the state reported 70 deaths on May 12.

Since the pandemic began in March, 5,103 Marylanders are confirmed to have died from coronavirus, while another 167 residents’ deaths are suspected to be related to the virus.

At least 241,767 Marylanders have tested positive for COVID-19, while 2,365,844 have tested negative as of Wednesday morning, according to the Maryland Department of Health’s COVID-19 Case Map Dashboard.



A Baltimore City Council bill will propose a cap on commission fees charged by food delivery apps
by Donte Kirby
Published December 16 in Baltimore

Excerpt: The Baltimore City Council will consider a bill to cap the fees charged to restaurants by third party delivery apps at 15%. Leaders said it’s an effort to give relief to local restaurants, as many are struggling in the pandemic and reliant on to-go orders.

Proposed by 11th District Councilmember Eric Costello, the bill is designed as a legislative fix for a concerns that have been raised over how much delivery apps benefit local restaurants, and whether taking commissions that leaders said can be up to 30% is good for businesses — especially in a pandemic where indoor dinging profits have evaporated.

“This cap on fees puts our restaurant community in a better position to be successful at a time when these small business owners really need our support,” Costello said.



Gov. Larry Hogan has become increasingly involved with the organization in recent months.Credit...Andrew Mangum for The New York Times

No Labels, Planning Centrist Push in New Congress, Taps Larry Hogan
by Luke Broadwater
Published December 15 in The New York Times

Excerpt: The bipartisan political organization No Labels named Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican, as its new national co-chairman on Tuesday as it pushed lawmakers to embrace centrist policies in a new Congress.

Mr. Hogan, who is trying to play a larger role in national politics as his second term as governor of a solidly Democratic state draws to an end in 2022, joins former Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, in leading the organization, which supports the 50-member House Problem Solvers Caucus and a smaller group of eight centrist senators.

Those lawmakers in recent weeks have been working on a stimulus compromise to break the gridlock over coronavirus relief.

“No Labels is really at a great moment right now of realizing the goals of the organization when it was started 10 years ago,” Mr. Lieberman said Monday. “I expect Governor Hogan will be expanding our reach to the nation’s governors.”



Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (Courtesy)


Baltimore’s New Progressive Mayor Takes On Deeply-Divided City
Aired December 15 on WBUR

Header image: “I am you and you are me,” Nick Mosby said in his inaugural speech as Council president. (Fern Shen) via Baltimore Brew

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