The News: Rebecca Hoffberger Retiring, Juvenile Justice Reform, Fighting for Poppelton

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This week’s Baltimore news includes: AVAM Director Rebecca Hoffberger to retire, crabs (from the bay), microbusinesses making the economy, and more reporting from Baltimore, Maryland Matters, The Real News Network, and other local and independent news sources.



Rebecca Hoffberger

Founder Rebecca Hoffberger will step down next year as head of American Visionary Art Museum
by Ed Gunts
Published July 19 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: After 26 years as founder, director and primary curator of the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Rebecca Alban Hoffberger is bidding adieu.

Hoffberger, who co-founded the museum with her former husband, the late LeRoy Hoffberger, and built it into one of Baltimore’s most beloved attractions, has told her board of directors that she plans to retire in March of 2022.

The board has appointed m/Oppenheim Executive Search, a national firm that frequently works with museums, to launch an international search for her successor.

“After 41 total exhibitions, but 26 thematic ones, I’m passing the baton,” Hoffberger said. “The idea for the museum came to me in 1984, when I was working at Sinai Hospital for People Encouraging People, so it has occupied more than half my life…I think now is the right time.”



Bill Oxford/

Amid Juvenile Justice Reform Push, Commission Examines Maryland’s High Rate of Trying Young People as Adults
by Hannah Gaskill
Published July 21 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: Before he spoke at the Juvenile Justice Reform Council Tuesday afternoon, Dwayne Betts was told he had three minutes of their time.

The council was prepared to be briefed on children charged as adults in court, something Betts knows about very well.

He said he’d try to keep his testimony short, with a caveat:

“One of the things I find challenging about this conversation is that it’s always too brief,” he said. “You’re always asked to, sort of, signal the parade of horrors that you’ve experienced or that you’ve seen and there’s never the kind of tangible, deep, reflective thought that might actually move the conversation and change the perspective of legislators in such a way that the policies actually change.”

A Maryland native, Betts was 16-years-old when he was sentenced to a Virginia prison for carjacking. He served eight-and-a-half years.

When he came home, he went to the University of Maryland and then Yale Law School. Betts worked in the Office of the Public Defender after graduation, where he represented other young people who were being tried as adults.

“I find it strange — really — to think that the substance of these conversations really rarely talk about the ways in which people have been ruined by prison,” he solemnly told the council.



Parcha McFadden and her daughter. Photo credit: Jaisal Noor

Battleground Baltimore: Who Gets to Stay in the City?
by Jaisal Noor and Brandon Soderberg
Published July 16 in The Real News Network

Excerpt: Local television news crews descended on West Baltimore’s historic Black Poppleton neighborhood on the afternoon of July 12, after bulldozers knocked down several vacants whose construction dates back to the 1840s. After the cameras were gone, Parcha McFadden embraced her 8-year-old daughter on the steps of her home where she has lived for the past four decades. She fears her home could be the next to go. The McFaddens are among the last longtime residents the city wants to clear out to make way for luxury developments, but the community is fighting to preserve their home.

Residents and organizers of Organize Poppleton who gathered to speak to the local media said the demolition was retaliation for their organizing efforts, which have aimed to pressure the city to allow them to stay in their homes. They noted that it took place just hours before the community was set to argue that those very buildings must be preserved. Less than two days earlier, 100 people had rallied at the adjacent Sarah Ann Park to listen to live music and to learn about the fight against the two-decade-old deal the city made with La Cité Development, a well-connected New York developer that was supposed to revitalize the economically depressed area that’s close to downtown amenities.

“It seems like it’s not fair for the homeowners who have invested so much, whose homes have so much history and meaning for their families,” Mcfadden said.



photo by Justin Tsucalas

Crab Country: An Insatiable Quest on the Chesapeake Bay
by Lydia Woolever
Published July 15 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: Just before sun up, Billy Rice sets out on the water he’s known all of his life. On this cool October morning in 2019, it’s like glass—calm and clear, catching the reflection of the full moon as he cuts fast across Piccowaxen Creek, riding the swells and around the shallows that lead him to the wide, majestic Potomac River.

A V of Canada geese floats in the twilight sky. An osprey nest sits empty. A duck blind waits for its winter brush. The sun, just beginning to seep over the horizon, casts orange light like some distant fire along the silhouette shoreline. This is autumn on the Chesapeake, and for a little while longer, crab season.

“This was all I ever wanted to do,” says Rice, 65, who sold his first catch at the age of 10 and became a full-time waterman after graduating high school. Now, with his ballcap backwards and flannel tucked into olive green bibs, he’s headed out toward his nearly 500 crab pots—galvanized wire cages dropped to the river bottom, attached to a rust-red buoy that bobs on the brackish tide.

By a quarter past seven, he slows the boat, sets it in neutral, and hooks his first line over the hydraulic puller, the pot rising through some 20 feet of water. He grabs, unlatches, and, with a swift shake, empties it, as a half-dozen crabs are sent clacking into the culling box. He refills the bait trap with razor clams, splashes the cage overboard, and continues on his course—west to east, east to west along the Potomac—the boat engine purring as the dawn burns off into a bright blue day.



City Council Seeks To Bolster Suicide Prevention, Study Women In Public Safety And Rename Park To Honor Tupac
by Emily Sullivan
Published July 19 in WYPR

Excerpt: The Baltimore City Council approved a bill to divest city retirement accounts from fossil fuel companies and another to study the feasibility of a sewage backup reimbursement program at a Monday night meeting. The legislation will now head to Mayor Scott’s desk.

Council members also introduced a slew of new bills, with aims ranging from adding a suicide prevention coordinator to the city health department to establishing a workgroup on women in public safety to renaming a park in honor of Tupac Shakur.

The bill to create the suicide prevention coordinator was an ougrowth of a suicide prevention workgroup led by Councilwoman Danielle McCray, Council President Nick Mosby said. He called the work especially urgent amid the pandemic, pointing to a Johns Hopkins study that found an increase in suicides among African-American Marylanders during the first wave of COVID-19 cases.

“We wanted to put together a workgroup to try to identify any holes or gaps from a city perspective,” Mosby. “One of the first things that came out of that group is developing a suicide prevention coordinator. This is best practice.”



Alec Summerfield, attorney representing the Unemployed Workers Union, filed an amended class action complaint to the Baltimore City Circuit Court, which claims that Secretary of Labor Tiffany P. Robinson violated the state law when she placed thousands of claimants under fraud investigation without confirming their identities in a timely manner. Photo by Elizabeth Shwe.

Unemployed Workers Take Push for Unpaid Benefits to Court
by Elizabeth Shwe
Published July 21 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: A week after a judge issued a ruling that maintains Maryland’s participation in enhanced federal unemployed benefits, the Unemployed Workers Union returned to Baltimore City Circuit Court on Wednesday to demand payments for the tens of thousands of unemployed Marylanders who have yet to receive their full benefits.

Last week, Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill issued a preliminary injunction requiring the Hogan administration to continue offering federally funded expanded unemployment benefits through Sept. 6. Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) had intended to end federal programs on July 3, but that move was targeted by two lawsuits filed by unemployed workers, including the Unemployed Workers’ Union.

Although this was a victory for unemployed workers, “it’s only half the battle,” Alec Summerfield, the attorney representing the Unemployed Workers Union, said in a news conference outside the Baltimore City Circuit Court on Wednesday. There are still a slew of claimants who have been denied their benefits and put on a “on hold” status under the suspicion of fraud, he said.

“These [unemployed workers] are not liars and frauds. These are workers. These are good, honest people, and they deserve their money,” Summerfield said.



Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

‘Small but mighty’: Microbusinesses are unsung heroes of Baltimore’s economy
by Donte Kirby
Published July 19 in Baltimore

Excerpt: Baltimore may have a hidden economic talent: microbusinesses.

The metro area has 192,000 online microbusinesses, with 32,500 in the city limits itself. That’s a greater density of microbusinesses than many comparable cities and with that comes a greater positive economic impact, according to Venture Forward, a research initiative from web domain provider

Microbusinesses are the people selling platters on Instagram, advertising commissions for art, or styling hair and using a site to book appointments. A hustler by any other name. What makes them mirco is that they’re often one-person shops. Or, if there are employees, the businesses are still too small to be using an employee identification number. They also might be too small to be on the radar of local small business organizations, but they make an impact on the community and economy nonetheless.

“You can’t create policy for what you can’t see,” Jim Hock, a chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Commerce during the Obama administration, said to the Venture Forward researchers when they talked about the data with former policymakers.



Jason Mitchell, a native of Oakland, California, officially became the director of Baltimore City’s Department of Public Works in May, and his top priorities are revamping the water billing system and managing illegal dumping sites. (Courtesy photo)

New director of Baltimore’s DPW hopes to cultivate a cleaner and healthier city
by Megan Sayles
Published July 21 in The AFRO

Excerpt: Mayor Brandon Scott announced in March that Jason Mitchell would become the next director of Baltimore City’s Department of Public Works (DPW), and he officially assumed the position in May.

Mitchell is from Oakland, California and worked for the city government there for 13 years in various roles at the Departments of Parks and Recreation, Transportation and Public Works, where he served as director. His most recent position in Oakland was assistant city administrator, where he managed more than 2,500 city employees. Mitchell said his extensive experience has prepared him for the new job.

“I feel like I can have a huge impact in the community by bringing that energy, those ideas and that engagement so that we can make Baltimore a cleaner and healthier city,” said Mitchell.



Baltimore Witness aims to harness data to make criminal justice reporting more transparent, accountable
by Marcus Dieterle
Published July 19 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: D.C. Witness, a criminal justice data reporting nonprofit, already had plans to scale up their operations when the police murder of George Floyd in May 2020 fueled a summer of protests pushing for accountability.

It was time to take action, said founder and publisher Amos Gelb.

“We were thinking ‘It’s our moment,’” Gelb said. “We do something that nobody else does. We bring transparency. Everybody’s talking about this stuff. Now is the time to expand this.”

So they looked to Baltimore to branch out; it was an hour up the road from their Washington, D.C. roots, and Charm City was contending with its own criminal justice issues.

After a soft launch in April 2021, Baltimore Witness spent the next few months acclimating to the city’s court system. Now, the nonprofit is gathering data to help news outlets and other organizations better contextualize Baltimore’s criminal justice system — from arrests through police investigations and court proceedings — and address its challenges.



Broadcasters Melanie Newman and Suzie Cool, shown here on April 24, 2019 calling a minor league game. Diamond Images/Getty Images(Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty Images)

For The First Time, An All-Female Crew Will Broadcast A Major League Baseball Game
by Chad Campbell
Published July 19 in NPR Morning Edition

Excerpt: The on-air crew of Major League Baseball broadcasters will make sportscasting history on Tuesday night when, for the first time, a team of exclusively women will provide coverage.

Melanie Newman, broadcaster for the Baltimore Orioles, will handle the play-by-play duties. Sarah Langs will provide analysis, and Alanna Rizzo will handle on-field reporter duties for the game between the Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays. The pre- and post-game hosts will be Heidi Watney and Lauren Gardner.

“We were the kids that wanted to pay attention. We wanted to know everything and be a part of everything and ask as many questions as we could,” Newman told NPR.



Header image: photography by Justin Tsucalas

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