More than 100 demonstrators last night called for more transparency and community involvement at the Baltimore Development Corp., only to find that their demands, while not exactly accepted, were deemed worthy of further discussion by the organization’s president.
“Transparency is a good thing,” M.J. “Jay” Brodie told the crowd, which seemed disarmed by the appearance of the avuncular 75-year-old during its protest outside of the BDC’s Charles Center headquarters.
“As long as I’m around,” Brodie said, “I am happy and willing to have dialogue” with a delegation of the protesters. The veteran civil servant has survived four city administrations as head of the BDC, a non-profit corporation that acts as the city’s chief economic development arm.
Protesters Should Represent Baltimore
Insisting that the BDC already is a “neighborhood-oriented organization,” Brodie told the protesters he has one demand – that any delegation he meets will represent the black community (“Baltimore is a majority black city,” he informed the crowd) as well as women and Latinos.
Such ethnic and gender inclusivity is not apparent in the organization that Brodie has run since 1996.
The subject of a lengthy Brew story here, the BDC is governed by a board that consists of five black members (33% of the total), five women and one Hispanic, according to the organization’s latest annual report.
Bankers and Lawyers
Of the 11 board members who don’t serve as city government appointees, five are bankers or investment professionals (M&T Bank regional president Atwood “Woody” Collins III, Bank of America senior vice president Brian K. Tracey, Brown Advisory partner Clinton R. Daly, T. Rowe Price chief financial officer Kenneth V. Moreland and Stifel Nicholaus managing director Francis X. Gallagher Jr.)
The five bankers are non-black, non-Hispanic and male.
The BDC board is rounded out by two lawyers (Deborah Hunt Devan and Gilberto de Jesus), two business owners (Armentha Cruise and Maria E. Beckett), one accountant (Arnold Williams), and Bert Hash, head of the Municipal Employees Credit Union of Baltimore (MECU).
There are no neighborhood representatives on the board, which has no term limits and includes members that have sat on the board for a dozen or more years.
The group’s inbred leadership, approving projects without “front-end participation” from the public, was one of the demonstrators’ key complaints.
“Baltimore residents are basically presented with a menu. The menu only has one option on it, and they are told they can either choose what’s being offered or they can go hungry,” said John Duda, an organizer of the protest.
Other speakers faulted the BDC’s lack of commitment to economic human rights and its all-too-prompt willingness, they said, to give “blank checks” to well-connected developers.
“We go a few blocks from the Inner Harbor, or a few blocks uptown, and we see the strange fruit of vacant houses,” said Rev. Heber Brown III of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church.
“I see the almost complete decimation of the black community in East Baltimore and [near the] Hopkins Hospital. I see the lack of input from the black community. I [see] women who clean the skyscrapers. I hear their complaints.”
Juan Paredes, a former employee at the Cheesecake Factory at Harborplace who represents United Workers, said (in Spanish, translated to Brodie by a protestor) that jobs created in the Inner Harbor “should not maintain workers in a cycle of poverty.”
If a development project is supported with public funds, workers employed at the completed project should be paid a “living wage,” Paredes and several other speakers said.
“We don’t control wage rates in the Inner Harbor,” Brodie replied, but agreed that the agency could possibly exercise some moral suasion over businesses located in the city’s tourist and entertainment zones.
Duda said the protesters want the BDC to post all meeting minutes on its website and appoint new board members to represent workers and communities.
The group also called on Brodie to add “clawback” provisions to contracts that would take back public subsidies if promised economic benefits don’t materialize and collect 20% of the property taxes now forgiven to some developers to provide for community participation and initiatives.
Brodie did not commit to any of these requests.
Here is an excerpt of last night’s protest by Baltimore filmmaker and activist Maurice Morales: