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Kim Trueheart says she speaks truth to power

A profile of the activist, who has been banned from Baltimore City Hall for what the police arrest report calls "disturbances" and "being confrontational"

kim trueheart at BOE

Kim Trueheart regularly attends Board of Estimates meetings held in this City Hall conference room. Last Wednesday, she was arrested when she tried to attend the meeting.

Photo by: Mark Reutter

A middle-aged woman being dragged out the door of Baltimore City Hall by uniformed officers – that’s the image the public got last week of activist Kim Trueheart after she was, apparently, banned from the building and then arrested.

But another image of Trueheart originates from inside City Hall, where the 55-year-old is something of a fixture, and staffers, bureaucrats and elected officials regard her with affection, respect and more than a little wariness.

Sometimes she’s the only member of the public present at City Council work sessions and budget reviews. Before and after meetings, council members and Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young are frequently seen chatting with her.

Most of them know that in her bag, along with snacks and a camera, are pertinent documents that she has probably read more closely than they have.

At a committee hearing last year, for example, watching a councilman flounder as he questioned an administration official, Trueheart scribbled a series of  questions, flagged an aide’s attention and sent them up to him.

The councilman then proceeded to raise each of her points. Most in the room probably had no idea where he got his second-wind.

Blunt, Bold and Now Banned

Still, for every sotto voce nudge from Trueheart on her priority issues – neighborhoods, recreation centers, after-school programs for city youth and the mismanagement and cronyism that she believes divert funds from those causes – there are other very harsh public blasts.

Government officials are shamed for missing key votes (“Where is Pete Welch?” went one Tweet. “Need an apb”).

Reporters, for whom Trueheart is sometimes a source, have also felt her wrath. She has called out local media, including at one point The Brew, for failing to report on what she sees as institutional racism.

But her sharpest and most frequent barbs are aimed at Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

“The reign of our dictatorial Princess of BMore Poli-Tricks continues,” she commented online in July, regarding a news story about how the administration’s allies on the Council weakened a bill intended to address the city’s chronic failure to audit major agencies.

Trueheart addresses the Board of Estimates last year. On the far right is Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Seated beside her is City Council President Jack Young and City Comptroller Joan Pratt, the other elected officials of the board. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Trueheart speaks at the Board of Estimates last year. On the far right is Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.  (Photo by Mark Reutter)

“This is a foul budget,” she said in April, during the public comment period at the annual Taxpayers’ Night, looking straight at Rawlings-Blake. “You’ve offended us. You’ve offended our children.”

She regularly attends the Wednesday meetings of the Board of Estimates, where she just as regularly files protests against contracts she believes don’t serve the public.

The mayor’s staff appears determined to come up with ways to prevent Trueheart from directly addressing Rawlings-Blake at these meetings. Reporters who have traditionally approached the mayor after adjournment are now being directed to an inner office for credentialed media only.

When Trueheart tried to attend these press briefings, she was barred by the mayor’s media staff.

A Board of Estimates Fixture

Sometimes the activist shouts out her opinions from her second-row seat at the Wednesday board meetings, often drawing a stony glare from Rawlings-Blake, who controls the board through her vote and the votes of her two appointees, Public Works Director Alfred Foxx and City Solicitor George Nilson.

Whether this was the kind of behavior that Baltimore police were referring to in their arrest report (written last Wednesday after Trueheart was stopped at City Hall) is unclear.

In addition to her allegedly causing a disturbance during a mayoral press availability in the City Hall Rotunda and allegedly refusing to leave the building last Wednesday, her offenses as described in the police narrative are vague.

“Ms. Trueheart was told because of her disturbances and her being confrontational on other occasions she could not enter [City Hall],” the report reads.  The “complainant/victim” on the document is listed as “Mayor City Council.”

Whether the ban is legal and whether her arrest will stand may become clearer tomorrow morning when Trueheart’s case is scheduled to come up in District Court. She is charged with trespassing in a public building during working hours, disorderly conduct and failure to obey a law enforcement officer.

Meanwhile, the Northwest Baltimore resident is describing her arrest as “a hugely significant attack on my civil rights,” and says she’s earned her in-your-face stance because it’s backed by facts: “I do my homework.”

“I Challenge the Decision-Makers”

“When I get in the decision-makers’ faces, I’ve got some stuff for them – it’s not just me ranting,” she said in a phone interview with The Brew after she was released last week from Central Booking. “I challenge the decision-makers to make better decisions.”

Few likely know the personal story behind her passionate advocacy.

The Western High School graduate was born and raised in Baltimore, growing up in the Allendale section of Edmondson Village. Her father’s side of the family came from Charlottesville, Va., she said, and her mother’s family is from Alabama.

She joined the U.S. Navy after high school, serving four years of active duty as an intelligence specialist. In the Naval Reserves, she became the senior enlisted advisor to the first African-American admiral in the Reserves’ intelligence program.

The young Trueheart, in uniform.

Source: Kim Trueheart’s Facebook

After working in private industry for a few years, she moved on to work as a civilian in security for the Department of the Navy.

As a Department of Defense program manager, she was in charge of civilian acquisition professionals in finance, logistics, security, contracting and cost analysis oversight of government and contractor activities, she said.

At the top of her career, she said she supervised over 300 civilian employees and earned a six-figure-plus salary, when she resigned in 2005.

“I just left everything, walked away and started trying to find out what I wanted to do, my purpose” she said.

“I was being consumed with a constant drive for money, and I didn’t like that feeling anymore.”

Cousins Lost to Gun Violence

She’d been living in Hyattsville, but was drawn back toward Baltimore in 2010.

She’d begun volunteering with non-profits and the 4-H program at the University of Maryland and working with children in Cherry Hill and other low-income neighborhoods – compelled by a highly personal reason.

“I lost five cousins to gun violence in Baltimore City,” she said. “These are good people who lost their lives not on the corner selling drugs.” One was shot for a leather jacket. One was was shot and killed by her husband while she was Christmas shopping.

“I thought Baltimore can do better than this,” she said. “Baltimore needs to offer these people who pulled the trigger something better.”

In addition to her general advocacy, Trueheart has focused her energy on a particular project in her neighborhood – the Liberty Rec and Tech Center, one of those threatened with closure as part of a mayoral consolidation plan.

Working with other community leaders, she’s helped organize fundraising events and reached out to the local tech community to help save the facility.

That’s what she said she was working on hours after her release from Central Booking.

“I’m talking to some lawyers. Then I’m going over to MICA to see what they’ve got. They’re donating surplus stuff for the rec center,” she said, referring to the Maryland Institute College of Art.

“I think we could get some art supplies, maybe some easels,” she added, always forging ahead.

- Mark Reutter also contributed to this story

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  • ushanellore

    Lovely lovely article.  What a human being.  Makes you proud to be part of the human community, which I haven’t felt recently.  Thank you Brew.  Thank you Kim.  

  • Mark Adams

    It is embarrassing to see someone excluded from City Hall for any reason other than a real threat of violence. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/donnasimone Donna Simone Plamondon

    Today the judge tried to give her community service. She REFUSED a plea deal and her next  court date is March 14th. The judge DID lift her ban from City Hall and she headed directly there. She’s a true warrior Occupying City Hall doing REAL community service every day.  <3 Kim Trueheart.

  • Francis_S_Key

    I just wrote city hall and aired my criticism. I told the mayor I will not be voting for her in the future.  I suggest you all do the same!

    http://www.baltimorecity.gov/OfficeoftheMayor/ContactTheMayor.aspx

  • Francis_S_Key

    I just wrote city hall and aired my criticism. I told the mayor I will
    not be voting for her in the future.  I suggest you all do the same!

    http://www.baltimorecity.gov/OfficeoftheMayor/ContactTheMayor.aspx 

  • henrymencken

    An angry, unhappy person who, more often than not, twists and distorts information to support her barrage of ad hominem attacks (often delivered unprovoked).  It is regrettable that more people are not involved in civic life. More people getting involved would lift the  illusion that folks like  this bitter, vitriolic person are doing anything more than drawing attention to themselves by throwing out an endless stream of  tweets (or continuously acting out in the BOE). 

    On the other hand, she definitely should not have been barred or even arrested. A knee jerk reaction that contributed to her mythological persona as “truth to power,” as opposed to the sad reality of a moderately effective volunteer suffering from a full blown case of NPD. 

    • Gerald Neily

      Henry Mencken, aren’t you dead? And what is all of this but being “provoked”?

  • ushanellore

    henrymencken,
    Have you been to city hall for any meetings as a common citizen or have you been hired by city hall because you are a bitter vitriolic person, who won’t hesitate to spew your narcissism driven bilge at Kim Trueheart?  Why are you reading all her tweets mencken?  You have the choice not to read the endless stream and to shut out the vituperation or simply attend the same meetings as Kim and counter her with, “I find your demeanor offensive madam and here’s why.  I don’t like your acerbic tongue and it’s my turn to speak, hence I will.” 

    I can’t believe Kim’s activism bothers so many and I can’t believe she won’t let you or your ilk be a counterweight to her, if you wanted it and asserted yourself for the purpose. 

    Coming to think of it Occupy Wall Street bothered so many.  So did every opposition voice raised against authorities anywhere–to the complainants, the activists were just not right in the head–in the case of the Occupy Movement they were bums, they should have found something better to do, they attracted the seedy homeless, they were breeding the possibility of crime where they gathered –etc etc.

    In the case of the unions– let history be damned that we may still have child labor, no sick leave or workman’s comp (all of these are returning with a weakening of the unions, deliberately executed by the Koch Brothers ilk) anyway let history be damned that without the unions we wouldn’t have the labor gains made versus management–but the unions are bad–not just bad, all the way through they are boils to be excised–demonize them and tear them to shreds.

    In the case of the environmental activists they are enviro Nazis.

    In the case of those against the drones and the endless war in Afghanistan, they are unpatriotic, they don’t understand the issues, they are appeasers, they threaten the security of America.

    In the case of those who opposed to torture and those who wanted the US to hew to the letter of the Geneva Convention they were fools who didn’t recognize the concept of a just war–a just war always being one started by the US, even when unprovoked and preemptive.  With the US imprimatur what else could it be but just?

    In the case of those fighting in Syria versus Assad they are terrorists.

    In the case of those rioting in Greece they are destructive hooligans–what else could they be–they should be eating their bread and olives quietly in their Greek Island hideouts.

    In the case of the restive Spanish unemployed–they should go home and have a siesta–what are they doing burning the authorities in effigy–of what use such emotions? 

    You see mencken–you are a shame to that name– but apparently you are narcissistic enough to take it– I see you suffer from the NPD disorder you accuse Kim of having–a little projection there eh?– you see mencken, you want the kind of activism a non activist desires–the perfect meek and mild kind that doesn’t draw attention to itself, the polite kind that is regular, not irregular or jagged, the neat kind that sings like a songbird and soothes.  May be not, but you don’t want in your face, you don’t want acrimonious, and you don’t want any interruptions when the authorities are speaking–let em speak. 

    That doesn’t wash.  This cat is on a hot tin roof–city hall–and you want this cat to be sweet, cooperative and soothing?   A person who has decided to apprise herself of the inner workings of City Hall– the numbers and the shocking statistics, the backroom deals and the political shenanigans– is going to have righteous indignation.  I think of Kim’s anger as righteous indignation–an emotion that is natural under the circumstances -I think of her outrage as spontaneous and appropriate for the situation.

    So henrymencken come up with something new to invalidate Kim.  People like you are a dime a dozen–they’ve been discrediting activists for a long time–they are arm chair goody two shoes.  They gain from the activism of the passionate and committed folks but they preach moderation, self abnegation and surrender to the activists or they say they love activism but, O so tragic, they are not getting the right kind!   

    • arvins

      Let me make sure I understand you: If one enters the BOE meeting with a cheap digital camera and pokes people and yells out “foul” , or “stop wasting money”, that person is an activist? The bar seems to be awfully low.  Most of this lady’s theatrics seem to be reflexive. What is the result is trying to achieve? She is great at getting attention but can you offer an example of a concrete change she has championed? Some program she has gotten someone to adopt? A real wrong she has helped right? Other saying everyone is a criminal. what does she do?And: wouldn’t her activism be a bit more relevant and potent if she actually lived in Baltimore? She definitely should not be barred, but other than free flowing and theatrical dyspepsia what does she bring to the table? 

      • baltimorebrew

        Arvin: the address listed for Kim Trueheart on her arrest report, 5519 Belleville Avenue, IS in Baltimore City.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jamiehunt344 James Hunt

    The top photo is pretty interesting. Thorowgood Smith–our second mayor (1804-1808)– looks like Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith) advising Rocky Balboa in the corner between rounds. Smith was a pretty forward-looking guy– started the first water system, improved security, built a mansion in what became Mencken’s ‘hood — but he probably could never have imagined that a couple centuries down the line two black women would be sparring over the city’s finances. Three, if you throw Joan Pratt into the mix.

  • ushanellore

    James Hunt–a man who never fails to see the inconsistencies and ironies of life.  I am sure Thorowgood Smith is quite happy in his perch, presiding over the War of Roses.

  • ushanellore

    May be she can only afford a cheap digital camera.  Could it be possible that the politics of Baltimore is rather intractable and the politicians intransigent?  SRB is particularly tight lipped.  Surely you don’t consider Baltimore’s city council members stalwart citizens who work tirelessly for the downtrodden of the city?  They are politicians–it is natural they play politics.  Many of their deals are predetermined–their budget apportionment the same.  They mostly vote as a bloc and who will vote with whom and what gifts will exchange hands for such votes are also predetermined.  Sometimes all that one can do is to shout foul.  We need a couple of people to needle and vex the smug politicos–let them be a little nervous and more than a little exasperated. 

    I think Kim should offer you examples of concrete changes she has championed–if you  look at her bio by Fern Shen, it is obvious to me she is involved in after school programs in poor neighborhoods–she seems to assiduously collect materials at risk kids can use and her mind seems set on keeping these kids out of violent gangs.  She has lost several relatives to gun violence and she is well versed in the math of procurement, contracts and bids–she worked for the govt. for several years in these areas according to the bio.  She understands budgets and their deficiencies–how it can be made to appear that the poor are sucking at the teats of the taxpayers while in reality, corporate welfare takes a huge part of a city’s budget. 

    You should read up one day on how Stockton, California became bankrupt.  It was taken to the cleaners by fund managers who promised great returns on invested monies while also encouraging Stockton to borrow more and more money, at predatory interest rates, from the same funds to pay for poor budgeting decisions.   I am sure Kim knows how cities are stool pigeons and sitting ducks for such predatory managers.  Baltimore’s own retirement fund story is not too salubrious. 

    Kim left her govt. job voluntarily to work with at risk youth.  She is helping right real wrongs every day–in a neighborhood she has chosen for her voluntary work.  She may have a caustic personality but different activists use different approaches.  Remember Kim Trueheart is dealing with an African American privileged queen in SRB and in Joan Pratt she has a similar deal.  Kim herself seems down to earth–a person who had to use self reliance rather than connections to rise.  Not so SRB who is well connected, who is also disposed to using these connections to her advantage–nothing wrong there–as long as she doesn’t gip the poor and doesn’t stiff the working class–but during most of her tight lipped presentations to the public, despite her lip service to the downtrodden, SRB is more closely allied with the upper crust–among the folks from the upper crust she is the most relaxed and natural.  This probably burns up Kim, because she sees the plight of the poor kids of Baltimore up close.  She sees what is happening to their parents up close–parents among whom unemployment is higher than among whites, parents who are arrested and incarcerated more often, parents who have more lethal diseases from stress while simultaneously having worse health care or no heath care–they are her people and SRB’s people too but SRB is likely to join with the privileged to declare such people unsalvageable or the actual causes of their own despair.

    It just so happens arvins, that results are not immediately evident in any activism.  Women did not win the vote overnight and I am sure, in their time, the suffragists were mocked as having embarked on a useless journey.  Ditto for the fiery abolitionists and the civil rights activists.  Their behaviors, now celebrated, were simply unacceptable. they were lawless, disobedient, attention grabbing stunts.  And indeed, I would say, there is nothing at all wrong with those stunts.  The media has written about Kim–I am glad they did.  I learned a little bit more about a fiery woman and if she has grabbed attention for herself, I say, so be it.  Why should attention always be on the useless politicos or the criminals and the corporate mavens?  Let an ordinary citizen make noise and get some of that attention.  Theatrics?  MLK was all theatrics-that is how he grabbed attention.  Have you read his speeches?  He was a preacher.  He knew he had to grab the attention of the white man and the all white media–and he used theatrics, poetry, eloquence and oratory to rise in stature and power.  You say, Kim Trueheart is no MLK?  I reply, “How do you know?” 

    Wouldn’t she be more effective if she actually lived in Baltimore?”  You’re kidding!  This is the era of the Internet and you are this parochial or you just hate Kim Trueheart so much, you are ready to hurl anything at her to see what will stick.  People in Tunisia set off the Egyptian Arab Spring.  People in Algeria are wreaking havoc in Mali.  For good or for bad borders are dissolving and nations are becoming confluent and you think Kim Trueheart should confine her activism to where she lives– I actually don’t know where she lives and I don’t give a hoot about it.  She has a right to pick her place of activism.  I know a woman who lives in Harford County but her chosen place to volunteer, protest etc is East Baltimore.  She adopted East Baltimore.  Kim is not running for office and if Baltimore City is her adopted land for activism, because she sees the greatest need there for her kind of ideas, so be it–she is not running for office and hence she doesn’t owe an explanation about her place of residence to anyone.  Would she be more effective if she lived in Baltimore City?  You cannot embarrass these politicians, you cannot shame them, you cannot change them–if you lived in Timbuktu or Baltimore or in Bumako it’s all the same. 

    But Kim exemplifies the motto, we have to try–we have to poke, prod, heckle and agitate–we have to make life less easy for these politicos so set in their corruption.  And who knows we may once in a while win small victories.  Kim exemplifies the tenet, we cannot give up.                 
       

  • http://profiles.google.com/jamiehunt344 James Hunt

    Baltimore Brew wrote: ” … As a Department of Defense program manager, [Truehart] was in charge of
    civilian acquisition professionals in finance, logistics, security,
    contracting and cost analysis oversight of government and contractor
    activities, she said.

    At the top of her career, she said she supervised over 300 civilian
    employees and earned a six-figure-plus salary, when she resigned in
    2005. …”

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    That’s quite a bit of expertise Some unsolicited advice: having fired a number of salvos, follow the lead of the submarine surface: Run silent and deep. Recruit some “citizen hackers” to get empirical data to back up your charges. Then hit ‘em again hard. The alternative is to get slotted with other determined but impact-less people like the guy who spent years walking in front of 501 N. Calvert with a sandwich board that said, “Sun Lies.” Gave him a reason for living, I guess, but The Sun is still here (for now) and he isn’t.

  • cwals99

    What we are seeing with the exclusion of Kim and that following Sharon and CD all for demanding voices to be heard is a systematic effort to control messages that go beyond the City Hall and permeate all of Baltimore media outlets.  They want to send a message not to cross lines that are not even legally allowed to exist.  A night in jail will cool an activist which is the point of these charges that all end by being dropped.  This should make everyone concerned about civil liberties but it is much more insidious than that.
     Coming from Seattle, a very progressive city before billionaires got a hold of it the first thing I saw in Baltimore was how limited speech was and how those with the speech were almost always hand picked.  With media news your will see all the interviewees as part of an organization and if an individual makes it onto the camera the clips that make it on air are all standard.  I actually had WJZ’s reporter tell me when I tried to get a progressive view in an interview that I was ‘no one’ meaning not one selected to speak.

    So, this goes beyond the silence created at City Hall.  It extends to the media and it encompasses the non-profits that supposedly represent issues.  The Baltimore Sun had a good opinion piece by a young man with Beautiful Black Struggle that eludes to the dominance of groups controlling voice in the city.
    So, as we applaud all of the good works Kim, Sharon, and CD do each day……we want to see more faces with more voices in all media!!!

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