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by Mark Reutter6:39 pmOct 17, 20190

Pushed out, Rudy Chow to retire from DPW next February

Mayor Young offers scant praise to an official whose tenure was marked by controversy and accomplishments

Above: DPW Director Rudy Chow urges the City Council without success to approve his agency’s water affordability program. (Charm TV)

In a terse written statement this afternoon, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young announced the resignation of Public Works Director Rudolph S. “Rudy” Chow effective February 1, or nine years after he entered city government.

Presiding over the second largest city department (after police), Chow has been a lightning rod for public anger over rising water rates and basement sewer backups – including the sometimes pointed criticism of then-City Council President Young.

“Rudy is tone deaf and abrasive. The mayor is sick of the controversy around him, and he was pushed out,” a knowledgeable source said tonight.

Last month, Chow introduced 14 pages of amendments to a City Council water affordability bill that was championed by Young when he was Council president.

All of the amendments were rejected, with committee chairwoman Sharon Green Middleton, a close Young ally, chiding Chow for what she termed the agency’s “delaying tactics.”

At the same time, it emerged that 86% of the applications for reimbursements for sewage backups in homes were being rejected by DPW, a slap in the face to residents and a possible violation of a modified consent decree signed by the city in 2017.

Off to Newport, RI

Today’s statement by Young avoided the customary praise heaped on a departing high-level official.

Instead, the final paragraph offered the mayor’s “thanks” to Chow for his service and further “wishe[d] him much success in his future endeavors.”

By not “retiring” until next February 1, or his ninth year as an employee, Chow will be able to buy his tenth year and be eligible for a city pension. He was paid $190,494 in FY19.

Chow did not appear at the Board of Estimates meeting yesterday and did not return phone calls from The Brew today.

He is scheduled to travel next week to Newport, RI, to attend the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies Executive Management Conference. He was allocated $2,098 in travel costs.

A professional engineer, he has been an avid conference-goer for years.

His resume lists memberships in an acronym-rich array of organizations, including the ASCE, AWWA, WEF, WRF, NACWA, AMWA, APWA, SWANA as well as a number of other boards and committees.

Under a 1978 charter amendment approved by voters, great power over water and sewer rates was vested in the office of the director of Public Works, currently occupied by Rudy Chow. (Mark Reutter)

As DPW director, Chow helps decide the city’s spending priorities on the Board of Estimates. (Mark Reutter)

Overhauled Billing

Now 60, Chow was hired by former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as chief of the Bureau of Water and Wastewater in 2011 after retiring from a 27-year career with the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. His final position at WSSC was chief of customer care.

He inherited a bureau that was under a consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Maryland Department of the Environment to fix an aging sewer system and the illegal dumping of untreated wastewater into the Jones Falls and other waterways.

He was able to extend the deadline of the consent decree into the early 2020s, while pledging $1.6 billion to rehabilitate the sewer system and upgrade the capacity of the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Faced with a multitude of errors on water bills, he instituted a $100 million customer information system that still comes under criticism for inaccurate readings.

In February 2014, he replaced Alfred M. Foxx as director of Public Works, an umbrella agency that includes the water bureau and the bureau of solid waste, which handles trash removal, landfill disposal, street sweeping and other functions.

Chow said clean and healthy neighborhoods were his top priority. He expressed pride in distributing 210,000 “smart” garbage cans to residents. The green plastic cans are equipped with radio frequency tags for tracking purposes and cost $9 million.

Destroying Hanlon Park

He also altered plans to satisfy federal clean water standards for finished water stored in city reservoirs.

The original plan called for two ultraviolet disinfection facilities to treat the water, but Chow insisted instead on giant underground tanks to be built at Druid Lake and near Lake Ashburton.

Among other things, the project called for the removal of nearly all of the trees at historic Hanlon Park, turning the property into a virtual desert.

Some of the 200 mature trees cut down at Hanlon Park to make way for underground water tanks. Facing the downed tree is the Heritage United Church of Christ, a landmark institution on Liberty Heights Avenue. (Mark Reutter)

One of the 200 mature trees cut down to make way for water tanks at Hanlon Park. In the background is Heritage United Church of Christ, a landmark institution on Liberty Heights Avenue. (Mark Reutter)

Today, the massive tank projects are underway at Druid Hill Park and Hanlon Park at a cost of $300 million.

This compares to the estimated $80 million cost of the UV disinfection facilities, according to preliminary estimates made by Whitman, Requardt & Associates.


At hearing on reservoir projects, councilman asks, “Where’s Rudy Chow? (7/12/18)

DPW caught dumping chlorinated water into the Jones Falls (7/20/18)

Ashburton residents revolt over tree-clearing for city water tank project (7/25/18)

Controversial reservoir projects pile up at Baltimore DPW (8/1/18)

The Druid Lake construction mess: It didn’t have to be this way (11/4/18)

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