O’Malley’s Crumbling Baltimore Legacy

More than likely, you won’t hear much about Martin O’Malley’s stint as Mayor of Baltimore while he’s campaigning around Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina this year. Sure, a lot of it has to do with the fact that he’s been out of office for ten years. Some of it goes back to when he said dumb things, like comparing President George W. Bush to Al Qaeda. But primarily, because Baltimore is not exactly the shining example of “modern” leadership that Martin O’Malley wants to pretend he embodies.

Some of O’Malley’s legacy in Baltimore remains, like his misguided publicly owned Hilton project. But his most ballyhooed “legacy” was the creation and implementation of CitiStat. CitiStat, which of course also became adapted into StateStat, was supposed to be the management tool that was going to lead Baltimore and the state into unprecedented levels of government accountability and public service. News outlets helped O’Malley spin this fairy tale for years.

When you think of Baltimore, of course, you think of anything but. You think of pot holes, a school system that loses $52 million, and a focus on just about anything other than improving the quality of life of average Baltimoreans. Part of the reason is that CitiStat has become an almost feckless, useless organization as a Sun investigative report showed earlier this month. And now, we might know the reason why that is:

Perhaps Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake ascribes to the theory that if you want to get a job done, you should ask a busy person. The man she hired to revamp Baltimore’s vaunted CitiStat program, as it turns out, is awfully busy. In addition to his cabinet-level position in city government, Mark H. Grimes has a substantial private law practice, is teaching a class at Baltimore City Community College and grades bar exams. But whether he’s getting his $124,000-a-year job done is an open question.

The Sun’s Doug Donovan and Mark Puente have documented, with CitiStat-like precision, the extent to which an agency designed to hold municipal departments accountable for meeting performance goals is failing to meet its own performance goals. The mayor’s budget says the agency should hold 240 meetings per year. Mr. Grimes scheduled 144 of them last year, but only 89 of them actually occurred. Not a single CitiStat report has been posted online since December 2013, and City Council members say they have been barred from meetings. Meanwhile, the agency’s budget has doubled to $1 million a year since 2011, even though meetings are routinely canceled because of a lack of analysts on staff.

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The Rawlings-Blake administration’s mismanagement says a lot about the long-term efficacy of programs like CitiStat. Programs like these are only as good as the organizational leaders who are using them to make decisions. Clearly in light of Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s decision to basically turn the lights off at CitiStat, she clearly doesn’t find much value in the use of the data coming from the program.

That, of course, also speaks to Martin O’Malley’s “visionary” leadership in implementing CityState and it’s successor, StateStat. O’Malley likes to portray himself as this technocratic manager, as a Gary Hart without the peccadilloes. However, time and again we have seen that O’Malley likes to use his statistical information only when it fits his particular narrative. Independent analysts have found the program at the State level completely deficient. We documented more than once at Red Maryland the O’Malley Administration’s refusal to follow the path that the data lead them, such as on the Prison Scandal. And one only need to take a look at the news and see his complete and utter failure to lead on the implementation of Maryland’s health care exchanges to see that statistical programming is no substitute for decisive, competent leadership.

Whether Stephanie Rawlings-Blake knows it or not, her reluctance to use CityStat the way it was intended is dismantling one of the biggest pieces of Martin O’Malley’s legacy at a time he needs to rely on it the most.

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