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8.9.07: Charmed or Harmed?

Viewpoints and observations about state and local events and personages.

by Andre German
Verizon has to produce internal documents by Aug. 22 showing why consumer complaints about repair delays have jumped 50 percent this year compared with the same period last year.
Harmed by Baltimore Gas and Electric. In addition to the 72 percent rate hike and the fact that Constellation, BGE's parent corporation has continually rising profits. Now we have to deal with BGE not even offering excellent service. In the wake of recent high temperatures, BGE is asking customers to use energy prudently, especially between 3pm and 7pm, when demand is highest. They claim that they have enough electricity to meet the heavy demand despite their plea for conservation. I'm far from an expert on economics, but shouldn't growing profits mean growing services? Obviously, I don't have a problem with energy conservation, per se, but when it's done because of the greed of one company, and a company that has limited alternatives in Maryland too...

Charmed by the Department of Recreation and Parks. They recently shared their plans for renovation of Swann Park in South Baltimore at the Ella Bailey Recreation Center. The waterfront park, which was closed on April 19th after soil contamination problems by the nearby Allied Chemical pesticide plant, currently includes three softball fields and a 90-foot baseball diamond, which overlaps with the football fields. The renovations include a decrease to two softball fields closest to the water, a football field in the middle and a baseball diamond at the top of the park—the difference being that none of the fields will now have to overlap each other. In addition, each field will have its own lights for night games and practices. There will also be enough spectator seating to accommodate 400 people, 200 seats facing the football field and 200 facing the baseball diamond. There are also plans for a small building for restrooms, storage and possibly a concession stand. An area near the baseball diamond has been set aside for a community park, which will be open green space. And a six-foot wide paved loop will encircle the entire park making all fields easily accessible. The loop may also make the park appealing to neighborhood running and walking enthusiasts. The city is also negotiating with Honeywell Corp to create a 110-space parking lot for the park as well. Though the plan is still in its draft phase, Mary Porter from the DRP hopes that construction will begin this winter, so that the park can be reopened by next summer.

Harmed by Verizon MD. The Public Service Commission had a more-than-two-hour hearing yesterday over the 300 complaints filed by customer across the state against Verizon for having to wait days and even weeks for telephone repairs this year. This waiting time exceeds the state's mandates, and has for five months running. State regulations allow phone technicians to miss up to 20 percent of their appointments. State officials believe the 300 complaints are a small fraction of dissatisfied Verizon users, most of whom have not logged a complaint with the PSC. Regulators worry the delays could leave customers who don't also have cellphone service with no way to call 911 in an emergency, and expressed particular concern for those with medical conditions. Leigh Hyer, Verizon Maryland's chief legal officer, said most customers had cellphones, an assessment disputed by the commissioners, who said many elderly people do not. In a bid to keep consumers blind about the service they're buying, and, in this case, not getting, Verizon took issue with the PSC's request to allow the public to be aware of the extent of service problems, defending it with Hyer citing misuse of the information in the marketplace. The commission scheduled a full hearing for Aug. 22, Verizon's deadline to produce internal documents that should provide information about why complaints have jumped 50 percent this year compared with the same period last year.

Charmed by Acting Mayor Sheila Dixon. As part of her "Cleaner, Greener Baltimore" initiative, Dixon announced on Wednesday that she will initiate a $2 million advertising campaign aimed at encouraging people to take more responsibility for littering. "Don't make excuses. Make a difference" will be seen on bumper stickers and billboards as well as heard on radio and television advertising starting by early October and continuing for two years. Great move in a city where, in the Inner Harbor area, city crews remove as much as 50 tons of refuse per week in the Summer months, according to Celeste Amato, the CGB initiative's coordinator. The city is still lining up corporate sponsors to pay for the ad campaign. I'm also charmed by Mayor Dixon stepping in on behalf of the public vs. business. Federal Hill has been a hotbed of debate lately between developer Harborview, for wanting to build two 26-story condo towers at Harborview, and local residents, who object to the highrises as furthering a lack of green space in the area. Mayor Dixon, on Thursday, stepped in and stopped construction, calling for "the community, the residents of Harborview and the developers, to come up with the best plan." Harborview Vice President Frank Wise is seemingly open to discussion. In a statement to WBAL TV11 News, he said, "We are studying alternatives. We are committed to working with the city and community groups to achieve the best possible result for the Key Highway corridor," but he then proceeded to recite the benefits of city income from the highrises over green space in the city. He also promised public parks and waterfront access alongside the two towers, a promise met with some skepticism both by Federal Hill residents and, apparently, Mayor Dixon, who said the city will not sell the fire department building on Key Highway to developers until parks are built along the waterfront.

A related Harmed by Celeste Amato, and possibly Dixon herself. Amato, about the new city advertising slogan ("Don't make excuses. Make a difference") said the slogan could apply to other issues affecting quality of life in the city. "It's a message that could mean a lot of things over time." I support the use of the slogan in the above particular context, given the respectable amount of work the city has done, listed at the end of this segment, to become cleaner and greener, but I'm wary of this slogan being used to deal with city problems that either no amount of personal responsibility will fix, or only an excessive amount of personal responsibilty will fix. The city's not there to solve, and not capable of solving, all of our problems, but it's not there to do nothing about them either. The CLB initiative's accomplishments, again per Amato: the city has taken several steps to improve the Bureau of Solid Waste's efficiency and response times to complaints; it's added more than 750 trash cans to major thoroughfares, installed seven-day-a-week graffiti removal crews, reduced response time for alley and lot cleaning, increased street sweeping by 320 more miles every week, and re-established the office of recycling.

Mayor Dixon's spokesman, Anthony McCarthy said of the "Don't make excuses" campaign, "It's all connected, Only narrow-minded and vision-less opportunists would knock cleaning up the city of Baltimore."
Another related Harmed by Mayoral Candidate Keiffer Mitchell. In a response to Dixon's plan, Mitchell stated, "Cleaner and greener is all well and good, but we're the second-most violent city in the country, with the third-lowest graduation rate....We need a safer and smarter city." Dixon's spokesman, Anthony McCarthy, echoed my own response, saying, "It's all connected, Only narrow-minded and vision-less opportunists would knock cleaning up the city of Baltimore."

Charmed by The University of Maryland Dental School, the UnitedHealth Group insurance company and Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings (D). UnitedHealth has partnered with UM Dental School to provide low-income children with more access to dental care by giving the school more than $170,000 annually to train dentists in pediatric care, provide a case manager to connect children to a dentist and educate pediatricians to look for signs of tooth problems. Cummings crafted the partnership after a 12-year-old Prince George's County boy, Deamonte Driver, died of an infection that began with an abcessed tooth and spread to his brain.

Harmed by another step towards an end to a significant part of Baltimore culture. On Wednesday night, city officials shut down one of three stables in the city that house horses used by Arabbers, due to safety violations. Their horses were moved outside city limits. Arabbers are the people who sell produce or seafood from the backs of open horse-drawn carriages. They've been a part of Baltimore street life for decades. Less than a dozen Arabbers work the streets of Baltimore today. Amid concerns that the relocation of their horses will lead to an inability to work, Mayor Dixon said city officials will meet Thursday with the vendors to discuss long- and short-term plans to "preserve the Arabbers' tradition of providing fresh produce to neighborhoods throughout the city." For inquiries into ways to help, you can visit the Arabber Preservation Society Home Page.

Charmed by Maryland. The latest Census Bureau numbers show that Maryland is steadily becoming more diverse ethnically. The minority population grew from 38 percent of the state's total in 2000 to 42 percent in 2006. State experts say rising immigration, minority migration from other states, and a shift of some white residents to Pennsylvania are factors in the shift. Baltimore County's white population decreased by about 25,000 during the period while the Latino, black and Asian populations all increased. And some advocates for immigrants believe the numbers underestimate the size of the Latino community. As a believer in part of America's great charm being its mongrel amalgam of many different races and cultures into one whole, I'm glad to see our little part of it represents that mix.
Andre German is proud to announce that he has received his first piece of hatemail. For more information, and perhaps more reasons to hate him, you can check out his blog myspace profile. He can be reached at

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This story was published on August 9, 2007.