Is waiting to vote worth it in Baltimore?

By the date of publication, Baltimore will have elected the Republican candidate for governor, Larry Hogan, into office. Mr. Hogan’s administration is one of the many Republican midterm election victories, one that has spurned Baltimore’s talk radio and news outlets into discussing what exactly happened at the polls. But one thing isn’t being discussed: the wait time to vote, which is very important in a climate of unclear voter ID regulations. However, UB’s very own John T. Willis plans on answering that question on a local level, by finding out the wait time for voters in Maryland.

Professor Willis currently teaches several courses at UB’s College of Public and International Affairs. Prior to his time at UB, he served as Maryland’s Secretary of State and as the Chair of the Special Committee on Voting Systems and Election Procedures. During his time with the latter, Maryland saw landmark legislation on election reform and the incorporation of reform measures in 2001. Professor Willis also spent time on the Commission to Revise the Election Code, a commission that was the architects behind the successful modernization of the state’s election laws.

The study used a team of researchers to go out on Election Day last month, and collect the wait times at about 20-30 polling places throughout Maryland. Their goal was to ascertain whether or not Maryland voters are experiencing drastic wait time at their respective polling places. The study itself isn’t the first one that Mr. Willis has conducted; he was the primary investigator on the Voting and the Administration of Elections in Maryland study that was released in January this year.

This one study established a benchmark for wait times with voters, prompting the Presidential Commission on Election Administration to state that, “no voter should wait longer than 30 minutes at polling places.” According to Ann Gotten, the Director of UB’s Schaefer Center for Public Policy, the study will measure Maryland’s current output of voter wait times against the previously held standards to identify issues. Once identified, recommendations will be made by the Schaefer Center to how those times can be reduced for future elections. The study will be released this month, which will then be shared by the State Board of Elections at the 2015 Maryland General Assembly session. Look for the news of the study to also make the headlines on

Does a fee subvert the Circulator’s mission?

Charm City’s Circulator might charge a fee in the near future.

Students of UB may be familiar with the Charm City Circulator. Started several years ago, it’s a free public bus system with stops in different Baltimore neighborhoods, predominantly in Mount Vernon, Fells Point, and the border of Federal Hill. For the budget-conscience student and city resident, the Circulator is a welcome alternative to having to pay for the MTA transit system. However, recent developments may be taking away the “free” part of the circulator in coming months.

The announcement of a potential fee for the Circulator was a part of the City Council calling for a study into the bus system’s situation, citing a desire to know who rides it and at what economic cost. Currently, the Circulator requires $7 million to operate its four routes and boasts a yearly ridership of over 4 million people. The announcement itself was met with sharp criticism from the public. This reaction in turn prompted the council to renege on the fee aspect of the study, with Councilman James Kraft stating that he would like more transparency on the matter.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake said that she wants the service to remain free, but echoes the city council on why the study is essential to the long- term operation of the Circulator. To spearhead the study, the city will pay Louis Berger Water Services Inc. $130,000 to examine the Circulator’s funding, locations, ridership, and future route extensions. Rawlings- Blake told The Baltimore Sun: “The longevity of the program depends on us getting it right. It has to work within its budget.”

The aforementioned lack of transparency for the Circulator comes from mostly the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT), who have remained quiet on the system’s finances. Adrienne Barnes, the spokesperson for the DOT, hasn’t responded to requests for the numbers behind the Circulator, as well as rumors that it’s operating at a deficit to the city’s budget. This impasse may also be one of the reasons, other than finding interested investors, why the calls for potential route extensions haven’t progressed within the past several years.

These route extensions would greatly enhance the ridership of the Circulator, but the DOT would have to begin a discussion with the city’s officials and organizations (such as the Downtown Partnership), on what the limits are for the Circulator. The Partnership views downtown Baltimore as a rapidly growing area that greatly benefits from the Circulator, but insists that the system isn’t a replacement for the city’s extensive MTA system.

Vice President of the Downtown Partnership, Michael Evitts, feels that the Circulator can be a better- implemented public transit option, once the current lack of transparency is done away with and maybe an “advisory board” instituted in the future. The study is slated to begin during the summer of 2015.

Baltimore City schools have a new CEO

But is this what the doctor recommends?

The beginning of Dr. Gregory Thornton’s tenure as the CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools began in July. Since then, he’s seen his share of issues from both internal and external forces. Dr. Thornton inherits a school system that’s subject to the controversial Common Core Initiative and the mixed opinions of Baltimore residents. Then, there’s a recent report released by the Fund for Education Excellence (FFEE) nonprofit that highlights even further changes that some say are needed within the city’s schools. So the question is, is the new CEO up to the task?

Dr. Thornton’s previous experience with the education system comes from his time spent in Milwaukee, where he was the superintendent in a city whose political climate and school system walked hand-in-hand. Now, he hopes to move the school system forward while building upon the steps that the previous CEO, Dr. Andres Alonso, built. In an interview conducted by the City Paper last month, Dr. Thornton expressed his belief in the 21st Century Schools Initiative, a project that aims to upgrade the city’s schools to effectively compete with the digital age. However, the initiative itself is coming under fire from concerned parties about its funding and if it will continue past its initial stage.

Whatever happens with the 21st Century Schools initiative in the future, the city’s schools will also fall under the scrutiny of the aforementioned Common Core initiative. This nationwide testing assessment judges schools by the scores of the students in various subjects. Dr. Thornton feels that while the assessment does create a “one-size-fits-all” approach to the city schools, it also provides numbers in “a world of accountability.” In other words, it allows investors to see the data presented in a clear manner, without any other information getting in the way.

The Baltimore Brew reported that the purpose of the FFEE report was to “identify a set of priorities” for Dr. Thornton, after speaking with a total of 859 people throughout 55 communities in the city. The full report can be found online, and four points stand out:

• A stronger involvement between parents and the community with the schools, as well as a more inviting school environment.

• Teachers and school staff who are not only talented, but also want to invest in the students.

• Higher academic expectations for students to properly prepare them for the rigors of life after high school.

• Activities for students that last not only throughout the school day, but also outside of the school year.

The report also mentioned several other recommendations for Dr. Thornton. With the first half of the school year quickly drawing to a close, 2015 might be the year that could answer the question of whether Dr. Gregory Thornton has what BCPS needs to transition themselves and their students to be able to navigate the changing times in an effective manner.

U.S. Department of Justice probes police department

But what will happen afterwards?

By Benjamin Land

Police brutality cases keep trending on social media and on news channels throughout America. While the police-related shootings of Michael Brown and Vonderrit Myers Jr. in Missouri have justly garnered most of the public scrutiny on police brutality, Baltimore was recently added to the cities affected last month.

The Anniversary of Tyrone West’s Death Protest. Photo credit:
The Anniversary of Tyrone West’s Death Protest.
Photo credit:

Last month, the incident involving Baltimore resident Kolin Truss and police officer Vincent Cosum made local headlines as the latest addition to police brutality altercations from the Baltimore City Police Department. This particular incident found itself spotlighted in local publications across the city, which in turn reminded readers of similar cases in the past. These incidents were frequent enough that it provoked the Department of Justice to initiate a probe into the BCPD for police brutality as well as officer misconduct.

The DOJ’s probe’s hasn’t been released to the public, yet, but the sheer fact that there is a probe to begin with has galvanized local civil rights leaders into calling for a more invasive one. According to the Baltimore Sun, the local branch of the NAACP is spearheading the move for the second probe, citing reasons such as distrust of the current mayoral administration as to why a federal investigation should be carried out. The current probe is a “collaborative review” that was agreed upon by both the mayor’s office and the DOJ.

At the moment, opinions on the outcome of the probe and what it means are mixed. But all concerned parties seem to agree on the need for an internal reform of the current police department. Cases like the above, and several settlements that are currently being paid from the city to residents, are indicative of the threat that violent cops who remain in the department pose.

Earlier this month, the city released a report that discussed on- going changes within the BCPD. The report stressed two suggestions: increased staff to man the Internal Affairs Division and the Force Investigative Team, as well more equipment that will assist in the investigation of police misconduct. The second suggestion is equipping officers with body cameras for a more “in-depth” view of any altercations with residents.

The latter suggestion is widely popular with the City Council and criminal defense lawyers, as well as being supported by activists and citizens via the social media coverage of the Missouri protests. If implemented completely, the suggestions could be the first step in repairing the relationship Baltimore City residents have with the BCPD in the immediate future.

UNEP aims to start a wasteless revolution


By Benjamin Land

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, food outpaces other solid waste items in the amount that reaches landfills and incinerators. This food isn’t spoiled or past its expiration date, but healthy food that simply hasn’t been eaten. To further emphasize the waste, the EPA stated that in 2012, more than 36 million tons of food waste was created. However, only five percent of that was actually used for composting. With this figure in mind, and even more data gleaned in recent years, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched the Think.Eat.Save Student Challenge.

Open to secondary schools and universities, the Think.Eat. Save Student Challenge hopes to motivate students from multiple grade levels and around the world to completely understand the severity of food waste. To accomplish this, the challenge has students create projects to see how much waste they produce and the subsequent effect this has on not only the economy, but also the environment. And it is the environment that is the most affected by food waste.

The UNEP reported that around one-third of all produced food winds up lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems. Half of this number is attributed to retailers and consumers who operate and live in industrialized areas discarding food that is still edible.

By participating in the challenge, students will find themselves among activists and companies addressing the issue of food waste. For example, thefoodservicecompanySodexohas introduced “tray-less cafeterias” to about half of the college campuses they wholesale to. This move has reduced Sodexo’s food waste percentage by approximately 30 percent. Another example is activist Rob Greenfield who has been traveling across America eating only what he can find in dumpsters. So far, he’s found an entire watermelon, a bottle of Chardonnay, marshmallows, and other edible food items on his challenge.

Lucita Jasmin, Greenfield’s campaign manager said, “Through the students, we hope to encourage a more conscious attitude toward food planning, preparation, storage and consumption in schools […] Students are also an effective entry point to their families and households which are also another major source of food waste, and where there is great opportunity for positive change.”

To participate in the challenge, go to studentchallenge

Entries must be submitted by Nov. 16.

Photo Credit.

Baltimore welcomes theater project on Howard Street

Nowadays, North Howard Street in lower Mount Vernon isn’t much more than the Phaze 10 restaurant and lounge, the University of Maryland Medical Center, and the Eubie Blake National Jazz and Cultural Center; Antique Row is mostly a shadow of its former self. But recently, a theater redevelopment project has been approved for several neglected buildings on Howard St., hopefully spearheading the revitalization of the block.

The Walt Disney Theatre on Disney Dream. Photo courtesy of Bhaskar Peddapati under a Creative Commons license
The Walt Disney Theatre on Disney Dream. Photo courtesy of Bhaskar Peddapati under a Creative Commons license

Baltimore is home to a rich and diverse performing arts scene. For example, Center Stage’s 2014/2015 season features several plays such as the Tony Award winning Amadeus (a musical look into the life of Amadeus Mozart) Next to Normal and the stage adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life closing out the year. The Everyman Theatre begins the season with The Understudy (a black comedy about the egos of actors), as well as Grounded (a drama about a female fighter pilot’s reluctant, but necessary transition to drone piloting in light of an injury and family responsibilities). Everyman will also see the work of playwright Lynn Nottage performed within its walls, with the play “Ruined.”

The theater hub project will cost an estimated $7 million, which will be used to acquire three abandoned properties and convert them into a hub. This hub will consist of three performing spaces, each with a marquee, offices, meeting rooms, and, finally, a café for refreshments and beverages to quiet the appetites of future patrons.

Reaction to the project’s approval by City Hall has been nothing but enthusiastic, with comments ranging from abundant joy to measured excitement. The lead developer for the theater hub, Ted Rouse, was quoted by The Baltimore Sun as saying, “We are very excited to get to work […] our innovative co-working spaces on the upper levels, we have the small, but important, goal of reinventing capitalism so that it works for all residents of Planet Earth, not just the upper management of large corporations.”

Further excitement about the theater project also comes by way of the EMP Collective, a local group of young artists that run and manage a multi-use arts space downtown. The Collective is one of the groups that spearheaded the project from its inception and its artistic director, Carly J. Bales, is excited for the project and the further expansion of the city’s small but impressive arts scene.

In an interview with Maggie Villegas, also of EMP said, “This neighborhood has a lot of underutilized properties that have been in disrepair for so long, that the city is taking a chance on the DIY theatres. We hope that through this project, we can lay the groundwork for future artist-led developments. Baltimore should keep giving artists with big ideas a chance—that’s why we’re all here.”

The theater hub project is an endeavor which could signal the revitalization of the once-booming Howard Street corridor, providing another area of attraction outside of downtown neighborhoods and outlying counties for both citizens and tourists.

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