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And Shadowy Economic Development Continues

November 20, 2012

Brenda McKenzie, a top economic development exec from Boston, has been named by the Rawlings-Blake administration as president and CEO of the Baltimore Development Corp. There’s no reason to quibble with the selection given press releases news reports indicate McKenzie to be fully capable and well-qualified.

It’s disappointing–though not unexpected–how the city handled its search: a long list of power players advised the Mayor, including Atwood “Woody” Collins III, president of M&T Bank’s Mid-Atlantic Division; Kirby Fowler, president of Downtown Partnership of Baltimore; Donald Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee; Karl Gumtow, founder and CEO of Cyberpoint; and Arnold Williams, chairman of the BDC.

Despite stated intentions to minimize real estate projects and emphasize neighborhood development, the interview committee included real estate attorneys Jon M. Laria and Mark P. Keener, but not a single neighborhood representative. Leaders from the arts, nonprofit and growing tech communities were noticeably absent from the interview committee; so much for putting an end to business as usual.

According to the BBJ, McKenzie wants to “open Baltimore for both large-scale development projects” and find “innovative ways to bring out of state businesses to Baltimore.” In media coverage thus far, there’s been no discussion of strengthening and growing existing businesses, and talk of neighborhoods has been limited to the Wal-Mart in South Baltimore’s Port Covington,

McKenzie made the best impression for the board when she talked about Baltimore’s neighborhoods, [Arnold] Williams said. Before her interview, McKenzie visited the Wal-Mart store in Port Covington in South Baltimore.  Having an outsider come in and talk specifically about how to improve a Baltimore neighborhood made the BDC board take notice, Williams said.  “[She] came in saying, ‘I visited the Wal-Mart but I saw opportunities,’” Williams said. “That was impressive to the people around her.”

The interview committee also credits McKenzie for being open and transparent; however, the BDC was established so that the city could evade transparency. There’s no reason to criticize McKenzie, who appears to be a well-meaning bureaucrat; but the selection process–and city leaders–deserves scrutiny.

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