With a half-dozen key resignations at Baltimore City Hall, some political observers say they're concerned about the recent loss of institutional knowledge in Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration.
Since the fall, the city's budget director, development chief, parks director and the mayor's chief of staff have left or announced plans to leave. They were joined this week by Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III and the mayor's liaison to the Police Department, Sheryl Goldstein. Some lower-profile officials have left as well.
"It could be a cause for concern because for a period of time the mayor is going to be preoccupied with filling some of these jobs," said Matthew Crenson, Johns Hopkins University political science professor emeritus. "For new hires, there's going to be a fairly long learning period. It may not signal any particular weakness, but it still poses some problems."
City Council member Mary Pat Clarke said the resignations are a "combination of people leaving for their own reasons and a mayor who wants her own team" after starting her first full term in December.
"I feel overwhelmed myself with the loss of so many good people," Clarke said.
Rawlings-Blake's spokesman, Ryan O'Doherty, said the departures stemmed from a "variety of different circumstances." Some, such as Bealefeld, long-serving finance director Edward J. Gallagher, and Baltimore Development Corp. President M.J. "Jay" Brodie, were eligible for retirement. Others, such as Deputy Mayor Christopher Thomaskutty and chief of staff Peter O'Malley, took higher-paying positions in the private sector.
O'Doherty acknowledged that losing people in key positions is difficult, but he said Rawlings-Blake has held elected office for 17 years and "knows the inner workings" of city government.
He pointed out that several of the vacancies have been filled, and the mayor is conducting searches for the other openings. Rawlings-Blake has named Yolanda Jiggetts her deputy chief for public safety, Olivia Farrow as director of the Mayor's Office of Human Services, and Sharon R. Pinder as director of the Mayor's Office of Minority and Women-Owned Business Development.
A source close to the mayor said Rawlings-Blake will announce a new chief of staff Monday to replace O'Malley, Gov. Martin O'Malley's brother, who resigned from that role soon after Thomaskutty announced his departure in March.
Crenson pointed out there's often turnover when a chief executive begins a new term, but said the number of departures at City Hall appears to be higher than in a typical transition year.
Former Mayor Sheila Dixon, for instance, initially kept on many key officials, including the police and housing commissioners and head of public works, who had worked for her predecessor, Martin O'Malley. But within months, Dixon fired the police commissioner, Leonard D. Hamm, and accepted the resignation of the fire chief, William J. Goodwin Jr.
Crenson pointed out that some of the people who are leaving now have worked in city government for decades. Finding someone as qualified as Gallagher or Brodie would be "almost impossible," he said.
"There may be people with the aptitude to do the job as well, but not with the local knowledge," he said. "It is going to take them a while to learn the lay of the land."
Through all the changes, the mayor has relied on two women who hold the title of deputy chief, Kaliope Parthemos and Kim Washington, who are childhood friends of Rawlings-Blake's and her top advisers since she was council president.
Clarke said she didn't view it as unusual that the mayor's top advisers would also be longtime friends.
"Didn't O'Malley bring in his brother?" she said. "John F. Kennedy made his brother the attorney general. There are people who we've known for years and years who, if we think they're competent and we trust them, it's very normal to surround yourself with longtime associates."
Council Vice President Edward Reisinger said he saw the series of resignations as coincidences and doesn't believe any of the departures were because staffers were "disgruntled" or disagreed with Rawlings-Blake's vision. He said that despite the departures, he feels confident in the direction of city government because Rawlings-Blake is still at the helm.
"The mayor is still quarterback of everything," he said. "She's the director. She's in charge. She's very pragmatic and balanced."
Council member William H. Cole IV said the changes are a natural part of a changing administration.
"I'm not overly concerned" about the resignations, he said. "The key is getting good, capable people to fill those slots. You really can't evaluate the loss until you find out what you're going to get. The mayor deserves an opportunity to search for and hire people. Then we can evaluate: Are they performing?"
Cole said he believed some positions could be filled from within City Hall because Thomaskutty and others hired talented employees.
"When you have a very talented employee who brings in talent around him, it's not as devastating to lose him," Cole said.
He pointed out that budget director Gallagher stayed in his position until his replacement, Harry E. Black, was hired, and Brodie and Bealefeld are expected to stay on through a period of transition as well.
"They want to make sure their successor has the benefit of their knowledge," Cole said, adding that he expected to call Brodie in retirement to pick his brain. "You take a certain amount of pride when you've been with the city as long as those three have been. I have a feeling these people will continue to be assets to city government regardless of where they end up."
Crenson suggested the mayor could take advantage of the situation and turn it into a positive.
"The mayor now has the opportunity to hire her own crew," he said. "If she had some big idea in mind, this is her opportunity to put it in place."