Baltimore Sun

City public works director to stay longer

Mitchell has agreed to remain with Baltimore until June 30

- By Emily Opilo Baltimore Sun reporter Christine Condon contribute­d to this article.

Baltimore Department of Public Works Director Jason Mitchell, who announced his resignatio­n earlier this year, has agreed to remain with the city until the end of the fiscal year.

Mitchell announced his resignatio­n in January amid mounting pressure from some members of the Baltimore City Council and said he would leave in April. However, Mitchell has since agreed to remain with the department through June 30 to complete several ongoing projects, City Administra­tor Faith Leach said Monday.

Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott’s office released a statement Tuesday saying Mitchell will continue to focus on consent decree negotiatio­ns and developing a solid waste management strategy during the next few months, as the city searches for a new director.

“Mayor Scott acknowledg­es Director Mitchell’s positive impact on DPW and looks forward to continuing to work with him to improve service delivery for Baltimore’s residents,” said spokesman Cirilo Manego.

Mitchell has had a tumultuous tenure of less than two years. He’s faced an outbreak of E. coli in a section of the city’s drinking water system, a state takeover of one of the city’s wastewater treatment plants and mounting criticism from council members over reduced recycling collection.

In January, Democratic councilmen Zeke Cohen and Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer called for Mitchell to resign if significan­t progress wasn’t made toward resuming weekly recycling collection within eight weeks. Mitchell announced he was stepping down hours later. That prompted an outcry from council members, who accused their colleagues of scaring away dedicated public servants.

“Please reconsider,” Democratic Councilman Antonio Glover, a former employee of the department, implored Mitchell at the time. “We stand by you.”

Cohen and Schleifer’s concerns about recycling collection have not been allayed. The department has not set a date for weekly recycling collection to resume, and staffing shortages persist.

Meanwhile, new challenges have arisen. An explosion and two-alarm fire last week badly damaged a building at Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant, which processes wastewater for both Baltimore City and Baltimore County. A contractor used the damaged building to dry much of the solid waste from the treatment plant for pellets that can be used as fertilizer.

During Mitchell’s tenure, severe problems were discovered at Back River and the city’s other wastewater treatment plant. State inspection­s found that longstandi­ng mechanical issues at the plants resulted in millions of gallons of excessive pollution overflowin­g into the Patapsco and Back rivers that border the facilities.

Mitchell joined the city in 2021 from Oakland, California, where he was assistant city administra­tor and previously headed that city’s Department of Public Works.

In a January news release, Scott said

Mitchell was stepping down to care for family.

“Under his leadership, DPW has developed and implemente­d innovative plans to improve the services of which the people of Baltimore rely,” Scott said then. “While we will miss his contributi­ons to the agency, we fully support his decision to prioritize his family at this time.”

Mitchell will not be the only top official to leave the department this year. In a statement Tuesday, the department confirmed Yosef Kebede, the head of its bureau of water and wastewater, also is leaving. DPW spokeswoma­n Blair Adams declined to specify his last day or the reason for his departure.

“We appreciate his expertise and commitment in providing high-quality service to our residents and water customers,” Adams wrote in an email. “We wish him all the best as he moves forward in his career and thank him for his service and dedication to the city of Baltimore.”

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