CONVERSATIONS WITH HJM
By: Sam Friedman, Government Relations Associate
“Cities play a significant role in the quality of life and even the length of life for their residents … I decided as a young man, 14 or 15, that I wanted to be involved in helping cities be better places to live and work.”
Chris Shorter, the City of Baltimore’s first City Administrator, joined Mayor Brandon Scott’s executive team in February of 2021. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Shorter knew that he wanted to be a positive change agent for cities from a very young age. In a recent sit down with Shorter, he noted, “Cities play a significant role in the quality of life and even the length of life for their residents … I decided as a young man, 14 or 15, that I wanted to be involved in helping cities be better places to live and work.” With that goal in mind, Shorter has spent the past two decades building a resume that reflects the background and experience necessary to ensure the City’s agencies operate efficiently and effectively.
After obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Economics from Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University and a Masters of Public Administration from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public & International Affairs, Shorter spent eleven years serving in key positions with the District of Columbia (DC). As Director of DC’s Department of Public Works (DPW), Shorter oversaw the expansion of DC’s environmental sustainability portfolio and led the effort to develop the advanced technology required to positively transform DPW’s operations. Most recently, just prior to taking on his current role with the City of Baltimore, Shorter served as Assistant City Manager for the City of Austin. In that position, he oversaw departments supporting the health, environment, culture, and lifelong learning of Austin residents.
Chris Shorter recently found some time in his busy schedule to have a conversation with me and answer some of my questions.
Do you mind if I start by asking you about the City Administrator position? It was created by charter amendment last year, by Mayor Scott when he was President of the City Council … can you share more about the role?
Don’t mind you starting that way, very appropriate … it does not change the nature of the strong Mayor system that we have here in Baltimore … the Mayor is the Chief Executive, that has not changed … the City Administrator, or the Chief Administrative Officer is the implementing executive, if you will, or the COO, dealing with day-to-day operations within the City government.
What projects and/or initiatives are you and Mayor Scott’s administration working on that might be of interest to those that are following our conversations series?
One of the biggest projects is the reform of our procurement system. We announced that [initiative] earlier in the year and we are now at the point where we are about to … name or announce the vendor that competed for and won the role … to help us assess our current procurement system.
All of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and Recovery Act dollars that will be coming through the City over the next few years … has to go through our procurement system. Every cent that this City spends, in some way … touches the procurement system … Our procurement system is not adequate for the size of the City. We are going through the process of first assessing where our system is, where our strengths are, and where are the opportunities for improvement. And that is to say, engaging not just the staff that works in our procurement system, but all of the elected officials, the vendors, and contractors and non-profits that participate someway in our system [including] the MBE’s and small women-owned businesses that are registered within the City. So, we’re going to engage all of these stakeholder groups through this process of assessment. The third-party vendor will then produce a recommendation for ways to modernize our system, and then we will go about implementing that plan.
I will also say … we’re at a very unique moment in that we have $641 million of ARPA funding with the possibility of some additional investment in infrastructure coming and we have established a Recovery office, named a Chief Recovery Officer, and are moving swiftly to score applications and proposals and will move even more quickly to get the money out the door and into the hands of the businesses, and people, and initiatives and projects that need it. We have a very finite time period, as you know, to spend those dollars, so we will move quickly to get it out in a way that is effective and helps in the way that it should.
So, can you talk about living in the City? What have you enjoyed about Baltimore so far? A favorite local food place? Favorite local sports venue?
What I would talk about is my neighborhood. So, I moved into Reservoir Hill, and bought a home about two blocks away from Druid Hill Park and it is absolutely, just a beautiful community. And not just the homes, but the people. So, I have had a wonderful experience, folks have welcomed me, they treat me like a regular neighbor … I’ve had the conversations on the front porch … shoveled snow … so that experience has been so centering and settling …coming into a new place that I needed to learn quickly … the ability to go home and really feel like it’s home in a community that welcomes me is a big deal.
My last question, what excites you most about working with Mayor Scott?
Well, I don’t know that we have a mayor in this country that knows more about public safety issues than Mayor Scott. I’m very excited about his tireless energy, his knowledge of Baltimore … I have not named a street that he didn’t know and have a story about. I haven’t talked about an individual that he isn’t connected to in some way. He just really loves this city and it is inspiring to see. I’ve worked with a lot of mayors, and he is a true inspiration, and I am happy to be here just to help and push his vision for the City forward.