The City Council meeting of September 11 had two guest speakers with rather grim messages about Cambridge. Pam Gregory of the United Way of the Lower Eastern Shore spoke about the poverty level in Cambridge as being one of the worst, if not the worst in the State. She used combined poverty level and near poverty level statistics which she referred to as “asset limited” to show that the State level is at 38% asset limited but the Cambridge level is at 57% asset limited. Lisa Molock of MD Moms Demand Action spoke about the rise in gun violence in the State and especially in Cambridge. Both speakers left the Council and the audience feeling a little low and overwhelmed by the problems.
Many citizens have approached me asking what the city is doing or what the police are doing or what the School Board is doing or what Code enforcement is doing on a variety of issues. We can look to these organizations for leadership but we as citizens need to get involved if we are going to improve things in our city. The City manager has been on the job less than 18 months and has had to deal with elections to replace the Mayor and two Council members, in addition to hiring a new staff which included a new Deputy City Manager, a new Police Chief, a new Director of Public Works, a new Personnel Director, a new Finance Director, a new chief Engineer, a new Code Enforcement position and additional supporting positions. So, I would like to give him some time to see what he can do with a new team.
As for the police, our new Chief, Justin Todd, is trying to install a “community policing” approach. This effort involves getting the police into the communities and developing “trust” within the community. This approach is off to a good start, but the police force has only 35 officers to cover the city 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The police force used to have 52 officers but budget cuts over the years have reduced the authorized number to 46. Even at that number, we are still well short of what we need. The City has raised wages, but we need to do more to attract and maintain our police force. We need to have some “out of the box” thinking such as rent subsidies to get our police to live in the city and our neighborhoods. Also, we as citizens need to support our police. Captains Hinson and Patton are trying to install “Neighborhood Watches” in the communities to help police and our neighbors in identifying potential criminal activity. This is where we as citizens can be a positive force and help our police. People interested in establishing a Neighborhood Watch should contact the police or a Can Board member. You can help with this problem by getting involved.
Regarding the school system and its problems, one needs to remember that the School system is run by the county not the city. There is a basic problem built into a county wide approach which pits the needs of rural parts of the county against those of the city. That said, there are many programs that you can get involved with in support of the schools. There are reading programs, Meals till Monday which provides food on the weekends to students who need it, and most importantly there is involvement with the School Board. Your participation in school board meetings is needed to help change the culture of an old system. The new school board, led by Susan Morgan and Mike Diaz, is trying hard to bring in new ideas but needs your support to really overhaul an outdated and underfunded system.
Code enforcement is another area of concern to citizens. Our basic problem is that we have 60% rentals and only 40% home ownership. This leads to absentee landlords who do not maintain their property and who resist city efforts to enforce the codes. The city needs to have “inside and outside” code enforcement regulations and enough staff to enforce them. We have a new director of Code enforcement, and we need to support his efforts. I have received complaints from homeowners who have been cited for small violations when there are obviously outrageous violations elsewhere. The Housing Code applies to everyone living in Cambridge and we need to support the program if we want to improve our housing stock. Let’s see what the new director can do and what we can do to support a larger Code Enforcement team.
It is easy to complain about what is wrong with Cambridge and that and $4 will get you a cup of coffee. As citizens, we need to get involved and help improve our community though participation and involvement. Please don’t get fed up with Cambridge, get involved.
Charles McFadden is the president of the Cambridge Neighborhood Association