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Mayor Scott Taps Oakland Official Jason Mitchell As New DPW Head

Emily Sullivan/WYPR
Baltimore City Hall. On Thursday, Mayor Brandon Scott named Oakland official Jason Mitchell as the new head of the Department of Public Works.

Mayor Brandon Scott has named the Assistant City Administrator of Oakland, CA, as the new head of Baltimore’s embattled Public Works Department.

Jason Mitchell, who previously served as director of Oakland’s Public Works Department, will take over the agency responsible for the aging water and sewer infrastructure shared by the city and Baltimore County in May.

“Identifying committed, transformational leadership for the Department of Public Works has been a top priority since taking office,” Scott said in a statement. “From reforming the city’s broken water billing system to moving Baltimore towards zero waste, Jason’s strong leadership will be a crucial part of our administration.”

Scott had promised to name a permanent head of the department within his first 100 days in office. DPW is currently led by Acting Director Matthew Garbark. Former Mayor Jack Young tapped Garbark over a year ago to replace Rudy Chow, who retired after nearly a decade in the department.

The City Council recently approved a 30% salary boost for Mitchell’s new role, raising it from $188,000 to $245,000. Scott had initiated the raise, arguing that it would allow the city to attract a candidate with experience in managing aging water infrastructure.

Mitchell’s work is cut out for him. The department’s water billing system has made headlines for years for inaccurately conflated readings and failures to charge some properties altogether. A report from city Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming and Baltimore County Inspector General Kelly Madigan found that thousands of broken meters have led to millions of dollars in lost revenue.

The agency also has struggled with trash and recycling collection throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Recycling pickup was halted altogether for six months as DPW dealt with the dual challenge of crews affected by COVID-19 outbreaks and a surge in trash tonnage.

Baltimore is also in a consent decree with the federal government that calls for overhauling city sewer systems and ending wastewater pollution in the Inner Harbor by 2030.

As DPW chief, Mitchell will hold a seat on the Board of Estimates, the powerful spending board that also consists of the Mayor, the Comptroller, the City Solicitor and the City Council President. Historically, the City Solicitor and DPW Director vote alongside their boss — the Mayor.

In Mitchell’s current role in Oakland, according to a news release from Scott’s office, he oversees more than 2,500 city employees across the Departments of Public Works, 311, transportation, planning, parks and recreation, human services and workforce employment services.

In Oakland, Mitchell initiated a master plan for sewer and storm infrastructure and led efforts to combat blight and illegal dumping. He earned a bachelor's degree from California State University, East Bay, as well as a master's degree in Business Administration and a doctoral degree in Organization Leadership from the University of San Francisco.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.