Nick J. Mosby is the Baltimore City Council President. He speaks with Quinton Askew, president & CEO of 211 Maryland to discuss housing, jobs, COVID-19 and systemic change in Baltimore City.
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Learn about Nick Mosby and his path to City Council President.
This fair hiring legislation helped ex-offenders find jobs.
Nick Mosby talks about the death of Freddie Gray, and the focus on the symptoms rather than the root cause of the problem. He discusses “The Black Butterfly” in the City of Baltimore and how to drive systemic change.
Mosby talks about building community relationships and change within the City Council to position the agency as transparent and proactive.
Have you ever struggled with a security deposit? Mosby discusses the security deposit alternative, how it will work and how it can impact housing security.
Baltimore City is a $3.6 billion public entity. Mosby talks about ways to support businesses and help people find jobs.
21:21 COVID-19 impact and community engagement COVID-19 underscored the need for equitable access to council meetings. Mosby talks about some of the ways the City Council is reaching the community.
25:30 Dante Barksdale Career Technology Apprenticeship Fund Mosby talks about the reason for this program and how it will impact the career path of Baltimore City youth.
Quinton Askew 00:42
Welcome to What’s the 211? My name is Quinton Askew, president and CEO of 211 Maryland. And today we have a special guest, City Council President, Nick Mosby. Good afternoon, sir. How are you?
Nick Mosby 00:53
I’m doing great. Thanks for having me on today, Quinton.
Quinton Askew 00:55
Thank you for joining us, and I appreciate you taking some time out to join the podcast just so we could share with listeners the great work that you’re doing. And so folks can really have a better understanding of the work. So if it’s okay with you, maybe can we jump right in?
Nick Mosby 1:08
Yes, 100%. Let’s do it. What’s the 211, right?
Quinton Askew 1:11
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Definitely. And so I just want it to be able to really talk a little bit about you. You know, someone growing up in Baltimore City, as well as yourself growing up in Baltimore. Polytechnic Institute, I think graduating from a Black college. Like how has that experience growing up in Baltimore, historically Black college, Polytech. Like what role did that play with your interest in seeking office and some of the work that you’re doing?
Nick Mosby 1;33
Yeah, I’ve represented West Baltimore my entire legislative career, but I’m from Northeast Baltimore. That’s where I was born and raised. And I tell folks all the time I grew up in a three-bedroom, Northeast Baltimore rowhouse with six women. My grandmother was like the matriarch of our family. My mother, aunts, cousins, sister, and you know, my grandmother used to always give me this idea of dreaming. And she always told me I was the first in my family to go to college and then ultimately that happened. So, you know, when I look at my trajectory, not just through education and going to Tuskegee, but then also being an elected official. Now it was those roots from my grandmother, my mother, and what they instilled in me. You know, I saw, these women working really hard, not only for us inside my household but also for the community.
Nick Mosby 2:20
My mother was always very engaged in the political process. Some of my fondest memories were standing in line with her and pulling back the curtain and her allowing me to, you know, press the levers on the voting machine to watch your vote. So, that had a very impressionable impact on my life. And I also tell people the story about when Kurt Schmoke was elected mayor for the first time, the city of Baltimore, the first African-American elected as mayor and how excited my mother was and how excited teachers was. It was kind of like a microcosm of 2008 when President Barack Obama was elected as President of the United States of America. And, so I think that you know, going to Tuskegee and again, being in this role now, it was just a lot of those memories and that support, that guidance from role models that I live with and my grandmother, my mother that really put me in the position that I’m in tod
Ban The Box
Quinton Askew 3:09
Great. I know that you know, once graduating from, from the institution, I know you started off as a couple of times, ran for City Council, but once elected, you know, a lot of your focus and that began around criminal justice reform, which, which is really a big task. And so I know you had some original legislation about mentoring juveniles awaiting for trials, and adult “Ban the Box,” which is definitely a huge undertaking. Like w why was it some of that important?
Nick Mosby 3:33
Well, I mean, if we’re serious about moving our communities and our cities it’s really about ensuring that our most vulnerable residents are getting the appropriate attention and given real opportunities to succeed. You know, I constantly talked about doing “Ban the Box” that the citizens who had prior convictions and were incarcerated in the past, they’re the only open group that we feel comfortable discriminating against, be it housing, be it education, be it jobs. And when we look at our recidivism rate is about 40% throughout the state, and even higher in certain parts in Baltimore City. How can we really expect for folks that are kind of shut out of the essentials of living again, housing, education, access to jobs, how can we expect them to go away from whatever, put them in the position that they’re currently in and be a benefit to themselves, their communities, their families, without giving them real opportunity?
Nick Mosby 4:30
And that’s what “Ban the Box” was really centered around at the time. It was the most progressive form of fair hiring legislation for ex-offenders in this entire country. It was a legislative victory that was really challenging at the time through the business community and other opponents, but it was exciting to get that passed.
And then for the young folks that mentoring program. These were young folks that were awaiting trial as adults. They were 14, 15, 16 years old and were alleged to have committed some really horrendous acts, right. But we know the exoneration rate of like a 14 or 15-year-old, or the fact that they might get waved back down into the juvenile system. And many times these young folks are kind of just let back out into the same conditions that kind of created whatever behavior that put them in that current position right there.
Nick Mosby 5:18
So I wanted to do as much as I could, as far as outreach and just connecting and talking to them in a very troublesome time. I mean, they are literally inside of a facility that is made for adults that was intended for adults, but because the level of their crime, they’re kind of facing this. So I wanted them to know that someone was there for them, that this wasn’t the end of their lives, that they could still go off and lead productive lives. And it was really important for me to kind of connect with them. So, you know, when I was on the council, that was one of my most rewarding opportunities was bonding and creating relationships with those young men.
Quinton Askew 5:53
Yeah. And I’m sure with “Ban the Box”, were you able to hear from a lot of community members who are returning citizens that were able to benefit from that looking for employment?
The Black Butterfly
Nick Mosby 6:02
Yeah. I mean, so, you know, a lot of people really appreciate it. Now, if you notice these issues that we’re talking about, which were two big legislative things and initiatives of mine, you know, it’s really speaking for the voiceless, right?
These aren’t the folks that are like engaged a lot of times in the political process, these aren’t the folks that are donating or voting. These are the folks that are kind of elevating it, and that’s why their voices are kind of pushed to the side. You know, like I said, particularly as we talked about ex-offenders, you know, that is the only class that we are very comfortable with just openly discriminating against.
And so no, they were very appreciative and, you know, till this day still have connected to many of folks in that community because of that fight. Again, the business community came out aggressively to try to kill that piece of legislation. But, you know, I was excited. I think I did it my second year on the council. So I got my legislative chops pretty early on for such a big bill.
Quinton Askew 6:57
It definitely wasn’t congratulations with that. And 2015, you know, we, for those who were in Baltimore City, we’re definitely familiar with you know, Freddie Gray, who died from being arrested by the Baltimore City Police Department in West Baltimore. You know, I’m not sure if that was your district, maybe your district, but I know you were very vocal and present.
It was in my district.
And I know that you were very vocal and present in the community during that time. And so how, you know, what I guess had you out there and why did you feel the need to be sort of present and how did things, you know, working on the council at that time effect it?
Nick Mosby 7:30
So it’s strange because you try to like read these books on like leadership and being engaged and being present and being connected to the folks that you serve, but you can never be prepared for a crisis. Right. You know, the typical, you know, take these three steps approach is not there because it’s a crisis and there’s so much uncertainty, so many unknown variables and issues are just popping up, you know. So the biggest thing is about being present, right? So there was no doubt in my mind that I wasn’t going to go out there and be with my constituents in my district for such an important thing. But with that presence comes relationships. And in the midst of a crisis, there’s no time to build those relationships. So relationships and the level of comfortability have to already be there. And I saw that breakdown with city services, and I saw that breakdown with a multitude of different things of, you know, we have to stand up to go after and drive change or provide services here.
Nick Mosby 8:33
But without relationships, it’s really hard to efficiently and effectively do that. And you know, that taught me a lot about that time period. So you’re, right. You know, we were out there, you know, I was able to engage with residents, but I was also able to again, speak for the voiceless.
A lot of people remember the viral video that went out on Fox News national network. It got like 2 million shares in like a day or two where they were really focused on kind of the symptoms versus the root of causes of the problems. And the fact of the matter is when we look at like “The Black Butterfly” in the City of Baltimore, we overlay the same map on red line. And we overlay that same map on tree canopy and environmental justice. We overlay it on crime and shootings. It’s the same map. And that’s because the systems were put in place to kind of create that map.
Nick Mosby 9:23
And we have not effectively eradicated those issues that kind of cause a problem to really drive with systemic change. And that’s what I wanted to speak about. And like even today, Quinton, we still haven’t moved in a different direction. And I think that it’s incumbent on us as leaders to try to develop ways of doing that.
And so, you know, starting out on the council as president, you know, many of the things we’ve gone after is like really focusing on what we know the root causes of problems to be right now in the midst of this global pandemic is housing security is a major problem and will continue to be a major problem the further and further we get out of this crisis.
So, you know, we’ve pushed three very transformative pieces of legislation and develop a housing package. We’ve done the same thing as it relates to local hiring and ensuring that minority Black-owned women-owned locally owned businesses had access to city contracts in a way that they’ve never had before in prior years. So, you know, it’s either now or never. And I think in the midst of a crisis, we have a lot of opportunity to do the right thing and, you know, that’s what we’re continuing to do and push on the council.
Quinton Askew 10:28
Yeah. Which is definitely true. You speak about relationships. Let me ask the council, you spent some time as a Maryland Delegate and then running for Council President. And so, you know, with those times, and during those relationships, how have you seen, what has been your most important with those relationships? I guess just really working across the aisle, working with our law enforcement, other your other colleagues, and then really getting some of this legislation that you talk about during COVID out there. Like how has that really played a role?
Nick Mosby 10:53
Well, I think the advantage I’ve always tried to take as a legislator is to listen to everybody like burn no bridges, have an open door policy and accessibility to all, even your opponents, because if you are committed to that issue that you’re pushing and sometimes your opponent will give you your best talking point, they have an issue, or they have a problem. They have a perspective that maybe you’re not looking at or thinking about, but it only makes your argument or your position that much more solid and stronger. So that’s why those relationships are important. So, you know, whether you totally agree with “Ban the Box” or you don’t agree with paying the box, it’s still important for me to have a relationship with you, talk with you about those issues, and hear them out. Because again, it only makes for a better bill. It only makes for a better outcome for the residents if you’re in it for the right reasons.
Creating A Proactive City Council
Quinton Askew 11:45
And so, you know, I know you mentioned the constituents, being involved in the community. And so your role as Council President, can you sort of help, you know, to understand what does that mean and how does your role relate to the Mayor? I know there may be sometimes constituents say like, hey, you know, crime needs to stop. So you need to flip that switch and cut crime out, but you know, they have a process. So to all of this, and so can you help Africans really understand, you know, what that looks like for you?
Nick Mosby 12:08
So, you know, just like most typical forms of government, there’s an executive branch, there’s a legislative branch. So the Mayor would be considered the executive branch. Basically, you know, if we’re on the federal level, the President of the United States and the City Council would be considered the legislative branch of Congress, right?
So ultimately, it’s our role and our responsibility to develop policy and pass legislation to support the needs of our citizens right now. In the past, the City Council has historically been what I would call more of a constituent services shop. You know, Quinton has a pothole issue. Quinton needs a house boarded up. Quinton is having some problem with his water bill. He calls his local council member and they’re able to connect him with the city agencies and the services to help address his needs. And all of that is really, really important.
Nick Mosby 13:01
But again, the main focal central role associated with the council is developing substantive legislation to really go after the systemic issues that have plagued our city for far too long. And, you know, when I took over as City Council President, you know, I developed structural changes inside of it to position us in a way to be able to do that. So prior to taking over, it’s a body of 15 members, including myself. We had 13 City Council committees.
Now in Annapolis, where I came from a body of 141 members on the house side, we had six committees. So literally the City Council, we had some communities that had three members in them, right? So basically, from a quorum perspective, two people or majority perspective, two people could make a decision and pass a bill out of a committee to head to the council floor.
Nick Mosby 13:51
So we wanted to limit the number of committees but also increase the size of members on that committee. So we had more debate and discourse because, with debate and discourse on the legislative body, the better outcomes for that legislation, as well as in term for residents to come from it. We’ve developed practices of now, you know, we are formalizing all the amendments, so you’ll be able to track the amendments through the council. We’ve developed a process of becoming more transparent and accessible through Facebook and through other social media platforms.
So we really tried to develop a council that was moving in our direction of actually functioning like a legislative body. The big piece that many people heard about that we’re still working with the administration on is Baltimore City is the only major city in America. And you will not find this on the state level.
Nick Mosby 14:42
You definitely will not find it on the federal level. But we’re one of the only bodies that is consequential to so much that do not have legislative aides. You know, we do not do financial analysis on the legislation that’s being proposed or passed independent of the administration. So we’re really pushing again to professionalize the council in a way that we have not seen it before, but literally it’s the doctrine associated with the charter of what we’re establishing, what we should be doing. We should be proactively going after the systemic issues, not just being reactive and addressing individual constituent needs on a daily basis.
Quinton Askew 15:20
You mentioned that doctrine for folks who may not have an understanding of why is that, why is Baltimore City in that position?
Nick Mosby 15:26
Well, I mean, Baltimore City has always had a very strong executive branch, meaning the power of the Mayor in the past. A lot of times, the consequential legislation that was really passed on the council was derived from the administration and kind of pushed down through the council and passed through the council. But again, the council is supposed to be an independent co-equal branch of government that develops that legislation to go after and tackle the challenges and the problems that we have here in our city. Another main piece of the council, which has never really been leveraged in a way that it should, is its oversight authority over the administration and over the city agencies. And we’ve structured a council again through the committee structure in a way to do just that, to really have the opportunity to call agencies in, hold them accountable for issues, be it the schooling situation that occurred, or as well as this water billing issue.
Nick Mosby 16:23
So, we’re going to constantly do that. And then what I also say is, you know, if folks haven’t, I ask you to please tune into a Board of Estimates meeting every Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. That is literally the city spending board where we’re deciding what entities and organizations are awarded, what grants and contracts and it’s there, where a lot of decisions have been made, but have not been made in accordance of like what I think our core competency should be. And that’s empowering local businesses that are hiring local residents.
So we’re digging down in those contracts like we haven’t seen before. Again, that oversight role as president of City Council, I preside over the Board of Estimates and I’m excited about what we’ve been able to do over the past five or six months, but more excited about what we’re going to continue to do over the next three years with that. We had a legislative package to kind of go after ensuring that we’re powering again, local minority women-owned businesses and really breaking down some of the structural barriers that have been put in place through that process over the past several decades.
Security Deposit Alternatives
Quinton Askew 17:25
Yeah. Speaking about our local businesses, you had, you know, several pieces of legislation, including the Baltimore business and inclusion legislative package, the security deposit alternative. Like how do both of these, you know, sort of help constituents in businesses?
Nick Mosby 17:40
So let’s go to the security deposit alternative first. And, you know, since you’re 2-1-1, you probably get a lot of these types of calls and questions, particularly as it relates to housing and security. But we know that the biggest barrier of someone who’s attempting to, you know, move to a different community or to a safer building, who is a renter. The biggest barrier is their security deposit, you know, putting down a security deposit plus the first month’s rent or whatever the terms are.
It’s really challenging for folk. Whatever it is, the security deposit alternative says, basically you can go out and get a surety bond to cover that security deposit. So say for a security deposit of $1,500, you can obtain a surety bond for, say $60. And that $60 would be your security deposit.
I’m excited about this bill, and it’s gotten a lot of coverage over the past couple of weeks because you know, right now, particularly in poor Black and Brown communities, we all know that you put down a security deposit, that the likelihood that you’re going to get it back is slim to none.
Nick Mosby 18:49
And the likelihood that you’re going to be able to fight to get it back is slim to none. There’s no real protection other than you going out and getting an attorney for a thousand dollar security deposit, no attorney really is going to take that case. It’s really hard for you to prove your case. And it’s kind of just a way of doing business and you move on with this new bill.
If you were able to get a surety bond now, that invokes the Insurance Commission at the state level, and it will be the onus of the property owner to provide proof be pictures or whatever, from a damage perspective of, hey, Quinton moved into this apartment on this date and he’s moving out on this date and we need $800 to fix this. And we need our money to kind of pay for that. It’s going to be this independent Insurance Commission that will be able to be there to kind of oversee.
Nick Mosby 19:37
So it provides added protection for the consumer.
Now that’s not to say that Quinton can’t go out and just pay the security deposit if you want to, or a third option pay that same security deposit in installments, but it at least provides renters choice. It provides the renter the ability to choose how they’re going to move. And we know that this has been a practice that’s been around, particularly for like grad students, particularly in areas that have more influence and, you know, Howard County and Montgomery County.
So it’s interesting bringing into Baltimore City to our residents and these communities, and some of the, the concerns from the opponents saying that this is bad. I’m excited about this. Look forward to the Mayor signing it. But I think this is right. At the right time associated for our most vulnerable residents that are caught in this housing security.
Supporting Baltimore City Businesses
Nick Mosby 20:26
And then the other bill, again, just really talking about how do we create the local pipelines for job employment for our young folks, how do we ensure that local minority Black, women-owned businesses have a seat at the table and have access to some of these contracts? How do we develop from not just a lowest bid, but lowest responsible bidder perspective that are hiring Baltimore City residents that have businesses in the city that have shown the ability of finishing jobs on time and at cost in the past, how do we ensure that they have access to these contracts?
I mean, look, Baltimore City is a $3.6 billion public entity with a tremendous amount of economic ecosystem to help lift our city out. So when we talk about jobs, when we talk about access to jobs, when we talk about providing opportunities for our young folks, it has to start there with the way we’re awarding these contracts and who has access to it.
Quinton Askew 21:21
That’s great. And so, you know, in speaking definitely with the renter’s choice, you know, I guess that really gives those who are looking to, you know, decide, you know, should I choose to spend this money, you know, somewhere else?
How has COVID affected your work and council work?
Nick Mosby 21:37
Well, you know, we’re still all virtual. So all of our committee meetings are virtual hearings or virtual, even Board of Estimates is virtual. You know, I take all meetings out of the chambers as well as the chair folks. And we have staff in the chambers, but it’s not open to the public. And there’s no expectation for any other members of the council to join us. That just hasn’t happened. But as it relates to like community engagement, I think it’s interesting cause it’s helped out. It really forced us as a legislative body to have a more open and transparent process, you know, through WebEx and use of like the Internet. It’s forced us to think outside of the box where, you know, particularly in a climate where the digital divide is so apparent in certain communities that it’s not just having it online through WebEx, but it’s also can people dial in through their telephone and they still stay engaged and connected that way.
Nick Mosby 22:29
It’s forced us to think about it from a disability perspective and ensuring that closed caption options are built into like the tools that we’re going to be utilizing in the future. And that we have folks for the hearing impaired that are kind of present as really important announcements.
I think many of these things from a technological perspective, as well as from just the functioning of how we kind of manage and run our meetings will stay in place regardless of whether COVID-19 is here and whether we need to kind of stay in this virtual environment. So I think that it, this crisis has forced us to become better, become better as it relates to again, transparency and accessibility. And it’s really challenged us in a way that I think creates a better product in the end, again, regardless of whenever we able to dig ourselves out of this COVID right.
Quinton Askew 23:14
Yeah. Which hopefully is soon for us.
Nick Mosby 23:18
That’s why everybody needs to get vaccinated, still wear your mask, still stay socially distance. So when I always make sure we pump that out to the residents.
Quinton Askew 23:27
Yeah, that’s right. I know you talked a bit about engagement. How does your office keep a community engaged? You talked about the Board of Estimates meeting where what are ways that your constituent services help support to connect with as well?
Nick Mosby 23:41
So definitely social media, you know. We’re on all platforms. (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) @BaltCouncil on all platforms. We’ve been having these town hall meetings to talk about specific legislation or to talk about specific topics.
Typically we’ll bring in subject matter experts members from the community to kind of pose and ask questions. You know, we started this podcast series, you know, I just had two weeks ago, I interviewed Dr. Brown from his book about The Black Butterfly here and there, then a great interview. I asked folks to go out and kind of listen to that podcast. We’ve also launched a magazine and kind of cover like legislation that we’re working on, how like certain things in the district just kind of show the ultimate momentum of like where we are, but we’ve really tried to develop very unique ways of keeping folks engaged in and exciting, entertaining, but also substantive ways to let folks know that the council was working for them.
Nick Mosby 24:38
I mean, we did a lot in that first 100 days and we’re still working excited about where we are. And when I talk about trying to drive a certain level of professionalism here on the City Council and seeing that spill out on all the district levels, I think when we look at say like the level of legislation, that’s come out in such a short timeframe, since we’ve been in office in comparison to the past, you know, I think folks get really excited about it. Now sometimes with really important and impactful legislation, you know, comes a lot of debate and discourse. We’re here for that. And we’re here to kind of go through that process and we understand and know that that is just kind of a consequence of, of really trying to push real reform. And I think that we’re excited about it. I think we’re excited about the data-driven, evidence-based solutions that we’ve taken thus far and wherever we are continuing to expand and continue to grow that. So we’re excited and we asked Baltimore to tune in.
Dante Barksdale Career Technology Apprenticeship Fund
Quinton Askew 25:30
Which is great. I only have a couple minutes left, but I just wanted to, to, and I know you recently discussed that I’ve heard, you know, creation of the “Dante Barksdale Career Technology Apprenticeship Fund.” Can you just give a quick sort of background on why that was created? What was important to you?
Nick Mosby 25:45
Dante was a member of the Safe Streets team, which was responsible for violence interruption in our city, really dangerous, tough jobs. And Dante was internationally known or the model and the tactics that were employed here in the City of Baltimore. He would travel all across the country and help other people set up the organization. He was tragically killed. And I remember the conversation I had with Dante over text message him, really wanting to develop a program, to employ our young folks, to get them off the street corners and put them in trajectories of better lives and better living. And, unfortunately he was tragically killed, but I remembered back to that conversation.
And what we are looking to do is try to establish a fun kind of apprenticeship funding for career technology education for our young folks, to identify the jobs of tomorrow, the employers of tomorrow and connect them in pipelines to it.
Nick Mosby 26:42
And this would be a way of in city schools or other apprenticeship programs, you know, just providing them real access, real opportunities and exposure to these career paths in hopes that, you know, they take that. You know, we’ve developed this way, you know, 10, 15, 20 years ago. And through policies like No Child Left Behind and other failed initiatives and education that if you weren’t on like the college preparatory track, then you know, you weren’t moving in the right direction.
We kind of lost focus on the vocational track. We know that we’re going to always need carpenters. We’re always going to be plumbers, electricians. We’re going to always need the skills trade. And we have to develop better ways of exposing our young folks to these career opportunities. Some of which are entrepreneurial opportunities where they can live, you know, very comfortable lives, but exposing to them that you don’t have to be on that college track. You couldn’t be on these tracks. So that’s the point of the program, just augmented in a way to provide real opportunities for our young folks so they can see brighter futures today.
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