Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and Director of Public Works Jason Mitchell stand on the rug of the seal of the City of Baltimore.

Jason Mitchell, a native of Oakland, California, officially became the director of Baltimore City’s Department of Public Works in May, and his top priorities are revamping the water billing system and managing illegal dumping sites. (Courtesy photo)

By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member
msayles@afro.com

Mayor Brandon Scott announced in March that Jason Mitchell would become the next director of Baltimore City’s Department of Public Works (DPW), and he officially assumed the position in May.

Mitchell is from Oakland, California and worked for the city government there for 13 years in various roles at the Departments of Parks and Recreation, Transportation and Public Works, where he served as director. His most recent position in Oakland was assistant city administrator, where he managed more than 2,500 city employees. Mitchell said his extensive experience has prepared him for the new job.

“I feel like I can have a huge impact in the community by bringing that energy, those ideas and that engagement so that we can make Baltimore a cleaner and healthier city,” said Mitchell.

Baltimore’s DPW focuses on solid waste collection and managing the city’s sewer and water systems and has been frequently criticized for inaccurate and missing water bills and sewage overflows into the Inner Harbor and Chesapeake Bay. According to Mitchell, his number one priority in his new position is to repair the water billing system. “That’s something that has been plaguing the city for a long time,” said Mitchell.

One of his earliest remedies for this problem came with DPW’s announcement of the Water4All discount program, which is designed to create more equitable access to affordable water. The program will expand assistance to tenants who do not directly pay their water bills for the first time, and the department expects that Water4All will be fully operational this fall.

Aside from Water4All, under Mitchell’s leadership, DPW completed the Headworks Project, which upgraded the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant to prevent sewer overflows, and launched a pilot program to reduce food waste in the city through composting. The latter will help the city and DPW make progress on the path to zero waste. The department also plans to roll out a residential advisory committee where residents and local leaders can have a seat at the table in discussing how to improve conditions in the city.

“I think we all have an ability to protect our environment both short term and long term,” said Mitchell. “I think that’s not just for the sustainability of us now but for our future generations.”

Although Mitchell said he already feels at home in Baltimore, being an outsider to the community has come with its challenges. Currently, he is working on learning more about the city’s neighborhoods and connecting with community members. Creating a dialogue between DPW and city residents is crucial to Mitchell because it allows the department to understand its shortcomings and strengths.

The Baltimore residents that he has already had the opportunity to meet have been extremely welcoming, and Mitchell recently tried Chick-fil-A for the first time, which he thoroughly enjoyed.

“Folks want to see change, and I want to be that change agent for Baltimore City,” said Mitchell. “I want to do it with our community and our staff so that we can reach the things that we want, and that’s a cleaner and healthier Baltimore.”

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