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In the Media: City Council Plans Hearing on Surveillance Program; New Director at Lewis Museum

Wally Gobetz /

A digest of Baltimore news from local sources.

From the Baltimore Sun: Baltimore City council plans hearing on undisclosed police surveillance plane program

"The City Council plans to summon Baltimore police to explain why the department did not disclose that it was using a private company to fly surveillance missions and to collect and store footage of wide swaths of the city.

"Demands for a hearing come as the billionaire Texas philanthropists bankrolling the surveillance program revealed that they have given the initiative $360,000 through two charities — three times more than previously disclosed by the Baltimore Community Foundation, which passed through the initial November gift of $120,000 from Laura and John Arnold.

"A separate charity, the Police Foundation in Washington, handled an additional $240,000 gift from the Houston couple in April. That group said it will produce an evaluation of the program by the end of next month.

"Also on Thursday, the Baltimore Community Foundation said it will improve its scrutiny of donations to two Baltimore Police Department funds maintained by the foundation.

"The Arnolds' initial gift was earmarked for Persistent Surveillance Systems, the company conducting the flights, but top officials at the Community Foundation said they did not realize the money would be used for a secret program. The money came with a notation that it was for the Police Department 'to purchase community support program wide area imagery system surveillance for city of Baltimore for Jan. 2016.'

"'We need to engage in further scrutiny,' said Thomas E. Wilcox, president of the Baltimore Community Foundation, who said officials did not see 'any red flags.'

"'The surprise we all had about what turned out to be a secret surveillance — it came as a surprise to us, and we're sorry about that,' Wilcox said.

"The obscurity of the effort has rankled elected officials.

"City Council President Bernard C. 'Jack' Young, Public Safety Committee Chairman Warren Branch and Vice Chairman Brandon M. Scott will hold a hearing on the matter 'as soon as possible,' said Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young.

"The council members say they are not necessarily opposed to the surveillance operation, which has the potential to help document wrongdoing from gun crimes to police misconduct. But they say such monitoring of the public's movements should be discussed by citizens first."

Full Article at the Baltimore Sun

From the Baltimore Sun: Lewis Museum names new executive director, Wanda Draper

"Wanda Q. Draper will join the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture as the insitution's new executive director next month.

"Draper is currently WBAL-TV 11's director of programming and public affairs, and she will take on her new role Sept. 28. She replaces A. 'Skipp' Sanders, who retired in January.

"As one of the museum's original board members, Draper co-chaired the museum's opening in 2005, and subsequently served as co-chair of the board's marketing and public relations committee for 10 years, according to a news release.

"'I was part of the founding board of the museum, and of all of the boards and things that I’ve participated in my career, I spent more time with the museum than anything else in my life,' Draper said. 'For me it was so transformational to be part of an idea and have that idea become a reality in the form of the museum.'

"She has meeting notes on the museum's creation that date back to 2000, she said, and she was active on the board until 2010. 

"Following Sanders' retirement, the Lewis Museum conducted a national search for the next director that drew a multitude of applicants, museum board chair Beverly Cooper said. The board narrowed the search to eight candidates. When it came down to the final two, Draper stood out for her involvement with the museum from its inception, as well as her varied experience, Cooper said.

"Draper previously worked as director of community affairs and visitor services at the National Aquarium, reporter and editor for The Baltimore Sun and television panelist on the PBS program 'Maryland NewsRap.'

"'She was one of the originals and she was there when they were thinking about the museum and what we should do with the museum,' Cooper said.

"As she steps into the museum's top position, there are three main challenges Cooper said Draper will have to combat: the museum's financial stability, visibility and small staff.

"The Lewis Museum has struggled to remain in the black and consistently failed to meet a state requirement that it generate $2 million, half its annual budget, in privately raised revenue. Draper said she never could have imagined a recession would hit just a few years after the museum's opening, and she sees it as both a challenge and an opportunity to keep the museum financially viable. 

"She said the museum has a strong foundation, upon which she hopes to build its donor base, strengthen its branding and take advantage of its technological assets. She also wants to revive an African American history curriculum the museum created and push it out to schools statewide."

Full Article at the Baltimore Sun

From the Baltimore Sun: Japan pledges $2 million for Maryland bullet train feasibility

"The government of Japan has pledged $2 million to help fund studies on the feasibility of a magnetic levitation train that could shuttle passengers from Baltimore to Washington within 15 minutes, state officials said.

"On Wednesday, Gov. Larry Hogan signed a trade agreement with Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae, making Maryland the third state to sign such an agreement with Japan, the governor's office said.

"In June 2015, Hogan visited Japan and was enthralled with a maglev train, sometimes called a bullet train, that rushes past at more than 350 mph. He promised to explore a project connecting Washington and Baltimore, a $10 billion enterprise.

"Japan's $2 million pledge builds upon nearly $28 million in federal grants secured for environmental and engineering studies. Magnetic technology allows the trains to glide at ultra-fast speeds on a cushion of air.

"Wednesday's trade agreement also covered liquified natural gas, life sciences, trade and investment, and academics, according to a news release from the governor's office.

"Last year, Hogan and Sasae met at Dominion Cove Point LNG in Calvert County to affirm plans by Japan companies to import liquified natural gas, bringing jobs and tax revenue to Maryland, the governor's office said."

Full Article at the Baltimore Sun