T.J. Smith, former chief spokesman for Baltimore police, joining Olszewski administration

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Chief spokesman T.J. Smith and Maj. Chris Jones, head of homicide, announces charges against a 14-year-old in the murder and rape of an elderly woman.

T.J. Smith’s retirement from government press relations didn’t last long. Today, roughly three months after he announced his resignation from the Baltimore Police Department with an open letter to the city, Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski Jr.’s office announced Smith as its new press secretary.

Smith left his job as chief of media relations for BPD in October, one day after his boss, Acting Commissioner Gary Tuggle, said he had withdrawn himself from the running for the job of permanent police commissioner.

In a nearly 2,300-word letter, Smith pointed to entrenched poverty in neighborhoods, a lack of attention to mental health and “catastrophic, systematic socio-economic failures” as key factors behind persisting violence in the city. He also nodded to the tragedy of losing his younger brother, Dionay Smith, who was murdered in 2017.

As for his future plans at the time, he said, “consulting, teaching, media stuff, and maybe, just maybe a book and politics!” There was also early talk of him running for mayor in 2020, an idea promoted by his former boss, ex-Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, that Smith neither shot down nor endorsed publicly.

Smith joined BPD in August 2015 in the wake of the Baltimore Uprising, following Davis from Anne Arundel County into the city during the fallout following Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore police custody. Smith previously worked for the Anne Arundel County Police Department for 15 years, becoming head of media relations there in 2012.

Smith’s salary was approximately $137,000 with the city, most of which was actually paid by Anne Arundel County, which had loaned Smith to BPD in 2015 in exchange for two detectives who were sent to work with a county task force addressing the opioid epidemic. Under the agreement, the county paid $91,570 of his salary, while the city covered approximately $45,000.

A spokeswoman for Olszewski’s office said Smith’s salary in his new position will be $150,000.

He’s not the only former city law enforcement official to join Olszewski’s administration. Drew Vetter, formerly director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, left his post with Mayor Catherine Pugh’s administration in December to become Olszewski’s deputy administrative officer.

Baltimore County announced other major appointments today, including Rhoda Benjamin, formerly chief of human resources for the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development, as Olszewski’s HR director; Jeff Mayhew, a longtime county Department of Planning employee, as acting director of planning; Mike Mohler, chief administrator of the county’s liquor board (and brother to now-former County Executive Don Mohler), as acting director of permits, approvals and inspections.

“We are working to make Baltimore County more innovative, transparent, and responsive to the needs of residents and communities, and that requires assembling a top notch leadership team,” Olszewski said in a statement. “These individuals will play a critical role in our efforts to build a better Baltimore County together.”

This story has been updated.

Ethan McLeod
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