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Baltimore mayor threatens to cut funding if BOPA leader doesn't resign after canceling MLK Day parade

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BALTIMORE - Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott threatened to remove funding or cut the City's contract with the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts (BOPA) if its leader isn't removed.

Scott told Midday on WYPR radio that the leadership of BOPA is "not aligned with values" of "maintaining rich cultural traditions we have here."

BOPA canceled Baltimore's annual tradition - MLK Day Parade - saying they are honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a day of service instead.

"Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is the only federal holiday designated as a National Day of Service. So, to honor Dr. King — and follow his example — we encourage all Baltimoreans to participate in this year's National Day of Service on January 16, 2023, by signing up to volunteer with a local, regional, or national organization,"  BOPA said in a statement last week.

Mayor says MLK Day parade will be held Monday, reversing BOPA announcement 00:43

On Sunday, Scott said the Baltimore City Mayor's Office will proceed with organizing the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade without BOPA.

The parade will be held on Monday, Jan. 16 at noon, marching down MLK Jr. Blvd and Eutaw Street.

The parade was canceled for the past two years because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Mayor Scott and other city leaders voiced their displeasure toward BOPA. 

Scott said in a social media post that "My focus during the parade will be very simple! #wemuststopkillingeachother."  

Following the announcement that the parade would be canceled for the third year in a row, Scott demanded the resignation of the organization's CEO, Donna Drew Sawyer, according to WJZ's media partners at The Baltimore Banner.

Scott threatened to remove funding from BOPA in Fiscal Year 2024 and cut its contract with Baltimore City if Sawyer doesn't step down or its Board does not remove her.

BOPA responded with a statement that shifted the blame to the mayor's office.

"BOPA does not have the authority to, nor would we ever assume to, make unilateral decisions on mayoral events," BOPA said in the statement. "BOPA will continue to provide enthusiastic support of the mayor's civic events whenever we are called upon to do so."

Mayor Scott fired back in a letter to BOPA's board shared with the Banner.

"It has become clear that BOPA is not meeting the expectations of the city and is causing significant disappointment and frustration for the residents of Baltimore," Scott said. 

Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello told WJZ that canceling the parade honoring the civil rights leader was "shameful."

He told WJZ that the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts is in violation of its contractual obligation with the Baltimore City of Baltimore.

Part of that agreement includes setting up the MLK Jr. Parade.

"This parade is a long-standing tradition in our city," Costello said. "It's incredibly important to our residents and to our visitors and I think it's shameful what BOPA is doing."

BOPA has recently been in hot water with the Ways and Means Committee, which Costello chairs. 

Last summer, the councilman said the committee stripped $196,000 from the organization's $2.6 million budget after BOPA did not host Artscape for two years. 

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