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Mayor Scott names Baltimore City government leaders on broadband, data

Jason Hardebeck will serve as the City's director of broadband and digital equity, while Justin Elszasz is the new chief data officer.

Jason Hardebeck (left) and Justin Elszasz are taking new tech leadership roles in City Hall. (Courtesy photos)

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott named two key tech-oriented leaders to his administration on Monday: Jason Hardebeck will serve as the city government’s first director of broadband and digital equity, and Justin Elszasz will serve as chief data officer.

The digital divide, which leaves 40% of households in the city without wireline internet access, has gained urgency in the pandemic. With the appointment of these two leaders, Scott is setting a mandate toward digital equity and inclusion.

“My administration remains focused on modernizing the processes and practices of City government through a framework of equity and transparency,” Scott said in a statement. “And I look forward to working closely with Justin and Jason to solve Baltimore’s most challenging problems in the years ahead.”

In the newly-created role of director of broadband and digital equity, Hardebeck will be the City’s primary representative for coordination with internal and external digital equity stakeholders, with the explicit purpose of closing the digital divide. A longtime entrepreneur and local tech leader, Hardebeck previously served as the City’s broadband coordinator under former mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a role in which he worked with local stakeholders on digital inclusion strategy. He is also cofounder and CEO of The Foundery, a manufacturing technology incubator where he helped to launch dozens of startups from space on Central Ave., and its former home at Port Covington’s City Garage. Hardebeck also served as managing director of health technology accelerator Dreamit Health Baltimore, and served as executive director of the Greater Baltimore Technology Council and Maryland Business Council.

“Every Baltimorean must be able to participate fully in the digital economy to reach our true potential as a world-class city,” Hardebeck said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the Mayor and City Administrator to fundamentally transform our approach to digital access and connectivity and do so through a lens of equity.”

Elszasz most recently served as deputy director and analytics lead for the Mayor’s Office of Performance & Innovation (OPI), a role he began in 2019. He led the CitiStat team and cofounded the Data Fellows program. first met Elszasz while he was running a data science blog that showed work on civic issues — a project he undertook while commuting to a previous role supporting the U.S. Department of Energy. With his appointment, the chief data officer is now a citywide position and not siloed in the Baltimore City Information & Technology department. It’s a move designed to centralize and widen the scope of the position. The chief data officer position was previously held by Michael Wisniewski, who was hired under former mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young.

“Every day, I’m inspired to work in an administration that places data, equity, and transparency at the center of our work for residents, and am honored to continue serving the city in this new and broader capacity,” Elszasz said in a statement.

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.

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