GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT
Two Sam Abbott era veterans spoke against changing the Takoma Park election date at a public hearing March 1.
Three other residents spoke in favor of the change which would combine city elections with general elections beginning in 2018. Currently city elections are on off-years every two years. The next city election will be held in 2017. If the council votes to synchronize voting days winners of that election will serve only a one-year term.
Former city attorney Tom Gagliardo introduced himself as someone who “used to be deeply involved with the politics of Takoma Park.”
“I’m distressed by this proposal,” he said. Changing from one voting station to three would destroy what he called the “civic celebration” where the community and candidates all come together in a central location on election day.
“All that glitters isn’t gold.” He said, calling the anticipated voter turnout “false gold.” He said the additional voters would not likely be knowledgeable about local candidates and issues. He would prefer a “committed community” like the one the city enjoyed in the early 80s.
“We’ve had an enormous drop off in citizen participation,” Gagliardo said. For instance, he’d expected a huge crowd at the public hearing, but, he said, indicating the many empty auditorium seats behind him, “Almost nobody here!”
If the city had more contested elections, he said, more people would vote. By his calculations, more than 75% of elections, he said, were uncontested.
Still as feisty as he was in the 80s, he quipped “Democracy by egg-timer!” when the three minute beeper went off and the mayor silenced him in mid-sentence. “That was opposed when I was the city attorney.” he muttered.
Former councilmember Lynne Bradley, also spoke against the change.
Bradley said she had mixed feelings about the proposed change, but came down “51 percent” against it. She was concerned that city issues and candidates would be drowned out by the general election’s. Residents will already feel plagued by general election robo-calls and literature, not amenable to a city candidate’s call or flyer, she said.
Mixing city candidates and issues with those of the general elections may politicize city elections “in ways you may not intend,” she said.
The way to get people out to vote, she said, she said, is to have city candidates working on issues of interest to them.
Bradley was on Mayor Sammy Abbot’s slate of council candidates who swept into office in 1982, insuring a council majority in favor of Abbot’s progressive programs and stances.
Her first term was one year. In 1983 the council switched to odd-year voting.
Peter Kovar replied to one of Bradley’s points later during the council comment period. City elections wouldn’t get lost in the general election shuffle, he said. In Takoma Park the primary elections are more important. The city and district are so heavily Democratic, candidates of both parties do not campaign heavily there for the general election.
City resident Robb Ritchie, director of FairVote spoke in favor of the change, which he saw as part of a national trend He replied to Gagliardo’s concern that voters new to city elections would not likely be knowledgeable of local candidates and issues. It would introduce those people to their city government, he said. Maybe then more people would turn out for hearings, he said.
He reminded the council of city voters’ strong support for the 2015 ballot referendum.
Joe Edgell supported the change but suggested waiving the 2017 elections “It seems silly to hold an election, and then turn around and have an election again.” That would extend the current council’s term an additional year. Councilmembers he’s spoken to were reluctant to do that, he said. But, he thought residents would be in favor if there were considerable cost savings. He asked for a cost assessment.
Resident Merlin Kittering said he supported “anything that can be done” to increase voter participation.
Sidewalk cycling sidelined
The city council is not likely to de-criminalize sidewalk cycling. Their March 1 work session continued their discussion begun by a Safe Roadways Committee request to dump the city law that outlaws it.
Everyone sees the SRC’s point. There is no easy way to put a bike lane on Ethan Allen Avenue, a narrow section of heavily-used State Route 410, East West Highway. All agree that bicyclists who ride on that section of roadway risk their lives. Many, including councilmember Tim Male, decide it is safer to break the city law and ride on the sidewalk.
However, the council is not willing to strike the sidewalk-riding ban throughout the city. Proponents of lifting the ban cite surrounding jurisdictions where sidewalk bike riding is not outlawed: Washington DC and Montgomery County.
Councilmembers discussed making exceptions to the law, allowing children, child-sized bikes and adult beginners on sidewalks.
Mayor Kate Stewart cited a Canadian study that says riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is actually more dangerous than riding on the road. She said the League of American Bicyclists opposes sidewalk-riding.
Councilmember Qureshi said there is “no indication this is a problem we need to address.” Enforcement of the law is at the discretion of the police, and there is no record of citations. So, it seems councilmember Male can continue to violate the law as the police discretely turn their gaze.
Likely, the council will exempt sidewalks adjacent to bike-share stations, of which there are at least four in the city.
Definitely, the council will remove arcane language from the city code, “No person shall ride or propel any handcart, wheelbarrow, sleigh or sled, carriage or other vehicle either in the manner commonly known as “coasting,” or otherwise.”
Last year Your Gilbert favored lifting the ban, imagining a law that requires bicyclists to stop or walk their bikes when they encounter pedestrians. That was until last summer when in two separate incidents we were nearly run down by a couple of spandex clad cyclists zooming down the Carroll Avenue sidewalk just west of Columbia Avenue. They radiated arrogance and annoyance at the presence of mere pedestrians in their path.
This sort of two-wheeled entitlement is a common experience on the region’s hiker/biker trails – as a couple of councilmembers complained. It was a shock to encounter it on a much narrower sidewalk in the middle of town. We realized then that a “stop or walk” rule would be ignored by this species of jerk.
City manager Suzanne Ludlow reported at the March 1 meeting that the Dog Park is “moving right along.” A March 27th opening is scheduled, she said.
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