List-O-Mania

Dear Readers,

The trash collector is spying on you!

This was revealed at the Feb. 1 city council meeting. Marc Elrich, frugal as always, suggested that a cost-efficient way to find housing code violations would be ask the city police and refuse collectors to keep an eye out as they went about their regular tasks. City Manager Barbara Matthews answered, “That is already occurring,” saying they are currently expected to keep an eye out for things.

So, if the recycling truck guys take an inordinate interest in that junker you’ve got sitting in your front yard, you may be in for a visit from city code enforcement, Readers!

Speaking of the city manager, allow Gilbert to speculate, based merely on what he’s seen in this year’s council meetings. Ms Matthews is faultlessly polite, considerate, professional, and diplomatic. Though she is top staff member she nevertheless works for the exalted elected ones she shares the council podium with. The mayor and council give her orders, and she enacts those orders herself or via the staff.

There is, understandably, a certain formality between the city administrator and the council. Ms Matthew has not, at least not while I’ve been observing, said “God, what a STUPID idea!” to a council member. In other words, it is not easy to tell what she thinks of the directives she is handed during council session.

So, I’m going out on a purely speculative, possibly imaginary limb when I say that I suspect that our city manager goes home and pours herself a stiff one every Monday night after council meeting. If she’s not a drinking woman, she may choose to stand in the middle of her living room and scream “THOSE IDIOTS!”. Instead, she may wait until Tuesday morning, walk into the city office and yell to the commiserating staff, “Guess what they want us to do NOW?”

Here’s the evidence I have to support this theory. Every council meeting the mayor or some other council member directs the city administrator to do this and that – get some names for a citizens committee, look into such and such, find certain facts, and so forth – and it seems that often the response is to diplomatically remind the elected officials that “staff resources” are limited.

For example, a number of council members, notably Terry Seamens, frequently state that they would prefer the city to be proactive rather than reactive to development issues. They would like the city to be prepared with a plan for potential development sites – over and above the Master Plan. Each time this comes up, however Ms Matthews reminds the council that there are only 2.5 development staff members and they are already over loaded.

I can’t help thinking that the staff, fed up with this sort of thing, decided to drive the point home with a sledge hammer, actually a thick pad’s-worth of newsprint pages, writ heavy with lists. Someone will probably point out that the planning session had long been scheduled and rubbing the councils’ faces in the facts was never a motive. Sorry, but my theory makes a better story.

At the council’s Feb. 1 meeting the city manager presented the staff’s two-year Priorities and Management Plan.
She took the list of all the issues that the council has been discussing in session and in e-mails, picked out the ones that were areas of consensus, and with these she made a list of new directions or change-of-directions, and what it would take over the next two years to enact them. These lists did not include ongoing priority items.

Ms Matthews said her intent was to show the council “how your staff will be spending their time over the next 2 years.” She stressed that each priority represented staff resources and sometimes an additional budgetary commitment (for more staff), and that additional priorities can’t be taken up without revising the list because the existing staff can only do so much.

In other words, “Don’t bring home any more pet projects, we can’t afford to feed them”

Matthews and the staff put up lists of priorities under such headings as “Affordable Housing,” “Community Center,” “Development,”

“Development of the New Hampshire Corridor,” “Tax Duplication,” and “Other Priorities.”

The lists on newsprint sheets, which were taped to the wall, showed the progression of each priority under that heading in 6- month increments over the next 2 years.

Just a few of the priorities tracked in this manner included, under Affordable Housing, tracking condominium conversion and crafting legislation limiting such conversions.

The Community Center list included a cost estimate for a gym and related needs, finding a funding source for building and staffing the gym.
Development included: educating the public about the Master Plan, identifying and prioritizing development projects, continuing to press for moderate development of the Metro site, and forming committees to monitor the Washington Adventist Hospital site.

Included in the Development of the New Hampshire Corridor list were: conducting public workshops, lobbying for funds and improvements, and initiate development of a local business association.

Under Tax Duplication were listed: monitoring the county budget process, discussing the issue with candidates for county executive, and continue discussing the possible transfer of CID and police communications with the county.

The list of Other Priorities, some of them added by council members included: environment, public safety, codify standards re non english language city publications, pedestrian safety, traffic flow in Takoma Junction, sidewalks around schools, parking at the community center and Old Town, a skate park, safety near Metro, and youth development – assessing recreational needs and giving support to youth civic groups.
Indicating the wall of lists, Ms. Matthews said her intent was to visually show the sheer volume of work associated with some of these initiatives. This, she cautioned, may limit other areas, especially other ideas that might come up “around the table” at council meetings.

The Mayor, observed that everything on the lists is worthy, but lamented, “how much of it can we afford to do?” She thanked Ms. Matthews, saying that the long session had been edifying and useful. Council Member Elrich added, “even if the ending is tragic.”

— Gilbert.

About the Author

Gilbert
Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

2 Comments on "List-O-Mania"

  1. Congradulations Eric on getting this blog up.
    Please check out my protest site about the botched planning for South Capitol Street in D.C.

  2. Thanks, Doug. I need to work on our links section and link to local blogs of interest. BTW, I just provided space here. Gilbert is doing all the work. We’re grateful for his contribution.
    Eric Bond
    Takoma Voice

Comments are closed.