Save The Aisle!

Dear Readers,

Judging by the starry-eyed comments they made, the whole Takoma Park council favors turning the city council chambers into a hipster hangout. Of the three proposed plans reviewed at their Sept. 10th meeting, they liked “Plan C” (“C” for “Culture?”) – the priciest one with an estimated cost of $1,508,639 (not including “soft cost costs such as bonds, financing, construction management, tests and inspections, architecture/engineering fees, or cost escalation beyond July 2008”).

The idea is to make use of the chambers, for a rental fee, when it is not in use as a chambers. It would make a nice performance space for community theater or musical acts – except for the fact that it has lousy acoustics, a constantly humming monster HVAC system, no backstage, no stage right or left, no curtain, terrible sight lines, not enough seating, oh and that hideous council desk that is permanently installed smack-dab in the middle of the stage. So, if all that could be changed – why, you can sing, and we can dance, let’s put on a show!

Your Gilbert urges the the council to replace the hideous desk with a Mighty Wurlizter organ that rises up out of the dais along with the mayor and council members wearing black capes with purple satin linings and white Goth makeup. With suitable lighting and smoke effects. Yes, we like that image.

There will be no curtain, by the way. That would involve adding a “fly” above the stage, meaning that they’d have to raise the roof above it, at which mention Mayor Porter reached for her axe. Also, adding a fly and a curtain would define it in county code as a “stage” (whereas now it is defined as a “platform”), triggering a different set of code requirements and expenses.

Your Gilbert is horribly concerned about the renovations to the audience seat rows. The plan to have two aisles instead of one up the middle is ok, but the plan to expand the rows to the walls is not! As councilmember Barry observed, this takes away citizens’ ability to slip in and out of meetings unobtrusively. The side aisle is used by people exiting after their agenda item has come up, or entering just before. It is used by people who need to usher their children away (they just don’t have the patience required for the city council), and it is used by activists, reporters, politicians, and conspirers who slide out to the lobby to buttonhole one another. How many times has Your Gilbert observed the side aisle used in this way? Countless times, Dear Readers, countless! Don’t take away our Aisle!

The council is always saying it wants to do things in an efficient, time-conserving manner, yet they gum up the works with their own shenanigans. We refer to their frequent and repetitive “thank yous” and praise that each individual councilmember feels he or she should lavish on any citizen, committee, staff person, visitor, or passerby that wanders into their line of sight. Once is enough. Let the first councilmember thank and praise the glassy-eyed victim on behalf of all of them and get on with the business at hand. Or each one could say “Standard thank you and praise” adding “Plus 1” or “Plus 2” to whatever degree is warranted up to “Plus 10”. It would save so much time, get all of us to bed earlier, and keep your Gilbert from throwing empty gin bottles at the television.

The council voted themselves a raise. They did not vote for the Compensation Committee’s recommended raise, however. The committee’s proposed raise was higher, doubling their current salaries. They were urged not to vote for it by former city mayor Ed Sharp – looking tanned, rested and ready (and the mayoral race is wide open, hmmm).

Sharp lambasted the committee for not showing how it arrived at its figures, and for not following the standards established by city code for calculating council raises. He urged the council not to take the committee recommendation, saying it would look bad. There were a lot of figures flung around and numbers are not Your Gilbert’s strong point, but we understand that – should the resolution pass on the next reading – the mayor will earn just over $13,000, and the councilmembers just under $10,000. It will increase in steps, we understand, over the next four years.

The series of votes on this matter were a bit confusing. We understand that what happened is this: first the council voted down the higher salary proposal 3-4. Then they voted on the lower salary proposal, but that too was defeated 3-4! Why? Because Councilmember Reuben Snipper wanted an even lower salary rate. In the confusion, councilmember Williams went over to Snipper, pointed out that they were likely to be there all night at this rate, asked him to reconsider, and suggested he call a “motion to reconsider” his vote. The rarely used or known “motion to reconsider” allows a person on the winning side of a vote (as Snipper had been) to change his vote. The Mayor recognised his motion, explained to everyone this arcane point of Roberts Rules, and the vote was changed in favor of the lower salary resolution.

In the wake of criticism the council voted to support keeping the Piney Branch Elementary School pool open. Apparently a group of children addressed the council last week asking for this and the perception was that the council blew them off. This resolution was meant to correct that perception.

Oh, and in the wake of the Minnesota bridge collapse tragedy this summer, Takoma Park has inspected its bridges – all two of them – and found them to be sound except for the Maple Street bridge’s pedstrian pathway. To prevent any accidental pedestrian plunges at the fatal height of nearly 24 inches, the pathway will be closed for repairs.


About the Author

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.

4 Comments on "Save The Aisle!"

  1. Gilbert, thanks for the report. Have you noticed how underutilized the community center is? If you, yourself haven’t been over there recently, that says something. Myself, I’m over there roughly weekly, in mid-day, late afternoon, the evening, and weekend. There’s never any time I can see when the facility is used to capacity.
    Before we spend a significant amount of money on the council chambers/auditorium, we should do a market study to understand likely usage and revenues, and we should have a marketing plan for it and the rest of the CC to make sure they overall facility provides maximum community benefit.

  2. Marketing plan, phooey! Serve alcohol and they’ll have lines around the block!

  3. Tom Gagliardo | September 12, 2007 at 4:11 pm |

    Where’s the gym? How much did the community center cost and how much over budget was it? What are they thinking?

  4. Funny you should mention the gym. The city administrator mentioned as one possible funding source for the renovations state funds ($436,000) earmarked for the gym. This might be “legally” permissible due to the broad wording of the grant, but such a move would require a city council policy decision, since the use is not as represented to the state legislature. The council seemed cool to this idea.
    Other state funds specifically set aside for this project amount (for fiscal year 2008) to $206,000.

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