No Towel Thrown

Dear Readers,

Some very irate citizens want the city council to get a grip. On the city staff. By the scruff of the neck. Some council members are eager to do so.

The reason for this griping and gripping is The Survey, the one that asks “What should the city council do” about the proposed development on the green common and parking lot surrounding Takoma Metro station. Perhaps you saw it, Dear Reader, as it slithered out of your city newsletter. Or perhaps you browsed over to the city website and filled out the online version there. Maybe you filled it out twice, a dozen, or hundreds of times! And then you downloaded the pdf to your printer and printed out thousands of copies which you surreptitiously delivered one at a time, wearing a series of disguises, to the municipal building!

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Sorry, Dear Readers, they are on to your little game! But, suggestion-box-stuffing and fraud are not the chief concerns here. It seems a city consultant (not a staff person, as it turns out), hired to facilitate the special March 19th public meeting about the Metro development, interviewed 10 city council and staff members familiar with the issue, crafted this survey based on the interviews, and – without giving the poo-bahs a chance to back-peddle, er . . . clarify and correct the survey questions, took it straight to the printers, ran off 13,000 copies and tucked them into the city newsletter.

This was considered to be worse than a well-intentioned “oops” by the peetybeeties (PTBTs – Pitchfork and Torch-Bearing Townsfolk) who showed up at the March 10th city council meeting. It wasn’t just townsfolk, either. Two Washington, DC Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners showed up to say “WTF!” Commissioner Sarah Green said the survey questions and info gave her the impression Takoma Park was ready to “throw in the towel.”

Councilmember Josh Wright, whose Ward 1 borders the Metro station was clearly irate about the survey. Neither he nor any of the other councilmembers had seen or reviewed it he said – as they murmered and nodded in assent. He further said he was not told there would be a survey. He found the survey questions confusing and poorly constructed. Some of them, he said, were off-topic and asked for answers the council does not need. He urged citizens not to fill out the survey, but to come to the March 19th special meeting on the Metro development.

Wright is one of the two New Guys on the council who took office in January. Clearly the training wheels are off. Also, Your Astute Observer noted that none of the other councilmembers mentioned the survey issue in the Council Comment session – probably a result of new mayor Bruce William’s encouragements to eliminate redundant, time-wasting comments.

Following the council and citizen comment periods the Mayor Williams turned to city manager Barbara Matthews for her weekly comments, encouraging a response to the survey complaints. Her response was terse and brief. And, somewhat difficult to parse.

“. . . at last week’s meeting councilmember Wright had asked for some additional information about the March 19th public session on the Metro issue that was sent to the council via email. I won’t reiterate that.

“I would just comment as was indicated in the email from [the facilitator] to the council, the survey questions he developed would certainly show the concerns that have been expressed here tonight with [the facilitator].

“But he did conduct a series of confidential interviews with the city council members, each of them individually: myself, the city attorney Sue Silber, [and] deputy manager Susanne Ludlow. He had actually recommended this survey and crafted the questions based on those interviews with the ten of us. . . . But I will make sure he hears the comments here this evening that the council has expressed . . . as well as members of the public.”

There are two ways to read this, either, “Oh, yes he DID tell you about the survey if you’d just READ YOUR DAMN E-MAIL.” or “Yeah, he screwed up, but he was going on information YOU provided him.”

Either way, the flawed survey insures that even more peetybeeties will show up next Wednesday night. If there’s anything Takoma Parkians LOVE it is to wave those pitchforks at their elected representatives!


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.