City COUP Preparations

The Chief is ON IT! So is the city manager. The council is now on it, and you can be on it too, Dear Reader!

Chief Ronald Ricuicci told the council that the city is following the swine flu threat and has a plan in case of “an event.” They have a Continuity of Operations Plan (COUP) for the city which the chief and city manager have reviewed.

So, does anyone else think naming the city’s crisis plan a COUP unfortunate?

Anyway, the chief assured everyone at the start of the April 27th city council meeting that they are monitoring the situation, will keep the council informed, post information on the city web site, and update that information as events progress. In addition, for their own safety, the council will be placed in protective custody and the police chief will be running things until further notice.

Oh, wait, there’s a knock on the door. Be right back.

. . . . That was the chief. He says “It’s COOP, you moron, Not COUP!” Thanks, Chief!

Regardless of the name, you might want to review this previous granolapark posting on the city’s plans for disaster, Dear Readers. It may inspire you to get prepared now in a prudent, unpanicked, orderly way.

As we so elegantly wrote last fall: “the emergency preparedness folks are trying to get the message to YOU that in an emergency situation, whether it be a power outage, a tornado strike, a pandemic, or a terrorist attack, you will be pretty much on your own at first. The more people who know this and are prepared for it, the better off we will be. You need to stock up on food and supplies to get you through a few days.”

Words to the wise.

Accident or Assassination Attempt?

It was an accident. Councilmember Reuben Snipper, in what may have been an historical first, attended the April 27th meeting via telecommunication. Snipper was injured when a car hit his bicycle.

So far, no charges of an assassination attempt have been made. Nor will they be. But, we got you to keep reading, didn’t we?

Plan B

One of our stalwart Dear Readers and frequent comment-makers is Alain. Every time Your Gilbert pokes the council with some gentle humor, Alain tries to turn it into a poison dart. For instance, his comment on our last posting:

Thank you for this very accurate description of the pattern of the budgetary discussions, pattern that is not new and has been going on for years.
Many years ago, TP Council members have abdicated their role of being careful overseers of the use of city resources in budgetary matters and have reduced themselves to that of a rubber-stamping mechanism for staff suggestions.
In the annual key decision that the Council has to make, their role is nothing more than that of a bunch of seat-warmers.
Any possibility of change next November? One can only hope… and probably be disappointed!

But, even Alain’s flinty heart would have gone all cuddly-soft if he’d seen the council grilling department heads last night. With BBQ sauce!

Constituent grumbling is becoming a roar, judging by comments councilmembers made during last night’s department budget reviews. A number of councilmembers remarked that they are hearing from residents upset about the prospect of rising tax rates and budgets.

One such citizen showed up to wave the city newsletter in the councils faces. During the citizen comment period she lambasted them, saying that if they wanted to look for a place to make cuts, they should start there. The newsletter had a color photograph on the front page (color is more expensive than b&w printing).

With her own income reduced and her next door neighbor unemployed, she implored the council to “cut . . . just a little bit” instead of considering tax rate increases or even staying at a flat rate.
She also ripped into the police, claiming she’d seen police officers sleeping on duty, and questioning whether the city needs a full-service police force.

This earned her a reprimand from councilmember Terry Seamens, who said he has been a great critic of the police, but stands by the new chief. Great improvements have been made, said Seamens, including improving the force’s work ethic.

Seamens did make clear that he heard her concerns about the budget and taxation, however, and he seemed greatly sympathetic on that score.

Councilmember Dan Robinson repeatedly asked the department heads (Recreation and Police) what their “Plan B” was, in case they were asked to cut their budgets. The department heads were careful not to admit they had a Plan B, because everyone on the dais, the room, the department, the building, and the entire universe knew, the second they ADMITTED they had a Plan B, Plan B would become Plan A. There were indications, however, that they did have such plans if push comes to shove.

Councilmember Colleen Clay gave the Recreation Department staff a particularly hard time. Clay has taken that department to task previous times, as well. She stated bluntly that the staff seemed top-heavy. The department has three directors whose roles, Clay said, were not clear to her.

The staff replied that they have reduced their department by one position, which they are not refilling as a cost-saving measure, but Clay pointed out that was a lower position.

Clay, momentarily forgetting her long-ago New Year’s resolution not to micromanage, took the opportunity to suggest a program she thought the rec. department should offer, and to light into them for issues such as too much noise in the community center’s Azalea Room, and young employees talking on cell phones and listening to their MP3 players during work hours.

The staff, when pressed by councilmember Robinson to come up with a Plan B,” had the usual response – the only cutting that would have any impact is to eliminate staff positions, which would result in reduced resources, hours, and income from facility and program fees.

They were planing fee increases, they said, and looking to increase participation in programs. This would help offset costs.

When someone hinted that one cost-saving move would be to close the city’s recreation center in Ward 6, councilmember Doug Barry leapt to its defense, saying it serves “kids with rough lives, helping gang prevention.

More on last night’s session to come.

– Gilbert.

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.

6 Comments on "City COUP Preparations"

  1. Gilbert, Thank you for reminding me of my promise not to micro manage. Sometimes I can’t help myself. It’s a hazard of having run a large rec program. I know the business inside and out. And, I hear a lot about rec from constituents. They are much happier with recreation this year. It’s very important to them. They have been distracted by WSSC ripping our roads apart every other week, but they still talk about rec a lot. Placing an existing senior rec manager at the New Hamshire rec center would certainly improve services to that building and its users, and reduce our high manager to line staff ratio without taking anyone’s job.
    Unless we are talking about ending a whole service in the city, I don’t support eliminating any current staff. We have great staff that serve the city well. As I have said before, in Maryland, because of the way cities are funded, the only reason to be a city is to provide better services than the county. If we bare bones the staff, we’ll provide the same, or worse services than the county, but pay more for it.
    As to the $300 to put color into the newspaper, it was worth it. The color was there for the budget charts, and we need to have people informed about the budget process and the infomation needs to be easy to read. Color helps that.
    The budget picture is hard this year because of the level of uncertainty. Uncertainty in assessments, in labor costs, in cuts from the county and state.
    Tomorrow should be an interesting night as it is reconciliation night for the budget, if the tax rate is going to move, we’ll have a sense of that tomorrow.

  2. Thanks for the color commentary. Ahem.
    You say you don’t want to cut any positions, but you did remark how “top-heavy” the rec. dept. is at least three times on two separate occasions during last Monday’s meeting. Seems like you were driving at something. And, didn’t we glimpse you sharpening your pruning shears at the same time? We might have dreamed that part.
    So, you seem to be saying the city should just shuffle the rec. staff around and change titles? How will that save money?
    Yes, Your Gilbert will be watching tomorrow’s session with raptness. This better be entertaining, we don’t like to have to watch meetings two nights a week. It’s bad for our liver.
    – Gilbert

  3. There are three positions open in the rec dept now that are manager/coordinator positions. One is the NH rec center director, one is the facility manager, and one is the sports co-ordinator. They could freeze those open positions without anyone losing their job, and do a departmental re-org. The city manager is suggesting freezing the sports coordinator job only. My philosophy about rec is that it should have a lot of part time and summer jobs for local youth, kids who come up through the program, and stay for a couple of years while they are in college, not a lot of manangers.
    The rec department has 20.7 FTEs. Managers include a rec director, 2 assistant directors, a program coordinator, a senior coordinator, an aftercare coordinator, a rec center director, a facility coordinator, a teen coordinator, and until this budget a sports coordinator. There is also a full time admin assitant. And that does not include the folks who staff the front desk during the M_F 9-5 shift.
    The rec department is providing quality programming to a varied population with many hard to serve folks. They stepped up and supported the basketball league, the pool to an extent, and the customer service from the front desk kids has been great.
    However our budget is driven by salaries and benefits, not by whether we use a $300 color process in the newsletter. The recreation department has a lot of managers, and three positions are vacant right now, and it is a good time to bring the management ratios in line, without anyone losing their job.

  4. OK, so we don’t want to cut jobs, and salaries are the main cost in every department’s budget. Tinkering with other expenses, such as color graphics in the newsletter, makes little difference.
    SO, why don’t we see vultures circling the proposed budget’s one massive non-salary expense [JAWS theme, dum DUM dum DUM dum DUM] . . . the $700,000 new Public Works Department facility?
    We suspect the reason we don’t has something to do with this expense technically having to be counted as part of the budget even though technically (another sort of technically, perhaps using technology from another dimension) it is not because the funding source is a bond but not James Bond which is too bad because then the construction would all happen with fast edits and a cool sound track and there would be an ejector seat!
    But, as you can see, we get confused, even when the city manager explains it in little words and pictures, so perhaps someone else can explain it for the readers.
    – Gilbert

  5. I believe a council member has put that up for discussion. We could delay it. We can’t not build it. I’m sure you’ll learn why direct from the source tonight or Monday.

  6. Gilbert.
    I do not know to what can this sudden activism from the Council members be attributed, a reaction to you gentle ribbing or whether the poison mix in my dart may have been contaminated with adrenalin?
    Whatever the reason, I don’t think that we should expect much from this break in the slumber of the Council regarding the use of City resources.
    If anything, the attitudes of Terry rising to the defense of the TPPD after one citizen’s comment or of Colleen arguing along the lines that on one side we spend too much but on the other side there is little opportunity for significant saving would tend to suggest that the next budget will pass without having been significantly amended and with either a unanimous vote or, maybe, one abstention or vote against. In other words, our Brigadoon remains safe!

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