Not Dis Time

“Perhaps it is time for a disincorporation slate to be formed for the coming election. The city’s’ primary reasons for founding, to provide protective services not provided for by the county, no longer exist. . . . . Silver Spring, Kensington, and Bethesda are doing quite well without municipal government. A time to every season, and Takoma Park’s season has passed.”
— Lawrence

No, it’s not. Yes, they do. No, they don’t. And, No, it hasn’t, Lawrence.
Lawrence, you are so sadly misguided! A dis-incorporation movement would be about as popular in Takoma Park as a gun club (and, there would probably be a lot of overlapping membership).

For proof of this, observe the angry pile of folk who steamed up to the mic at the Citizen’s Comment session of the May 25 Takoma Park city council meeting. They were young parents, relative newcomers to the city, and they were there to bellow “HELLLLP!” at their nearest and dearest elected officials.

The county school system is changing school district boundaries, as it does from time to time, and these parents were afraid their kids would end up in a school outside the city. This upsets them because: 1) they want their children to be in school with their friends, 2) they feel that the city boundaries should be respected by the school system, and 3) they deliberately bought houses in Takoma Park, despite the higher taxes and home costs, so their kids could attend the schools here. One mother said that she was mad because if her neighborhood is switched to a non-city school, it would lower her property values.

Now, how do you suppose such people would react if you suggested dis-incorporating, Lawrence?

There are a LOT of residents who deliberately moved to Takoma Park despite the higher prices and the additional tax burden. They like the community, the city services, the schools, and the rising-or-at-least-solid property values. Whisper “dis-incorporate” to these people and they would jump down your throat faster than a swine-flu bug.

Tell Me Why

Mayor Bruce Williams, no fool in the face of irate uber-parents, told them that on their behalf the council would ask the county to follow its own criteria – which call for maintaining communities when making boundary changes. He did gently point out that the “tendency” of the city council was not to get involved in school boundary issues. He also dropped the hint that the county school system has a process that is “fairly constricted” to public input. But, he said, the council would talk to people in the county system and represent their concerns.

And that’s ANOTHER reason dis-incorporation will never happen.

Dear Readers, tell me why these people were seeking redress for a COUNTY problem from CITY elected officials when city officials have NO authority over the county schools?

We’ll tell you why! Its because the city council is accessible and responsive. Relative to the county or state, anyway The huge, top-down, bureaucratic school system and the aloof school board don’t give a rat’s tail about 25 families in Takoma Park. Same for our elected county councilmembers. 25 votes are nothing to them.

25 votes in Takoma Park could carry an election. So, even though the city council has no authority, they will DO something for these constituents, even if it is only to talk to the authorities on their behalf.

This is the value of local government. It is not a value you can measure by tax dollars, Dear Readers. This is why people want to move here. This is why property values are so high here.
Unincorporated areas such as Silver Spring and Kensington get similar services for fewer taxes, but they don’t have an accessible and responsive local government as we do. How much is that worth? Apparently, it is worth a lot. Despite our higher tax rate, people want to move here and the high property values demonstrate the desirability of Takoma Park.

Thanks, Sammie!

And while we’re tossing down rhetorical questions, Dear Readers; how do you suppose Takoma Park got this way?

Sammie Abbott, that’s how!

Or it was Sammie’s friends and allies, or, most likely, all of ’em together. The record shows a citizen initiated ballot referendum establishing our current ward system was passed in 1980, the same year Sammie was first elected mayor. The actual change came in 1982, the next election.

Prior to that, the city councilmembers were elected at-large. The 1980-1982 council was hostile to Abbott and his ideas. In 1982, the first ward elections were held and a slate of Abbott supporters swept into office. Without having to spend much money or depend on citywide influence the new candidates won the votes by going door to door through their own neighborhoods.

The small size of the wards made the representatives highly sensitive to consistent needs (and votes).

If only we had this kind of responsive representation on the county council and the school board with their huge districts that require huge campaign chests and political influence to run a campaign in.

Turn the telescope around, you dis-incorporationists, you are looking at it though the wrong end! The solution to double-taxation and high taxes is not to dis-incorporate the city. It is to dis-incorporate the COUNTY! Incorporate Silver Spring, Kensington, and Bethesda and let them experience real democracy!


The final vote was taken on the budget. As expected there were 2 votes against it. “Nay” voters Terry Seamens and Josh Wright said the budget could have been squeezed a bit more.
Fare Thee Well, Sir Barry

Councilmember Doug Barry attended his last meeting (as Ward 6 representative, anyway). He is moving from Takoma Park and cannot serve out his term. A replacement will be appointed by the council However, so far there have been no applications for the temporary post. Perhaps this is because of the condition that whoever fills the last few months of Barry’s term may not run for the office this fall.

Your Gilbert bids a fond farewell to councilmember Barry, whom we once described as “a blast of oxygen” and a knight “riding in on a white horse” for his businesslike, efficient, and effective style. It stood in stark contrast to that of his council colleagues at the time, and perhaps now.

– 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.

15 Comments on "Not Dis Time"

  1. Tom Gagliardo | June 1, 2009 at 11:32 am |

    Bruce, you wuss. When Sam Abbott was around we fought boundary changes and efforts to close local schools. It included talking to officials, but a whole lot more. Community activists like Faith Stern, Carolyn Bassing and Dorothy Maloski didn’t settle for just talk.

  2. The county school system has a process that is “fairly constricted” to public input. But, he said, the council would talk to people in the county system and represent their concerns.
    And that’s ANOTHER reason dis-incorporation will never happen.
    I’m not sure what “constricted to” means in this context but I read it to mean “immune to”?
    So in other words, public input to the school system is useless, so the City is going to offer public input. And that’s why it’s so important to have an incorporated city.
    I’m having trouble with the logic.

  3. Anonymous | June 1, 2009 at 12:17 pm |

    Yeah man, Gilbert you are waaaaaaaaay out there.

  4. Anonymous | June 1, 2009 at 1:09 pm |

    Your trouble with the logic arises from your desperate struggle to escape it.
    To spell it out: The council, unlike the school system, school board, and our county councilmembers, are responsive to constistuents. They have no authority over the county, but being elected officials, they DO have some influence in the county. The school system is “fairly constricted,” meaning difficult, not immune, to change by individual members of the public. The council are not individual members of the public, they carry a bit more weight.
    Therefore, constituents go to the council knowing their local representatives will use what influence they have. Therefore, they get their tax-dollars worth. Therefore, it is important to have an incorporated city.
    – Gilbert

  5. Reading the column, I had the feeling that I was becoming the victim of an aneurysm as I could not follow the logic that could be summarized as “the great thing about paying all these taxes is that the Council is quite ready to listen to you and mouth off on issues on which it has no power!” What?
    But I forget, there are all these “city services” although as usual we are left in the dark as how they are better than in other areas of MontCo.
    I am relieved to see that I was not the only one who had trouble with your bizarre argumentation.
    As for all these people who moved to TP so that their kids could go to school within TP, if the School Board (that “big inflexible bureaucracy”) does not restore the boundaries so that TP kids go to TP school, I can guarantee that a number of them would be quite disenchanted with the TP taxes and may start leaning in favor of disincorporation!
    And by the way, Gilbert, guess what? similar houses have a higher value outside TP than inside! Obviously, the level of services in TP does not make TP houses more attractive but the level of taxes makes them less attractive (except for those people who intend to send their kids to TP schools, but that has nothing to do with TP itself and all to do with the School Board!)
    All in all, not one of your best column!

  6. OK, prove us wrong – start your dis-incorporation movement and get a referendum on the ballot.
    – Gilbert

  7. “Prove us wrong”? using the royal we, aren’t you? Or is Gilbert a committee?
    Your confusion between TP as a community and TP as an administrative entity obviously makes you very touchy to talks about disincorporation. But I can tell you that around town there is a lot more talk regarding the cost of living here compared to adjacent areas than there was just a few years ago! The bloom is fading off the rose and when a few more people realize (as the parents mentioned above, for example) that what the amount that they pay to the City does not match what they receive from the City (especially if they have just moved from a non-incorporated area in MontCo), then the issue of the usefulness of being incorporated will come up…
    But rest easy, resident of Brigadoon, you can keep on slumbering for a while! Time has not yet come but that does not mean it is not moving forward.

  8. “Therefore, constituents go to the council knowing their local representatives will use what influence they have. Therefore, they get their tax-dollars worth. Therefore, it is important to have an incorporated city.”
    Please tell me you didn’t write that with a straight face.

  9. Yes, Alain, there is a Brigadoon in Montgomery County! I grew up there –specifically Brigadoon Drive in a community called Bannockburn, more organized, activist and co-op and certainly less flakey than TP. It was/is also more coherently progressive. But, yes, Alain, there is a Brigadoon and it is in fact in BETHESDA.
    To get to the point (as the comments section descends to the level of the Voice listserve), I do expect responsive government from the city as Gilbert outlines. City employees should consider that this is the raison d’etre for the government when they deal with the residents.

  10. Steve Davies | June 3, 2009 at 10:45 pm |

    It’s funny, Gilbert. You can be all snarky and cynical and critical of the council — your writing on the strategic plan comes to mind — but if anyone even talks about jettisoning the holy city of “Takoma Park,” you get all defensive and do what so many around here do so very well — fly back to the days of yore to visit w/ Sammie Abbott! Trouble is, Sammie’s no longer around. And no one now on the council could possibly be compared favorably to him. I mean, the guy was a firebrand.
    Leaving aside the big question — should TP even exist, given the taxes we pay IN ADDITION to the county taxes — let me just say I have heard this disincorporation talk recently and I don’t think it’s isolated or should be dismissed so cavalierly.
    I also don’t think you have a clue what people’s mindsets are when they buy homes here. My old neighbors bought a new place in TP a few years back, and I recall the husband of the pair lamenting (and being surprised by) his new tax levy. He’s a lawyer but was not aware that by buying a house for three times the assessed value of his old house, that would mean his taxes would increase three-fold.
    Ignorance of municipal boundaries and of who is responsible for various services — roads, street lights, schools, etc. — is rampant. So I doubt most people look really carefully at their tax burden before they move here. But I, like you, am speculating.

  11. Steve Davies | June 7, 2009 at 8:04 pm |

    Kensington IS incorporated, by the way. Go here for the Town of Kensington web site.
    So, both Lawrence (whom Gilbert disses) and Gilbert, who says, “Unincorporated areas such as Silver Spring and Kensington get similar services for fewer taxes, but they don’t have an accessible and responsive local government as we do,” are WRONG. Kensington has a mayor, a town council, and a budget. Can’t get much more incorporated than that.
    As I said, ignorance of municipal boundaries is rampant. Thus, before we all start lobbing potshots at one another, perhaps we should step back and ask ourselves, “Is what I’m saying correct? Do I have all the facts?”
    Just a thought.

  12. Anonymous | June 7, 2009 at 9:04 pm |

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention. The entire Editing Department has been fired. They made such a pitiful noise, blubbering, “But, Gilbert was quoting Lawrence, it’s Lawrence’s mistake, not ours!”
    We didn’t even let them clean out their desks. As a result we ended up with some spiffy picture frames, and several half-full bottles of gin, vodka, and whiskey.
    Much appreciated,
    – Gilbert

  13. I apologize to the citizens of Kensington for having overlooked their fine government.It could be model for the future Takoma Park.
    Kensington largely has Public Works and Parks.
    Its what Takoma Park could be.
    The housing policies of the Abbotistas have caused the loss of hundreds of low cost apartments, and an economic cleansing of the city. It was a far more diverse city before rent control. Rent control, and its ignoring of economic reality, has depressed the tax base of the city.
    No Realtor would ever advise you to buy investment housing in Takoma Park.
    Let Montgomery County handle housing. They already do the inspections.
    The freed up space could house public works, and we need not pay for a new boondoggled building.


  15. Oh, and power to the people!
    How’s the referendum for this November’s ballot coming along?
    – Gilbert

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