Suspension of Disbelief

Your Gilbert was as nonplussed as Colleen Clay, who said “I’m not sure how this ended up on the agenda,” when the discussion on “How to approach Environmental issues in implementation of the Strategic Plan” came up at the July 7 city council meeting. But councilmember Clay was not blinking in disbelief, as Your Gilbert was, as the council skipped down the following path of logic:

1), Despite the fact that some seats on the city’s Committee on the Environment have gone unfilled, the committee has presented a lot of good ideas to the city council.
2). The city council has failed to implement many of the committee’s good ideas.
3). Therefore the Committee on the Environment should be suspended.

In Your Gilbert’s World of Reason, those first two facts lead to a different conclusion. Those of you Dear Readers who reside in the same or similar world may also conclude that the impediment to the sort of environmental leadership the council aspires to is the council itself.

If anything is to be suspended, perhaps it should be the council, and the committee put in charge.

The convoluted reasoning, the odd backslapping with knife in hand, and the fact that no committee members were present to comment (it was not clear if they were not invited or just didn’t bother to show), makes your Gilbert wonder if there is Something Else going on, and the council is trying to sidestep it.

Your Gilbert can only speculate that there may be a personality problem somewhere. Maybe that’s why the committee can’t get new members. Or maybe the “great ideas” the committee presented to the council were not actually so great, or were too radical. Perhaps the committee has simply lost steam (solar powered, of course) and the council has to push it to the side of the road to get down the path.

We can only scratch our heads and wonder. Meanwhile, the city clerk is charged with coming up with a resolution before the August break that will call for the formation of a task force on environmental sustainability (Ooo, the magic “S” word!).

The task force will be, er . . . tasked with coming up with a broad overview of the city’s environmental sustainability policy, or something like that. The city clerk will write a draft based on the ideas the council tossed around, present it to the council in a couple of weeks, and let them hash out the details then.

The council hastened to add that current members of the Committee on the Environment would be welcome to participate in the task force. Also, the Committee will only be suspended temporarily, and maybe reborn, or absorbed into a new committee, or something of the sort, depending on what the task force recommends.

The Perfect Storm Water

All of the councilmembers decried the city’s loss of place as an environmental leader since the heady days of greener yore when it devised one of the first and most comprehensive curbside recycling programs in the country. The mayor assured them that in some ways the city is on the leading edge, but in ways that are less flashy. Storm water management fees, for instance.

Yeah, storm water management is a yawner. But, the mayor says that at the Maryland Municipal League conference they all just attended, the buzz among municipal-types was that funding storm water management via fees instead of taxes is the New Cool Thing, and His Honor was able to be the coolest breeze in the room by saying, Oh, we’ve done that for YEARS, dewd!

Measure Twice, Cut Once

The council clamped onto an idea first voiced by councilmember Seamens that the Indicators Project be enlisted in measuring the city’s environmental sustainability. The Indicators Project is largely funded by the city, and last week, you may recall, the council came close to not funding it next year, grousing that the indicators being measured are not very useful for judging the effectiveness of city programs.

This, it seemed to the council, was the Indicators Project’s chance to prove itself useful.

Your Gilbert is left wondering, however, just how well the Project can turn on a dime and start measuring a completely different set of indicators. The effectiveness of studying indicators depends on repeated measurements over a length of time. Should they discard the data already collected? If they continue to follow the current measurements, won’t the additional ones mean more work? If so, will the council pay more for it?

Does this mean the Indicators Project will become a permanent or long-lasting adjunct to city staff, right after the council made the point that the usual funding track for non-governmental projects is to gradually decrease funding precisely because they don’t want them to become an adjunct part of city staff?

Can We Order From the Kiddie Menu?

The council was given a presentation of proposed plans for the renovated public works facility. The building would be LEED certified, meaning that it meets certain environmentally friendly criteria, and the plans include regarding the facility’s steep “back” entrance to make it into a main entrance. Currently the main entrance is via a small neighborhood street.

The cost of the draft plan is 3.5 million dollars, almost twice the 2 million provided in the budget. The council requested that the design firm return with a “menu of cost options” as Councilmember Dan Robinson put it. Mayor Bruce Williams suggested to Public Works director Daryl Braithwaite that she look into grants for additional funding as well.

Clean Plate Club

The council approved the city police use of a license plate scanner after a small revision to the resolution wording by Terry Seamens. The change reinforced the provision that the city council is in charge of any future changes in license scanner policy. The policy, passed earlier, protects the civil rights of those scanned.

The Victorian Era

Donna Victoria was sworn in (actually, she was “affirmed,” as the oath is worded) as Ward 6 representative for the remainder of the council term. She quickly proved herself to be capable, making cogent and useful remarks and questions during her first meeting

The Things One Learns At City Council Meetings

Erwin Mack, executive director of the Crossroads Development Authority, digressively remarked to the council that he heard at a pedestrian safety committee meeting that the county has re-termed all speed “humps” speed “bumps”, because young persons swipe signs that say “speed hump” to hang in their rooms – over the bed, presumably.

Your Gilbert’s Crystal Ball

The future is cloudy, then partly cloudy with occasional showers! The council’s next meeting will be a closed session to discuss a legal settlement with the Community Center construction firm, and to work on the city manager’s evaluation. The councilmembers will then scoot over to a planning workshop on the Montgomery County version of the Takoma/Langley Sector Plan.

The next regular meeting will be July 20 at which the council will discuss, among other things, the county school boundary redistricting issue, and a proposed ban on gas-powered leaf-blowers.
The July 28th meeting will be the last of the summer. The council takes August off.

– Gilbert
PS. Granolapark continues to be harassed by spammers, so it may take awhile for comments to appear. If you experience any problems, please email Your Gilbert driectly..

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 "Suspension of Disbelief"

  1. Seth Grimes | July 11, 2009 at 7:33 pm |

    As an added twist, the Committee on the Environment is likely to be found in the next month or two to have violated the Maryland Open Meetings Act. I had nothing to do with the complaint. This is the same act that the council itself was found a few years ago to have violated by not publishing timely minutes or, as I recall, proper meeting notices. I filed the complaint in that case. The violation was of course the then-mayor’s and council’s, abetted by the inability of the then-city clerk to do her job properly after former city manager Rick Finn, known better for his manipulations than for his management competence, named the then-clerk to jointly hold the city treasurer post. But I digress.
    I see the environment committee’s being understrength as due to lack of effort to recruit members on the part of the council. I would also wonder if an effort to suspend the committee in favor of a task force as an attempt by the mayor to push the committee chair aside.
    I would oppose appointing a task force at this point. The city council has had plenty of plans, including the 2000 greenhouse-gas reduction plan, and very little has been implemented. The council should first come up with a definitive implementation plan, a commitment to consider any future group’s recommendations and enact anything that doesn’t not make sense.
    A start would be to implement the ban on gasoline-powered leaf blowers. If 30+ city environmentalists support it, and NO (ZERO) city environmentalist opposes it, well it seems to me a ban would be a good environmentalist next step, no task force needed.

  2. Steve Davies | July 12, 2009 at 4:04 pm |

    I’m with Seth on the task force question but I get the feeling that the mayor and council really want to do this.
    Appointment of a task force with a short timeline to come up with recommendations could well be a recipe for gridlock. But the council is trying to find a way out of the dilemma it finds itself in: The strategic plan talks in general terms about improving the environment and creating a “livable, sustainable” community, but everyone has different ideas about what that means. As Councilmember Victoria astutely observed at the July 6 meeting, some of the goals in the strategic plan contradict one another. We want more bike paths and trails, but depending on their location, that could mean disaster for our creeks.
    So, the obvious inside-the-Beltway answer is: appoint a task force! Nothing wrong with that in principle, but as Seth noted, we had a Greenhouse Gas Action Plan prepared in 2000, and I don’t think any of the goals specific to that plan have been tackled, much less implemented.
    And to clarify, I filed the complaint with the Open Meetings Compliance Board, which has returned an opinion finding the Environment Committee in violation of the Open Meetings Act. The city admitted as much in its response to the board. The committee has since agreed to prepare minutes of its meetings, something it had not done for two years until I filed the complaint.
    My concern was that in the strategic plan, the council sought to give the environment committee responsibility for tackling environmental issues, yet the committee has not been at minimum (statutorily required) strength for years, and had not communicated its activities for two years. It’s supposed to have at least seven members but hasn’t been at that level for a long time. Thus, its legitimacy is open to question.

  3. Those Committee on the Environment minutes now are online/ We needed to update our version of Adobe Reader to view the pdfs.
    – Gilbert

  4. The facility should be constructed at a much later date. When the city is a bit more flush. The city will be facing sharply reduced revenues based on falling assessments. Will we raise taxes, or add to our indebtedness? Bet on both.
    If they build a bigger facility they will add staff and salaries to fill it. It is difficult to believe that they will bring it in on budget. If they tell us 3.5 m, based on the Abbott fiasco, it will cost 10.5 m.
    Let’s not confuse our wants with our needs.
    Patch it up till tomorrow. Many of us are doing that.

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