The council passed the budget amendment allowing the city manager to tap speed camera revenues to make up a good portion of the shortfall. That shortfall came about as a result of the state’s belt-tightening measures.
The council delayed the vote until Oct. 12 so that they and interested citizens could review the amendment. There were a LOT of interested citizens. Councilmember Terry Seamens somberly announced that the amendment “brought to me more constituent feedback than anything recently.”
Guessing from the nodding heads and serious expressions on the council dais it appears that was the case for rest of the council.
The feedback, Seamens said, was an outcry for tax relief from constituents “feeling the crunch.” He said that people are willing to pay higher taxes when times are good, but in hard times they are “looking to us to help them” by getting expenditures under control and lowering taxes. Though it motivated people to call about taxes, the amendment does not directly deal with them. It makes no changes to the tax rate or to city spending.
There is still a budget shortfall of $135,700, however, that the city manager and the council need to find the money for or cut spending to eliminate.
Candidates for office took the opportunity to be seen and heard from on this issue. Roger Schlegel, running for mayor, asked whether the redirection of speed-camera money would affect new sidewalk construction. The answer was “no.”
Navid Nasr, running for Ward 6 council seat quizzed the council – and the chief who stepped in with an answer – about the reason they had stated for the lower-than-expected speed camera revenues. Was it entirely due to the state raising the MPH limit for speed cameras, he asked? The chief explained that it was not entirely due to that. It was also due to the fact that many speeders are not paying their fines.
Nasr asked if there had been an estimate of what a successful rate of payment would be before the speed cameras were installed. The chief said there had not been – that payment rates vary. Estimates were based on the first month of camera operation.
Another committee on the chopping block? The police chief proposed axing the Public Safety Citizens Advisory Committee (PSCAC) in favor of a Police Chief’s Advisory Council.
PSCAC seems to be yet another foundering city committee, judging from remarks by current and past committee members at the Oct. 12 city council meeting. Poorly attended meetings, members who get sidelined for work or personal reasons, and lack of direction and engagement from the city council were some of the resaons cited for the committee’s stagnation.
This echoes some of the discussion about other city committees this year, particularly the Committee on the Environment, which was recently suspended so the newly formed Task Force on Environmental Action could take on the committee’s mission to help craft environmental policy.
The The Noise Control Board committee complained last March about a lack of council direction, too.
Councilmember Colleen Clay decried this tendency, saying it was not fair to committee appointees if the council does not engage the committees. Without council direction, she said, committees stray off point. Recent PSCAC reports have not been relevant to her council work, she said, saying the committee does not fall into alignment with the city’s new strategic plan model and is therefore no longer meaningful to her.
Some past and current PSCAC members were not opposed to the the committee’s dissolution. Others said they would like it to continue. They have a candidate for committee chair waiting for appointment (if the council decides to make it), and they feel this will breathe new life and purpose into the group.
Thomas Nephew, not a committee member, spoke in favor of keeping the PSCAC. Earlier this year Nephew opposed the police acquisition of a license-plate scanner on civil rights grounds. He thought there should be an independent group aside from the proposed Chief’s Council. He was concerned that issues such as the license-plate scanner would be difficult to address in a group hand-picked by the police chief.
Chief Ricucci said the advisory board would be “comprised of residents from all six wards of the City as well as representatives from the business, church, and school sectors.” He said he would “solicit applications with input from the City Manager and Council.”
He said that the board, which would meet with him monthly, would provide a more “structured and defined approach to engaging the community than that offered by the PSCAC.”
Though split on whether the PSCAC should be disbanded, the attending PSCAC members (former and present), and the council were all in favor of the establishment of the proposed Police Chief’s Advisory Board. Some were concerned that, should the PSCAC be disbanded, the board would replace only some of the functions of the committee.
The chief was amenable to keeping both groups, but he remarked that it would be another meeting he was obligated to attend. Chief Riccuci attends all PSCAC meetings.
Putting this fact together with Your Gilbert’s observations of the rambling and apologetic remarks of the current PSCAC chair (who apparently became chair reluctantly by default), we detect the motive behind the chief’s desire to ax the PSCAC. We can just imagine the chief sitting through marginally useful PSCAC meetings drumming his fingers on the table, devising his escape plan – “Hmm, I’ll chew my arm off! No, wait! I know, I’ll start my OWN board!”
Of note in the proceedings were the comments made by Ward 6 council candidates Frank Schultz and Navid Nasr. Schultz, who serves on the PSCAC, spoke in support of the chief’s proposal.
His opponent Nasr said he supported having both groups, aligning himself with similar sentiments from councilmembers Rueben Sniper, Josh Wright, and Terry Seamens.
Party Under the Seats
An alarmed councilmember Colleen Clay reported that the school buses transporting children to and from the temporary Takoma Park Elementary School location in Bethesda (while TPES is under construction this year) are plagued with “party under the seats,” chaos, which she said a bus driver likened to a “Lord of the Flies situation.”
She recognized that the city council has no jurisdiction over the school system, but she was frustrated that the local PTA had made little headway with the issue. The school system will not provide the requested additional supervision. The only supervision currently is from the bus drivers, who have limited ability to keep order as they drive.
The rest of the council were suitably horrified, but it is unclear what they can do about the situation – the huge county school system being notoriously unresponsive, and definitely NOT under the jurisdiction of the city council.
Councilmember Dan Robinson spoke again on dog parks. He thanked the city manager for putting up with his persistence on the matter. Apparently, she shoved a spread sheet at him showing that the city has little wriggle-room to write a less restrictive law than the county’s – which do not allow dogs to run off-leash on public land.
Both he and councilmember Josh Wright expressed outrage and frustration at what Wright called a “bureaucratic mess” that apparently prevents and discourages dog parks. “Constituents just want a place to let dogs run,” said Wright, and Robinson said, “plenty of places have off leash parks, even in our state.”
The long-standing seizure of the city council chambers by a group of people wielding tools and construction materials remains . . . long-standing.