Jumping Off

Dear Readers,
The city council left us with a cliffhanger at the end of 2009. Would they approve the application for a $3 million state bond to finance renovations to the Public Works Department? Would the councilmembers find answers to the questions they wanted resolved before committing to taking out the loan? Could they make this momentous decision before the January application deadline?

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The short answer is YES. At the first meeting of the year January 4, the council voted unanimously to proceed with the application to borrow $3 million.
The Long Answer
Councilmember Josh Wright voiced a number of misgivings about the deal. He had reservations about the scope of the work because of the possibility the city would make changes to the Public Works department that would reduce or alter its physical plant needs. The city has the option to save money by handing over some Public Works functions to the county. Sanitation was the function most mentioned. But, Wright expressed frustration that the city staff had not provided enough information to aid decision making. The staff provided figures showing relative costs of sanitation, but not other functions.
City manager Barbara Matthews explained that she and the staff had focused on sanitation because it was the most expensive and the most pertinent. Handing over other Public Works duties such as road work or equipment maintenance would have no or little impact on the physical plant or the renovation costs, she said.
Ms. Matthews cautioned the council that the staff recommended borrowing a smaller amount and making up the difference with reserve funds (savings accounts that the city salts away for just such major expenses). Staff recommended that course particularly if the project were scaled back, she said.
Real Money
Mayor Bruce Williams seemed unaffected by this advice, he said the yearly bond interest payments were $226,000 a year, “not a big price to pay” for the renovation.
Councilmember Wright commented that most taxpayers would think “that’s real money” and would say “don’t spend it if you don’t need to.” He cautioned the mayor that the state could have another surprise budget cut next year, and such amounts are “nothing to sneeze at.”
The mayor retorted that the increased cost of doing the project later at higher interest and construction rates was also nothing to sneeze at.
The mayor, councilmembers Reuben Snipper and Fred Schultz all cited the favorable conditions that convinced them to proceed with the bond. Schultz said “Timing is critical” because it looks as though the Federal Reserve may raise interest rates soon. If the economy improves, the cost of construction will rise, he said.
Most of the councilmembers were under the impression that even if the loan were secured now, there would be “flexibility” to alter the renovation plans to accommodate possible Public Works changes. City manager Barbara Matthews crushed that hope, cautioning them that the architecture plans are completed “at 100%” and ready to go out for bid in January. “If you want to revisit the plans, do it sooner than later.” she said.
And so, the council jumps off the cliff, wings out and flaps down, assuming it will catch an updraft. The flying machine isn’t quite finished, and they may need to change the flight-plan, but they say they can take care of those details in flight.
Dope
Your Gilbert is working up a case of Major Annoyance with professional drug legalization activists. Amber Langston, of Takomans for Intelligent Marijuana Enforcement (TIME) presented results of a questionnaire to the council. The questionnaire asked “In order to focus police resources on violent and property crimes, would you support a local ordinance directing police to stop arresting people for possession of marijuana for personal use?” 304 of the 424 residents who replied said “yes.”
According to an article in last month’s Takoma Voice by Anu Nathan, Ms. Langston helped pass marijuana decriminalization initiatives in Columbia, MO before moving to Takoma Park.
To their credit, the council was not fooled by the patently faux concern for conserving “police resources.” And they were underimpressed that the activist was unaware that city police already do not go after marijuana users unless the users are engaged in other crimes.
Ms Langston’s goals are identical with those of decriminalization activists that some say hijacked the Citizens Public Safely Advisory Committee (CPSAC). Former members of that committee charged that the activists tried to refocus the committee on just such an ordinance as TIME promotes. Due to this and other issues some committee members resigned and CPSAC was disbanded by the council.
Your Gilbert is reminded of the other ordinances professional activists like to bring to Takoma Park, knowing the city is a liberal pushover. We hope the council doesn’t fall for this one, if only because of the way the drug decriminalizers have gone about it. That’s not to mention that we’d like the city NOT to be known as the patsy for every progressive lobby group.
We have nothing against pot smokers – other than their unwise choice of drugs when there is so much legal alcohol available (maybe that’s why they call it “dope”). But, we wonder who or what is behind the nationwide push to decriminalize. We don’t know, but we suspect there are large corporations itching to market marijuana. Your Gilbert thinks a major industry selling a product combining the worst aspects of tobacco and liquor would be a bad thing.

– Gilbert

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About the Author

Gilbert
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.

10 Comments on "Jumping Off"

  1. Tommy Chong | January 6, 2010 at 3:02 pm |

    I think that everyone in this tightly-wound metropolis would benefit from the natural relaxation that accompanies a tightly-wound joint. Mandatory marijuana!

  2. Dave Borden here, former member of the PSCAC, one of the drug legalization activists you slammed here.
    You seem convinced — as does at least one city council member — that the Takoma Park Police Department does not arrest people for marijuana possession if they have not committed other crimes. Do you read the police blotter? I see many arrests for possession listed there, but with few of those listings referring to other crimes too. Do you have this arrest data that we’ve been asking for for two years, but not receiving? Have you leafed through the department’s arrest reports on file?
    I ask this because it just feels odd to keep hearing people proclaim with conviction that Takoma Park’s police don’t make standalone marijuana possession arrests — while listings of exactly such arrests continue to show up on the city’s web site, and while the department continues to not provide actual data. We were criticized for asking for data, by the way, it’s arguably the indirect reason that the committee was ultimately shut down. Why is it hard to talk about these issues in Takoma Park?
    Regarding PSCAC and the role of myself and some friends on it, I’m a little confused by what you wrote here. When you first wrote about the PSCAC late last year, you quoted me explaining that in fact the committee spent very little time working on the marijuana issue, and when we spoke on the phone while you were working on the piece you acknowledged to me that that was an important point. Did you forget that entire conversation, including my quote that you printed, or have you found information in the actual record of the committee’s proceedings that prove the contrary? If so, I’d appreciate seeing that, but I don’t think it’s possible, because that’s not what happened. If anything, it was the opposite — we didn’t work on marijuana policy on the committee, myself not at all, my colleagues very little — but we did do work on the committee’s other priorities. And yet this inaccurate characterization continues to be made in fora like Granola Park and even the council chamber.
    One final note about data. In the December Voice article about this issue, Cathy Plevy told the Voice that TPPD does not keep data breaking down marijuana arrests vs. other arrests. That seems strange to me, because TPPD is obligated to report data doing just that to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report program, and has been doing so annually for decades. Does TPPD send the data to UCR and then delete it from their own records? When this data does become available, which one way or another it ultimately will, I predict that a number of important issues will come to light.

  3. “We have nothing against pot smokers – other than their unwise choice of drugs when there is so much legal alcohol available (maybe that’s why they call it “dope”). But, we wonder who or what is behind the nationwide push to decriminalize. We don’t know, but we suspect there are large corporations itching to market marijuana. Your Gilbert thinks a major industry selling a product combining the worst aspects of tobacco and liquor would be a bad thing.”
    MJ is far safer then alcohol and Virginia (bright leaf) dope.
    Hopefully anyone ever arrested/prosecuted for violating the unconstitutional anti-MJ laws will be able to sue such entities for civil rights violations in conducting a criminal mercantilism to protect alcohol and Virginia’s poison.

  4. Dave,
    You’re way behind the animal rights activists. When Your Gilbert questioned a city resolution (“Opposing the Confinement of Egg-Laying Hens in Battery Cages.”) that animal rights activists pushed the council to pass, those folks posted nearly a dozen searing comments.
    But, seriously, you pose good questions about the actual rather than the perceived police record on marijuana arrests.
    We’d rather not hash over the poor PSCAC again. We gave an objective report at the time. Regardless of how much time was spent on the issue, the minutes show that the issue did come up shortly after decriminalization activists joined the citizen committee.
    Our point is this. If this were a genuine grassroots effort we would not have these objections. But when the citizens proposing city ordinances and policies are also professional activists from that field, we get the feeling the city is being used. Why don’t you go about it like the Instant Runnoff Voting guys did? They straightforwardly approached the council as an NGO with a national agenda, and they were totally up front about wanting to set up a model program in Takoma Park to look successful and hopefully encourage other jurisdictions to adopt the same thing.
    Is that or is that not what drug decriminalization activists are trying to do here?
    – Gilbert

  5. Is the comment board working? I am having trouble getting my post through.

  6. Gilbert,
    Looks like the vegans have put this 30-year vegetarian to shame. 🙂
    On to the issue. There is no NGO strategy to pass marijuana reform in Takoma Park, though some communities have had them. The various activists involved here all work for different groups, and we are doing this on our own time — because we care about the issue, about the community, and because we’re friends. What precisely is wrong in this picture?
    Our effort has not been subterranean. Takoma’s city councilmembers saw our workplaces on our applications for the PSCAC, and had discretion to vote up or down. In my council, my work, my interest in the marijuana issue, and other aspects of my organization, were all discussed openly, TV and everything. And I think we proved our good faith by continuing to serve on the committee for nearly two years after the marijuana issue had been taken off the table.
    I frankly take exception to the notion that our efforts are any less grassroots or legitimate than those of anyone else’s. I have lived in Takoma Park for more than four years, almost as long as at least one councilmember if I remember correctly. Chuck Thomas has lived here for well over a decade, and is involved in the community in a variety of ways. The others have been here for years too.
    Gilbert, it’s a GOOD thing when people with passion and expertise get involved in local government on advisory committees, where they can raise issues that might not have been, educate legislators about what data sources are available, provide angles and ideas that might otherwise not have received consideration, etc. If you don’t see that then I think you’re missing the forest for the trees, but I suppose it’s a matter of opinion.
    If I still haven’t convinced you of the propriety and validity and goodness of our efforts, then go ahead and shoot the messenger, I can take some slugs for the cause. But please, don’t turn your back on the mostly young, mostly minority, mostly low-income people who are being stopped, searched, and sent to jail and court in record numbers by the police whose salaries we pay, and who in many cases will suffer consequences from their convictions for the rest of their lives.

  7. “My council” above was meant to read “My council interview”.

  8. Bruce Williams | January 9, 2010 at 8:00 am |

    A correction to one thing, Gilbert. I said that the $226,000 payment per year for a $2M loan for 10 years would be for principal and interest, not just interest alone. Big difference. The interest would be a little under $26,000 per year.
    And, I was affected by the City Manager’s advice–it showed me that the potential savings from any decision to change how sanitation services are provided in the City comes from not buying trucks in the next capital budget, and from not paying 9 full time employees in that division. Those numbers dwarf the amount to be spent for the related renovation costs for sanitation. Therefore, the more important decision point for any change in sanitation services is the FY11 budget, not a rushed decision now.

  9. Oh, you people with your facts and figures and your “corrections!” Haven’t you got anything better to do with your time than embarrass poor old Gilbert?
    So, Mr. Mayor, if the decision point is during the FY11 budget discussion, does that mean the city will proceed building Public Works truck bays, and then possibly decide not to buy trucks to put in them?
    – Gilbert

  10. The economy will be in the sewer for some time. Mr Wright is correct in wanting to look this over more carefully. This can be delayed a bit .
    Social Justice is giving someone a new lunch room and a pink slip. Not.
    African Americans with a high school education will have no problem finding work in these flush economic times. Jobs with health insurance.
    Problem is they are all in Afghanistan.
    Replace trash collectors with companies that will employ undocumented guest workers. A great idea.
    All trash companies have to add the cost of trucks into their contracts. The trash fairy stopped giving out free packers.
    10 Wheel packers are also used to push snow.They guys who drive them know the streets and probably do the job faster, and with less collateral damage to the infrastructure.
    If you buy the trucks you decide how polluting they will be. Hybrids are available.
    If the idea originated here, it won’t really cost less.
    It would be more cost effective to get rid of housing. White collar drones are more expensive than blue collar workers.
    Should the new garage become empty Tommy Chong said he could come up with a use for a building with 15 foot tall ceilings.

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