What passes for the council dais these days almost emptied out at the Jan. 25th meeting as counclimembers discovered conflicts of interest that might prevent them from commenting on an item before them.
Almost all of them had some connection with one of a number of groups applying for city grants ranging from $5000 to $35,000. These funds would come out of the city’s 2011 budget.
The groups include CASA de Maryland, Historic Takoma, the Old Town Business Association, the Takoma Park Folk Festival, the Crossroads Farmers Market, and the Takoma Park Independence Day Committee.
Both Terry Seamens’ and Josh Wright’s spouses work for one or another of the agencies. Colleen Clay’s domestic partner volunteers for the Folk Festival. Dan Robinson had strong connections with Old Town Business Association (OTBA).
Fred Schultz just returned from a trip so he hadn’t read the background materials, and was therefore hesitant to express an opinion.
Seamens and Wright recused themselves to the hallway. The rest decided their connections or difficulties were not sufficient grounds to leave. Clay quipped that her household lost rather than gained money from the festival, and anyway, her relationship “is not legally recognized in Maryland.”
Dan Robinson said his ties to the OTBA were in the past.
Ow! That Shoe Has a Point!
The city manager introduced the item for discussion. There would be no vote, she explained. She only put it the agenda because she wanted to get some preliminary guidance before presenting her budget proposal.
She pointedly remarked that the city’s “financial outlook is uncertain.” Other jurisdictions were laying off staff, she said, clearing her throat in an all-of-these-grants-are-not-luxuries-you-can-afford sort of tone. She intimated that when funds are tight, several large expenditures to outside agencies might not exactly strengthen the city’s hand when it came to salary negotiations. The remaining councilmembers nodded, rubbing their shins where the city manager had kicked them under the table.
Clearly Not Clear
As they voiced their opinions, however, it was clear there was no consensus.
Everyone put the Independence Day Committee ($13,500) at the top of their list, but that was the end of agreement.
OTBA ($30,000) was high up on the Mayor’s list, but lower on others’. Councilmember Clay pointed out that the OTBA was simultaneously asking for a $30,000 grant and the abolishment of the city’s business “inventory tax.” She suggested, cutting the grant, keeping the tax, and applying the revenues to business development.
The Farmer’s Market request ($10,000) was at the bottom of Mayor William’s list, along with CASA de Maryland ($35,0000).
But, Reuben Snipper placed the Crossroads Farmer’s Market at top of his list and the Community Indicators Project, now called CHEER – Community Health and Empowerment through Education and Research ($25,000), at bottom.
Dan Robinson thought Clay’s idea of earmarking the inventory tax revenue for business support was a peachy one. He favored the Folk Festival’s request ($7,000), but was “frustrated” with Historic Takoma ($21,000), which has received a lot of city grants to renovate its storefront over the past few years, the previous grant supposedly the last.
Councilmember Fred Schultz reluctantly favored that request, saying he just wanted the storefront to finally open and “start accomplishing its purpose.” He favored funding the Farmer’s Market, which is in his ward.
How the city manager sorts all that out, we’ll be interested to see. As the Mayor said, before he called the recused councilmembers back from the hallway, “this is just preliminary,” the issue will be revisited when the budget is proposed.