Serving of Stew

Dear Readers,
Councilmember Dan Robinson said he was “still stewing and fuming” over the county’s traffic restriction plan for Sligo Park Hills and Ritchie Avenue. He accused the county of “doing a great disservice” to the city, of “miscounting” in it’s study, and of following an “unfortunate community model.”
The proposed traffic restrictions have generated more heated discussion around the city than any recent political issue. Conflicting community associations seem poised on the brink of gang warfare – proving that parochial neighborhood affairs trump ideology, environmentalism, civil liberties, and taxes – even in the Berkley of the Mid-Atlantic.

The city council will be making a collective response to the plan soon, said the mayor. The deadline for individual residents to make comments has expired (March 10). The mayor, councilmember Josh Wright and others felt the council should give the county a response on behalf of the city, and individual councilmembers also planned on sending in their own comments. Some of those, judging by Robinson’s and Wright’s remarks, may be stronger than the council’s collective one.
Grant Gripe
Councilmember Seamens likes picking items out of the consent agenda. A consent agenda, Dear Readers, is a collection of items that need no discussion and are sure to be passed. Bunching them up saves time. But, a councilmember can request that an item be removed from the consent agenda to be discussed and voted on separately. Seamens seems to do that more than most. Usually, he objects to big-ticket items being included in a consent agenda.
But, this time, he was fighting for his ward constituents. He has been objecting vociferously to the prioritization system devised for sidewalk installation. He promised to vote against it if private nursery schools – such as one in his ward – and churches were not given any weight in the prioritization scheme, which gave emphasis to public elementary schools. He objected that the priorities were “tailored for the grant, rather than community needs.” The prioritization guidelines were set by Safe Routes to School, which funded the ranking project.
The staff changed the language in the final wording, giving more flexibility to the ranking system. This was an effort to placate Seamens, but he wanted bigger changes, and so asked for the item to be removed from the consent agenda so he could voice his objections again and vote against it. Dan Robinson also cast a “nay” vote.
Local basketball players are smiling. They will soon have another court to play on. The city decided after a series of meetings and neighborhood walk-throughs, that the best way to spend a $68,100 Community Development Block Grant was to build a new basketball court next to the city Community Center.
The block grant is intended to improve quality of life for moderate to low income households . The targeted area is Maple Avenue between Sligo Creek Park and Philadelphia Avenue, a community of apartment buildings and condominiums. The money must be spent by June 9.
Community members proposed and considered a number of options. A basketball court ranked highest. Parking will be created when the bottom of Grant Avenue is re-configured to allow access to the park behind Piney Branch Elementary School from Maple Avenue.
Time Out
Thanks to the absence of that notorious foot-dragger councilmember Reuben Snipper, the city council was able to finish its March 8th meeting before 10:30 PM, for ONCE.
That’s the council’s story, anyway. They conspired to pin all their recent long meetings on the absent Snipper.
Threatening to leave at 10:30 PM whether the meeting was over or not, councilmember Colleen Clay complained bitterly during the Council Comment segment about late nights and morning-after grogginess. She appealed for earlier meeting end-times. The previous week’s session was nearly 4 hours long.
The rest of the council (and Your Gilbert) agreed. Mayor Williams said “our brains work better if we don’t get too late, and we make better decisions.” Councilmember Fred Schultz concurred.
Vowing to finish that night’s meeting before councilmember Clay turned into a pumpkin, the mayor called on the others to be concise, and not stray afield. Before the 10:15 PM ending, the council found time to plot against councilmember Snipper. When he returns they plan to tell him that the long meetings were obviously his fault, since they had such a short one in his absence.
By the Clock
By the way, Your Gilbert timed the councilmembers during Council Comment period:
Colleen Clay, 5:42.
Fred Schultz, 3:13
Dan Robinson, 3:03,
Bruce Williams, 2:56 (all but 5 seconds being responses to questions)
Josh Wright, :40
Terry Seamens, :11
This gives you a fair idea of who uses up the most air-time, Dear Readers. However, all of them together only adds up to roughly 15 minutes. Following their comment session the council sat through a 45 minute agenda item, most of which consisted of a committee reading to them a report they all had in their hands, a procedure that happens far too often. Clearly the councilmembers are not the only ones who need to be concise and efficient with their time.
Noises Off
Television viewers of the city council meetings are occasionally treated to inadvertent sound effects. There are live microphones laid at desk level in front of councilmembers and in other locations. They are easy to overlook or forget.
Nervous finger tapping is most common – sounding like there’s a 13-year old trying out a new drum set somewhere in the meeting room. Paper shuffling is another common one, making a noise much like waves crashing on rocks, and very effective at drowning out the speaker. Every once in a while we get an earful of a candy bar being unwrapped, or a chip bag being opened. The snackers think they are being quiet and surreptitious, but not to the tv audience. To them it sounds like the council is in danger of being consumed by a huge forest fire.
This week a new sound was introduced. At the end of the meeting someone closed or opened a zipper within inches of a microphone. Either that or one of councilmembers was in violent gastronomic distress. Which might explain why the room emptied out so quickly.

– 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.

3 Comments on "Serving of Stew"

  1. Reuben Snipper | March 14, 2010 at 10:57 pm |

    I’m told by more experienced politicians that any mention of my name in the media is a good thing. Therefore, I thank you for mentioning REUBEN SNIPPER in your blog and for correctly spelling my name.
    That said, I will be making another contribution to short meetings by being absent Monday, March 22. I will be on a trip to El Salvador to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

  2. Bruce Williams | March 15, 2010 at 11:29 am |

    The “nervous finger tapping” that you hear is, I believe, really the sound of the Clerk typing notes on her laptop. I’ve heard the same thing. The aluminum tables in the Azalea Room do act like tight drum heads. But, we’re not tapping. This should go away when we move back into the Auditorium/Chambers.

  3. We didn’t mean finger tapping from the council and staff. They are skilled in the art of keeping embarrassing noises off-mic – other than the occasional candy wrapper or chip bag. We are particularly disappointed that though a few whispers or asides not meant for the mics have been picked up, NONE of them have been juicy. Obviously, they are determined to crush the hopes of all journalist/bloggers waiting for that golden gaffe.
    Committees and other presenters are another matter. They are the ones most prone to finger drumming, pen tappping, paper rustling, and so forth. We are sad to learn these light entertainments go away when the meetings move back into the refurbished auditorium.
    – Gilbert

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