Off Track

Dear Reader,
Councilmember Colleen Clay said she was “frustrated about being the only woman on the council,” an issue she raised at a previous meeting.
She said, “What I find is that ideas get presented, and then they may or may not get traction, . . . and they come around again as somebody else’s idea, and they DO get traction, which frustrates me.” Then “the press picks it up,” she said, and attributes the idea to the other person.
“Being the only woman on the council, when I [raise] an idea that that happens to, it’s always the guy then who gets the . . . interest and the press.”

All Talk, No Action
She said, “While it frustrates me on the smaller level, on the bigger level we’re repeatedly bringing up issues, [but] we have no mechanism to track them when we don’t have an immediate resolution.” It is a problem she said “we’ve talked about over the five years that I’ve been on the council,” but not acted on.
The council does not track ideas and requests that come up in meetings, she said. Many good ideas get forgotten, and requests are not acted upon. It is inefficient, she said.
As an example, she said recently Councilmember Josh Wright suggested a change to city tree regulations, “something I had brought up before.” The idea was to give homeowners “credit for planting a tree before a tree that you know is at the end of it life, dies.”
She requested the council discuss this lack of follow-through in the near future and explore solutions to the problem – computer software, perhaps.
Something similar happens on city council e-mail exchanges, she said. She cited a recent example. The Recreation Department last week sent an e-mail saying their programs were full . She replied, she said, asking “what are the numbers for the whole summer, not just this one week.” She hasn’t seen a reply to that request, she said.
Mayor Bruce Williams said he does “make note” of ideas and requests on his agenda, and goes over them with the city manager and city clerk, “but, it’s an imperfect system.”
Honoring Heroes
Some of the council were against it, some were for it. All agreed there should be a system to honor the city’s deceased luminaries.
They were discussing renaming a park.
Takoma Park’s iconic gazebo sits in a county park unimaginatively named “Takoma Urban Park.” The gazebo is part of the Old Town cityscape on Carroll Avenue, but most of the park faces residential Westmoreland Avenue where there is a popular playground, small field, and a community bulletin board.
The neighborhood organization, the Westmoreland Area Community Association (WACO), will ask the county Park and Planning department to change the park name to “Gilbert Kombe Park.” Park and Planning policy is not to name parks after people unless there is strong community support. WACO thinks it can show that community support. Dan Robinson, who introduced the resolution on behalf of his Ward 3 constituents, asked the council to add its support as well.
Gilbert Kombe was a Westmoreland Avenue resident who died last year at the age of 49. His widow and young children still live there.
Kombe, born in Zambia, was a doctor who, according to his Washington Post obituary “was a leader in the international effort to respond to HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis . . . [helping] organizations deliver HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in 114 countries.” He was also active in local schools and youth soccer leagues.
Kombe’s widow and his son made their request in person to the council, supported by community members.
Clay Suggests An Alternative
Colleen Clay was the first to respond. Thanking the bereaved family and supporters for coming before the council, she told them, “I’m going to suggest an alternative to this.”
The park, she said, is a “citywide resource, not just a WACO resource.” “We have people who die unexpectedly in our communities,” she said. She added, “I’ve unfortunately had folks who passed on unexpectedly,” citing three of her own constituents who died recently.
She suggested as an alternative dedicating a bench or tree, or erecting a monument, perhaps in the city hall. She said the council should consider establishing a mechanism for honoring expired city residents of note.
Councilmember Reuben Snipper said he had “the same thoughts.” He said the city should “honor our heroes” in another way, one that does not involve petitioning the notoriously arbitrary county, as this request does. He suggested a mural.
Though he agreed with Councilmember Clay that the city should have a method of honoring deceased worthies, Councilmember Terry Seamens supported naming the park after Kombe. He was highly impressed with the doctor’s selfless accomplishments, which Seamens said, served as an example to residents, especially young ones. He called it “a no-brainer. I fully support this!”
Councilmember Schultz, expressed sympathy for Kombe’s son, who had left the room. Schultz said he too had lost his father at a young age.
But, he too was reluctant to support naming the park for Kombe. He thought parks such as the recently re-named Belle Ziegler Park, should be named for those who had “contributed mightily to the city.”
Somewhat dismayed, Dan Robinson said that perhaps he had given the wrong impression. He didn’t think the county Park and Planning department would be as hostile to the renaming proposal as the rest of the council seemed to think. The community would go forward with the request, he said, and he was fairly confident of success.
Mayor Bruce Williams, who lives in Ward 3, said “We need to honor our heroes, . . . We need to honor the work of WACO, and we need to approve this resolution.”
The council will vote on the resolution to support the name change next Monday.

– 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.

12 Comments on "Off Track"

  1. So, She basically says “People die all the time, you’re not so special” to the widow and kid!

  2. Colleen Clay | July 27, 2010 at 12:28 am |

    What I said was that the county guidelines for naming a county park don’t meet their criteria which states clearly that the person for whom the park is named must have contributed to the county park system itself, and the city does not control that process. What we do control are the city parks, street names, the city hall and other city properties as well as tree and park bench dedications. I believe that honoring Mr. Kombe with a city resource is a better choice. Any of those, including Spring Park in Ward 3 where Mr. Kombe lived, are within the city purvue to rename. When this came before the council the first time, a majority of council members seemed to support that path and not the county park path.
    If the county follows it’s own guidelines, they will not approve this request.
    It is my responsibility to ensure that when we make decisions about citywide resources, that we use a process that is open to everyone in the city, and considers everyone. That didn’t happen in this case. Unlike the first commenter, I can not cower behind a cloak of annonimity. Personally, I would have handled this differently were I the mayor or the councilmember of the family. I would have kept it from playing out in public. I think it was cruel and inconsiderate to force a public vote on this issue in this way, knowing several council members had concerns.
    As to losing several people this year, what I was trying to say was that we have lost several people unexpectedly young, and that I think that when that happens, people want to honor them, and we don’t currently have a way to do that. We should have. And the fact is, there are very few county parks, and few city parks. Therefore we need additional ways to honor people like Mr. Kombe, and others who are important to the city.
    If this comes back to the city because the county rejects it, I’ll work to identify an appropriate city response.
    Colleen Clay

  3. Spring Park has a perfectly good name, rooted in city history. The original object was to rename the Takoma Urban Park. Anything would be better than the current name, which has no connection to history or geographical feature, and which nobody uses.
    Doesn’t the city have a Memorial Park across Philadelphia Ave. from the Library? Is that only for military casualties, or could civilians be memorialized there?

  4. Steve Davies | July 27, 2010 at 10:49 pm |

    How about standing up for what we believe in?
    You know what — The freakin’ park is IN Takoma Park, even if it BELONGS to Montgomery County. Why should Montgomery County give a darn if WE — the residents of Takoma Park — want to name it after Gilbert Kombe? Don’t they have other, more important things, to worry about?
    You know what? We could just stick a damn sign in there with his picture and a bio and that would be the end of it. You really think Montgomery County cares? They barely ever come by to mow the place!
    Before ANYONE expresses an opinion on this, they should read “Remembering Gilbert Kombe” on the Abt Associates site. That’s where he worked. I find it sad that some council members didn’t see fit to even find out who this guy was. The request has been circulating for months.
    I knew Gil, though I cannot say I was a close friend. I don’t know how many people were, he seemed to do so much. A mutual friend told me that even though he (the mutual friend) didn’t necessarily make friends easily, Gil was the kind of person who never made you feel awkward or inferior. I can certainly attest to that. He was just a really nice guy, a Zambian-born doctor who studied in China, knew Chinese, and did a superhuman job trying to prevent the spread of AIDS.
    This town is insane. On the one hand, we seem to think worldly matters are all-important (remember the Free Burma Committee?) Yet when someone tries to honor a local resident who did an untold number of good deeds that benefited the WORLD at large, probably saving thousands of lives through his own personal intervention, we balk.
    And, if local is so important, I should add that he was a soccer coach as well.
    I don’t like the word “hero,” and I doubt Gil would have referred to himself using that word. I’ll say instead that Gil was an exemplary human being, a moral, caring, intelligent, empathetic man who worked his ass off to prevent the spread of AIDS. I cannot think of anyone whose name and life story would better represent the principles we strive to uphold in Takoma Park than Gilbert Kombe.
    We can’t honor everyone. But we can honor this guy. So stop prevaricating and do it. And for God’s sake, don’t name him after a tree that will blow down.
    Steve Davies
    Poplar Avenue

  5. Westmoreland Neighbor | July 28, 2010 at 7:23 am |

    Note that park doesn’t have a good name now. It is officially Takoma Urban Park, but no one calls it that. It is called Westmoreland Park or Gazebo Park. The county can’t even get the name right. The new sign simply says, “Takoma Park.” They left out the word urban. So a new sign is needed anyway.
    I’d sure like my kids and future generations to remember and learn about a real hero such as Gilbert Kombe than call the park after the military general Westmoreland.
    And I’d like to think BF Gilbert would appreciate the name…..

  6. Steve Davies | July 28, 2010 at 10:48 am |

    Indeed — B.F. Gilbert, Gilbert Kombe.
    Karma, dude

  7. Steve Davies | July 28, 2010 at 11:34 am |

    Becca Lilly Neighborhood Park on Glenside
    Just came across this on
    The specific link is
    Becca Lilly Neighborhood Park
    7330 Glenside Drive
    This park is named for Rebecca Erin Lilly, a Takoma Park teenager whose courageous battle with brain cancer touched and inspired many people. The 2-acre park is located just off New Hampshire Avenue, and borders the Long Branch Stream Valley Park.
    and on the Friends of Sligo Creek page, there is a more detailed description of her life, and untimely death.
    It was her courageous fight against cancer that inspired people and led to the memorial — not her contribution to the Montgomery County parks system
    so it appears there is a precedent, and MoCo would likely have no objection. Maybe someone can contact the county and find out.

  8. Colleen Clay | July 28, 2010 at 5:10 pm |

    When the Becca Lilly dedication was made, it was as a playground IN Long Branch Stream Valley Park. The county has since stopped making reference to Long Branch Stream Valley Park that I can find, and refers to the individual playgrounds in the park as separate parks on their website; however, they have not changed the signage, and do not have a current published map. When they made the Becca Lilly designation, it was in keeping with their policy.
    I checked all of this when researching the issue prior to the council discussions. What I didn’t do was an exhaustive search of all county parks, but the cursory search I did of the county turned up numerous instances of trees, benches, plaques, etc. named for local residents or groups of residents, but no other parks, as per the county policy. I noticed about six parks are named for people, and the three names I recognized were significant contributors to the county parks system including Royce Hanson and Rachel Carson. Most county parks are named for the city or neighborhood or street where they are located, including several named with “urban” as part of their title. So no precedent.

  9. Steve Davies | July 28, 2010 at 10:16 pm |

    Rachel Carson Conservation Park ( No mention of
    her contribution to the Montgomery Parks system. She may well have done something for the county system, but they don’t mention it on their web site. Obviously, I have no problem with a park being named for Rachel Carson, the person who ushered in the modern environmental movement and who also just happened to be a MoCo resident.
    “This park honors America’s outstanding writer, environmental activist, and County resident by conserving 650 acres in the Brookeville area of Montgomery County. Most of the park was acquired just after Ms. Carson’s death in 1964, although there have been periodic acquisitions through 1990. Like other M-NCPPC conservation parks, Rachel Carson Conservation Park remains undeveloped.”
    I tried to find out the size of all the county parks, because I’m guessing our little Takoma Urban Park is probably the smallest, or at least in the bottom 5. Whether Becca Lilly Park is a playground within a park doesn’t seem material here. (The county says the Becca Lilly Park “borders the Long Branch Stream Valley Park.”)
    I seriously doubt the county would oppose naming the park after Gilbert Kombe.
    The fact is, a group of people came up with this idea and asked for city support. No other such proposals have been forthcoming. No doubt there are many people whose souls leave this Earth while their bodies are still in Takoma Park, who deserve some type of recognition. It is up to those who knew them best to see that they get it, in whatever form seems appropriate. Roscoe — bless you, you ornery rooster — is in the center of town, at our Farmers Market, and he is kept warm in the winter with scarves from the locals.
    Perhaps when our favorite local chronicler ‘Gilbert’ goes (and not soon, I hope), the gazebo where he danced will bear his name, or at least a plaque and a pic.
    In this particular case, a group of people have petitioned on behalf of Gilbert Kombe, an amazing (and athletic) individual, whose good works they believe should be remembered. I can’t think of why he shouldn’t have the park, located on the street where he lived, be named after him.

  10. Hey! Knock it off back there! Stop that bickering or we’ll turn this blog around and go right home! No beach, no ice-cream, no mini-golf!!

  11. I can live w/ the prohibition on ice cream and sand, but mini-golf? That’s going too far

  12. Valerie Tonat | August 10, 2010 at 12:27 am |

    The Gazebo is a county park? Is that why the snow and ice is never shoveled off the sidewalk there?
    The county holds me responsible for clearing snow and ice from the sidewalk in front of my house. Can we get the county to clear the sidewalk in front of the Gazebo?

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