Sycamore Sweep Sparks Scrutiny

Dear Readers,
Another cliff-hanger ending! The city council season finale left a number of hot issues dangling by the fingernails. The council was happy to leave them there until resuming January 3. Meanwhile they have a ton of holiday shopping to do – finding stocking-stuffers for each of their constituents.
Those dangling issues include: The 410 Fracas which inflamed enough residents to fill the city auditorium a few weeks ago, the Task Force on Environmental Action proposals which pit Takoma Park’s green dreams vs. budget nightmares, and proposed changes to the tree ordinance which set the city’s tree-huggers against the solar-worshipers.
A Step Further
“When the people lead, the leaders follow” says a popular bumper-sticker. Councilmember Dan Robinson seems to have taken that slogan to heart since the 410 Fracas. He has been contrite in the face of public outrage, and quick to back away from the proposal that caused the outrage. That was the proposed “road swap” handing ownership of Route 410 to the State Highway Administration (SHA) in exchange for Flower Avenue and a large sum of money.

Following the populist lead Robinson said in a Nov. 7 e-mail that he supports “decoupling” the roads – in other words “no road swap,” reversing the position he took before the PeetieBeeties* stormed the council. He also wants the city to keep Route 410. The populists in this case are those who say that city ownership of 410 will help stop the SHA from widening the road. If, in other words, they reverse policy, break their word, defy local state, county, and city representatives, take on homeowners and activists, and overturn federal and state historical district regulations. They also accuse the city council and staff of selling them out and of keeping them out of the loop.
When the hysteria hit the fan, Robinson was among the councilmembers who immediately apologized for not sufficiently alerting constituents to the impending SHA deal. He was not the only one who reversed stands. But, taking it a step further, he recently circulated constituent e-mails questioning Takoma Park’s city-manager form of government. In the e-mail and at the council dais Nov. 29 he supported the constituent’s call for a “focus group” to review the city manager form of governance and “better communications” between city staff and the council, and council and constituents.
Sweep Snit
The e-mail thread Robinson publicly circulated was in response to a Sycamore Ave. neighborhood email list discussion. The good folks of Sycamore Ave. were in a snit not only about Route 410, but about housing code enforcement. They felt singled out by a “code sweep,” conducted in their area. They wanted the city’s code enforcement records to see if they were being picked on disproportionally. They had “concerns” about how people get cited, said Robinson, and he cited their “good suggestion” that the city give advance “sweep” warnings. That would avoid the “hurt feelings and difficult situations” that resulted in the Sycamore Ave. area, he said.
The Sycamore Ave. emails also had some spiky little questions about the city manager; how she is evaluated, and what are the job descriptions for city manager, mayor, and council? Jab, jab! The implication was that the city’s form of government brought on the 410 Fracas and the code sweeps.
So, Robinson dutifully carted his constituent’s concerns down to the council meeting and dumped them onto the dais. He proposed a review of the city’s government structure and housing code enforcement.
Dear Readers, the chilly breeze you hear scattering leaves in your yard wasn’t whipped up by the weather, it wafts from the council’s cold shoulder. They haven’t frosted one of Robinson’s proposals this coldly since 2008 when, as a council newbie, he tried to meddle with the city administrator’s budget.
Councilmember Terry Seamens was warmer to the idea than the rest. He said he would be in favor of a government structure review.
Other councilmembers slipped into their Doc Martins during the “Council Comment” meeting segment to boot Robinson’s suggestions down the stairs. Councilmember Fred Schultz praised the recent Ward 6 housing code “sweep.” He described it as a “systematic walk-through.” He pointed out that city code enforcement staff first issue homeowners a “courtesy notice” as a warning, giving them a chance to avoid citations and fines. “I support this kind of work,”he said.
As for a city governance review, Councilmembers Josh Wright and Colleen Clay both got a boot in. Wright said he hoped such a review would take the form of an informational session only that didn’t require any staff time. “Be careful,” he warned, saying the professional city manager form of government was developed as part of good governance reform. Colleen Clay said the model is “broadly accepted, especially in cities of this size.”
Mayor Williams didn’t boot it, he just handed the review suggestion a long grocery list. He added other subjects to review, how best to communicate with the public about budget concerns and environmental issues, for instance. The review suggestion was last seen trudging up Philadelphia Ave. clutching several cloth shopping bags and trailing the long list.
Eager to finish the meeting and begin their holiday break, the council moved on to other issues, including pet burial and the Task Force on Environmental Action, which showed up in force to push the cold-footed council to walk a greener path. More on those and other issues later, we have all month to report on it.

– Gilbert
*PeetieBeaties = PTBT, Pitchfork and Torch Bearing Townspeople

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.

2 Comments on "Sycamore Sweep Sparks Scrutiny"

  1. Dan Robinson | December 9, 2010 at 4:31 pm |

    It was Sycamore, not Sherman Ave. that precipitated the code sweep and government structure discussions. – Dan

  2. Sycamore? SYCAMORE? No! That RUINS the title!!!
    Sycamore’s March?
    There are about to be a dozen unemployed editors and proofreaders on the streets, folks. DON’T give them a handout!
    – Gilbert

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