GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT
The Takoma Park city council chambers was the scene of a head-on collision April 2. The Sustaininator smashed into Aunty Nukes.
City staff were just doing what they were told – find an environmental sustainability (what we call a “Sustaininator”) contractor and get a contract proposal. So, they asked around. A firm was highly recommended. It does the sustainability work for Montgomery County, so the city could “piggy-back” on the county’s contract. So the staff asked for a proposal.
The contractor is Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), which describes itself as a Fortune 500 company”with annual revenues of over $11 billion and offices in over 150 cities,.” SAIC is a “leading provider of scientific, engineering, systems integration, and technical services . . . to commercial markets, including the oil and gas industry, utilities and pharmaceutical companies.” So, they profit from both sides of climate change. Win-win!
Oh, and they help make NUCLEAR BOMBS!
Takoma Park’s long standing “nuclear-free” ordinance forbids the city from dealing with companies involved in nuclear weapon-making. The staff forgot to check that little detail. A city department can get a waiver in some circumstances – if there are no alternative manufacturers or contractors, for example. But councilmember Terry Seamens said it would be a waste of the city’s Nuclear-Free Takoma Park Committee time to ask them for one in this case.
Disgust was nearly universal across the council dais. Councilmember Kay Daniels-Cohen said reading SAIC’s proposal gave her indigestion. Reviewing the nuclear-free ordinance terms, she said it was “crystal clear” that contracting with SAIC was out of the question. “Why are we even discussing this?” she said.
Councilmember Reuben Snipper got in a big “I told you so.” He holds the minority opinion that the city should not contract the work out, but should create a Sustainability Coordinator staff position. If the city had, “things would have been done already,” he said. So there!
Councilmember Fred Schultz said it was “silly to entertain a proposal from a giant, multi-national corporation.”
City staff backed and filled as best they could. In essence, they said “Pay no attention to SAIC, it doesn’t matter if we contract with them or not. The important thing is that they provided us a proposed action plan, so let’s discuss that. So, ahem, moving forward, is this the sort of action plan we want submitted – from other firms?”
That was Councilmember Tim Male’s focus. He went over the proposal, pointing out its strengths and weaknesses. He wasn’t about to back a waiver request for SAIC, but he didn’t seem too bothered by their nuclear-weaponry involvement. In fact, he said SAIC does “a good job in work like this.”
Male said he was frustrated that money has been set aside for a contractor, but “we’ve lost three months” with only the SAIC proposal to show for it. He scolded Public Works director Daryl Braithwaite a little, saying her department should focus more on finding a Sustaininator contractor.
Mayor Bruce Williams mused that indeed the city staff might need to shift priorities.
But councilmember Fred Schultz turned on Male, scolding him for implying that staff had been wasting time. Schultz said that “facts have been falling on deaf ears” that due to budget cuts the city lost critical staff, weakening the ability of remaining staff to get these things done. It was unrealistic to suggest that the Sustaininator is far more important that anything else staff could be working on, he said.
Schultz recommended that new councilmembers spend some “one-on-one” time with city staff, particularly Department heads. He said that’s what he did in his freshman year. It helped him understand the legal, fiscal, manpower limitations the city staff faces. Adding to the workload, he said, was the council sometimes changes policy direction on a dime. Staff is already working overtime on a lot of priorities, he said.
First term councilmember Male, wiping the wet from behind his ears, said “I stand by my remarks.” He said that when the council, with strong constituent support put something in the budget, it should be a priority. council needs to do more homework. The fact is, he said, that we’ve made no progress. He added that he knows the staff has a heavy workload, and he has praised staff. Sometimes, he said, you have to put a little salt with the sugar. He felt strongly, he said, that when residents show up and speak up for an issue it is up to council to deliver, “and we have not delivered.”
Mayor Williams summed up the work session. He said the staff will put a RFP (request for proposals) out on the street, and hopefully get a more suited contractor. Finding a Sustaininator would be a future step.