GRANOLAPARK: A solution in search of a problem?

Fred SchultzWard 6 councilmember Fred Schultz calls the proposed residency requirement "a solution in search of a problem."

GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT

Dear Readers

Against strong advice from two former mayors, a handful of former councilmembers, and two of the three veteran current councilmembers, the freshman-majority Takoma Park city council voted in favor of two controversial proposals.

One proposal would require future city managers to live in the city. It would also require city department heads to live within a 10-mile radius. The current city manager, who will soon leave the position, lives in Reston, VA. The city’s recently retired police chief lived in Frederick, MD.

The other proposal would give the city council the power to vote on the hiring of department heads.  Currently, that decision is up to the professional city manager.

Tim Male, freshman Ward 2 councilmember, formally presented the proposals in a July 30 city council work session.  Earlier in July city manager Barbara Matthews resigned to take the city manager position in Rockville, MD. That was just a few weeks after police chief Ronald Riccucci announced his retirement. Through July there was a series of closed council meetings and private email exchanges between councilmembers out of which these proposals came.

Male and other supporters cited examples of other cities which require residency. Mayor Bruce Williams said that while he aappreciates efforts to create incentives, he doesn’t like making requirements. He observed that of the examples provided by Male, residency requirements were more common in cities larger than Takoma Park, or cities that were not in a metro area..

Affinity

The only city councilmember with more than 8 months experience who supports the proposals is Terry Seamens. Speaking about the proposed residency requirement, Seamens said, without getting into details, that there have been “problems” with a professional city manager.  He said he thought aspects of managing would be improved if the city manager had a “closer affinity with the community.”

Three-term mayor Williams and two-term 5 representative Fred Schultz made clear their absolute disagreement with the changes, as did a number of former elected city representatives. Schultz said it was “a solution in search of a problem.”

Former mayors Edward Sharp and Cathy Porter stood before the council, warning them that they were in fact turning back the clock, undoing the work of the former council to remove council involvement from the city staff hiring process. They said when the council was involved, it made lines of authority unclear. There were instances of employees bypassing the city manager, going instead to the city council, they said. That is the reason the city charter now prohibits council to give orders to any city staff other than the city manager. The former officials strongly advised against residency requirements as well, saying they would reduce the pool of good job candidates.  Former city councilmembers gave the same advice.

It was all in vain. The new council, in a non-binding straw-vote, voted 2 – 5 to proceed to the next step. The proposals will now be written up and presented for further council discussion and revision.

The change in hiring would mean a change in the city charter. That requires a series of pubic hearings. The residency requirement can be enacted with a simpler council resolution.

Another idea, introduced by councilmember Seth Grimes, was to offer incentives to all city employees to live in Takoma Park. This is pending research into possible legal or union prohibitions.

The council agreed that the resolutions would not apply to the current search for a new police chief in order not to delay it.

Grow-cery store

The Takoma Park/Silver Spring Co-op is RICH!

The natural-foods grocery store has saved half a million bucks. They want to use that money to expand the co-op, double it’s space, offer more and different goods – such as hot food, hire more people, and make even MORE money!

This begs the question, “if they are making such a big profit, why don’t they lower their prices so less affluent people could shop there?” But, why spoil the fun with the sort of cynical question curmudgeons ask as they pass the half-way point on their bottle of vodka?

The co-op board president David Walker presented the co-ops plans to the city council July 30.They weren’t exactly plans, they were more like plans to make plans. Under shrewd questioning from new councilmember Jarrett Smith, who is a real estate broker, Walker admitted the co-op has not yet talked to an architect, real-estate broker, appraiser, or it’s landlord about this.

Walker said it was difficult to know how to pick a starting point, but they picked the city to talk to first. He doesn’t expect difficulties with the landlord because dealings between the owners and the coop have been friendly. The city, he thought, would have a better overview, and could offer assistance. Indeed, the council was highly interested, had many suggestions, and offered city resources.

The coop is located in the Turner building in Takoma Junction. It is the “anchor store” in that small, struggling, business area at the intersection of Carroll Ave and Route 410.

Ideas and possibilities kept popping out of Walker’s and the council’s mouths. Clearly there are many ways this could go. It depends on, among other things, which lots are available on that block. There’s the Turner buiding, the Turner lot (now parking), the city-owned lot (now parking), the Takoma Auto Clinic auto repair business lot, and the specialty auto-repair business Healy Surgeon’s lot. These may or may not be for sale in the immediate future. If the coop could grab all that, the expansion could end up as a major development project.  That prospect did not please some on the council. Councilmember Seth Grimes said he would oppose anything out of proportion to the rest of the Junction’s businesses.

Balderdash, says Your Gilbert. Go for the glory!

The block in question is one of the highest points, if not THE highest point in Takoma Park. What we need there is a TOWER! A tower with an observation deck. An observation deck with a restaurant. And a bar! A bar with a table reserved for Your Gilbert.

Gilbert Tower

Let’s call it Gilbert Tower.

Slog

The council had to slog through some brackish mud to reach it’s summer recess. It dealt with a number of ordinance readings in July.  The council seldom makes snap decisions. Most items are well discussed. Out of those discussions come proposed resolutions or ordinances. These get two “readings.” The first reading can be lengthy, there are usually many revisions made.  The second reading is often shorter, unless someone is unhappy with the revisions. Small revisions can be made on the spot. Then the council makes a final vote. If the revisions are complex, the item is set aside until a later meeting. Citizen feedback is invited at the readings.

Among the readings were amendments to the city’s ethics code, the recussitation of two citizens’ committees (Safe Roadways and Environmental), Storm Water and city budget amendments, and employee pay scales –  all of which passed.

– Gilbert

About the Author

Gilbert
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.

11 Comments on "GRANOLAPARK: A solution in search of a problem?"

  1. Residency requirement and a council voice in appointing department heads. Hit the pamic button? Will civilization as we know it end? Probably, but not because the newbies have staked an alternative to business as always. Relax. Measure the results and reevaluate in the future.

  2. Residency requirement and a council voice in appointing department heads. Hit the pamic button? Will civilization as we know it end? Probably, but not because the newbies have staked an alternative to business as always.

  3. Easy for you to say! While you’re relaxing, we’ll be sitting through the hours and hours of the hearings required to change the city charter.

    And what exactly will all those hours accomplish? A token involvement in the hiring – not firing – process. This will consist of one meeting with the one candidate the city manager chooses. It’s not like the city council will get to choose between candidates, and the information they have will be supplied by the city manager. Basically, the council will be, as councilmember Fred Schultz termed it, “a rubber stamp.”

    Unless, as Councilmember Seth Grimes implied, councilmembers do their own research on the candidate to dig up some dirt. As if councilmembers have a lot of time on their hands to play detective.

    Several people have brought up the many problems with a residency requirement. The chief one, brought up by two former mayors, is that it narrows the pool of candidates.

    It’s also a bullying, intrusive thing to force on an employee.

  4. Regarding the COOP’s profits (I watched the presentation on TV), my understanding was that they had $1M in cash with $.5 in a fund reserved for the new development project. I presumed that the cash had been saved up over a long period, I would guess several years. I did not hear that they earned $.5M last year alone (in fact I don’t recall hearing anything about their annual earnings at all). Are you sure about this? If I am wrong, that certainly would be a lot in one year for a small store like that, and indeed they should consider lowering prices considering their mission.

    • They mentioned annual earnings, and potential annual earnings a number of times. However, after reviewing the meeting, you are correct that he did not say the half-a-million was one year’s profit. We will correct that.

      One of the coop’s presentation slides says the coop gets $10 million in revenue (not profit) yearly. Another says $7.7 in annual sales. Projected earnings after their expansion are $11 million for the first year, rising to $15.5 million in 2018.

  5. Seth Grimes | August 15, 2012 at 12:12 pm |

    Gilbert, thanks for the reporting. Please read my vote on the residency requirement as a vote in favor of moving to consideration of legislation. At this point, I’m leaning against a requirement that department heads live in/near the city. The only benefit that the city should concern itself with is ecological/energy. It is contrary to the city’s environmentalism to have long employee car commutes. I doubt that residency would lead to better or more responsive city staff. At this point, I favor making residency a secondary criterion in evaluation of candidates and offering benefits, if feasible, to employees who do choose to live in Takoma Park.

  6. Seth, that’s good to know. Thanks for clarifying. We prefer the idea of incentives to city staff for environmentally-friendly commuting. How about incentives for those who walk, bike, Metro, bus, drive a high MPG vehicle: electric, hybrid, scooter, motorcycle?

    Note: if Sligo Creek had a higher water level, people could kayak in from Wheaton. A long term plan for a hydro-electric dam on Sligo?

    Having close contact with generations of teachers and clergy, we can give anecdotal evidence that living in one’s school district or parish is undesirable. Even the spouses and children get buttonholed on off-hours to listen to a complaint, to advise a committee member, or take on a work task. We know of one clergyman’s wife who hated to leave the house because she whenever she did, a parishioner would way-lay her. We know of a teacher who had to stop going to her favorite supermarket because a clerk was the mother of a child who was failing her class.

    It has not been mentioned in this discussion that if a staff person lives here it creates a possible conflict of interest. They wouldn’t be able to join their community association, volunteer for a committee, sign a petition, become a coop member, join Historic Takoma, or call their councilmember or mayor with a constituent request. That’s not a normal life. Nor is it participating in community life, which is the stated purpose of the requirement.

    Imagine if the city manager lived on one of the blocks debating whether to put in a sidewalk. Whatever the outcome, people would suspect the city manager of using his/her influence. The same suspicions would occur whenever there were improvements or perceived better services on that block.

  7. Why has no-one seconded our excellent suggestion for an observation tower in Takoma Junction? Clearly, that was the most important part.

  8. Because we are torch bearing, pitchfork caring townspeople and just plain ornery. Put blades on top to generate electricity and I for one will reconsider.

  9. Awesome idea! Wind mill on top and solar panels all down the sides! The Tower of Green!

  10. “It has not been mentioned in this discussion that if a staff person lives here it creates a possible conflict of interest.”

    Public Works Director Daryl Braithwaite lives on Hickory and I’ve never heard of any problems. I do see your point, but I think it would definitely be helpful if the manager lived in Montgomery County, not necessarily IN Takoma Park. Chief Ricucci lived (and I assume still does reside) in Frederick, but I think the situation with him was somewhat different because he had spent many years in MoCo as an officer before moving away and serving in other departments. He was already somewhat familiar with the area.

    One short example that for me, illustrates how having some familiarity with the city can be helpful: A few years ago after a heavy snow, I questioned why the sidewalk on Poplar by Spring Park had not been shoveled or salted. It was icy and dangerous. Ms. Matthews responded to me that the street was flat, so it wasn’t as high a priority as other sidewalks. Except it’s not flat. If she had ever walked along that street or seen it, she probably would have known that. I can only assume she was relying on someone else’s input.

Comments are closed.