GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT
With the smallest majority possible the Takoma Park city council voted to move two controversial proposals closer to becoming city law. One proposal would require top city staff to live in the city. The other would give the council a vote on new department head hires. Currently there is no staff residency requirement and the city manager alone makes hiring and firing decisions.
The proposals are far from becoming city law, but last Tuesday’s 3-4 vote brings them closer. Because of that Sept. 18th vote there will be a series of discussions, hearings, draft proposals, and two more votes before the residency requirement become official.
To give the council a voting role in hiring, however, the city charter must be amended. That’s a bigger deal. The amendment must be drafted, then have two readings, public notifications, hearings, and more public notifications. These events must meet certain criteria and follow a specific time-table.
Changes of mind and changes in the proposals are still possible. Councilmember Seth Grimes said he would be offering an alternative to residency requirement. He proposed an incentive program to encourage, not require, top staff to live in the city.
Pros and cons
Grimes, who initially seemed open to the two proposals, voted against them. He reported that recently departed city manager Barbara Matthews, now that she is free to voice an opinion, said a residency requirement was a “bad idea.”
Councilmember Fred Schultz remained firmly against the proposals. Mayor Bruce Williams said the summer break gave him time to “cool down,” about it, but he has not changed his mind.
The four councilmembers in favor of the resolution showed no sign of having second thoughts. Councilmember Terry Seamen’s Ward 4 constituent support for them is strong. He said the residency requirement will foster a stronger commmitment toward the community.
Newly elected Ward 5 councilmember Jarret Smith said opinions were mixed among his constituents, but “I believe these are two good ideas.”
An oft-repeated argument against residency requirement is that it may eliminate otherwise excellent candidates.
“Yes, it narrows the pool,” said councilmember Tim Male, “to people who believe in the community.”
Mayor Williams said, “will these desires be met by this choice?I don’t think they will.”
“There’s always the waiver,” said Kay Daniels-Cohen, Ward 3 councilmember. Her’s was the fourth vote in favor. She was referring to the residency requirement draft proposal that states that the requirement can be “waived or modified by the Council on a case by case basis.”
Councilmember Tim Male wrote both draft proposals.
Meanwhile . . .
Only last week the council appointed citizens to the City Manager Selection Committee. The appointees include former mayor Kathy Porter who advised the council against the proposed laws. How the selection committee may affect the proposals remains to be seen. Earlier in the discussion, weeks ago, the council said the committee would set criteria for candidate selection.
For readers who have not been following this here’s a summary.
Some councilmembers, most of them new to office, want to make big changes to the city government – the employed-staff side, not the elected-politician side of government. The staff are the employees who work in all the city departments: public works, recreation, police, etc. Their boss is the city manager and all the departments are answerable to her or him. The city manager position is now open, which inspired these proposals.
The first proposed change is to require the city manager and city department heads to live in the city. As the draft is now written, the requirement can be waived or modified by the council. This would effect the hiring of a new city manager. If either of these proposals pass, they would change the job description and requirements. Current staff will be “grandfathered” in. The requirement would affect only future hires.
The other change is to amend the city charter, granting the council “advice and consent” on department head hires. Ratification by council vote would be required for each hire. These hires are currently in the city manager’s hands only.
A previous city council deliberately removed themselves from the hiring and firing process, establishing a firewall around the city staff through which no council order may penetrate except via the city manager. The city manager was the only staff member the council may now hire and fire. At the time, say former elected city officials who testified earlier, strict separation was the solution to breaches in the chain-of-command, and other staff problems. They urged the new council not to undo their work.
Acting Takoma Park Police Chief Drew Tracey takes the “acting” title seriously. As he gave a crime report to the city council Sept. 18 he was far more animated than former chief Ronald Riccuci ever was. Tracey was clearly delighted about three recent arrests that might end the current home-burglary spree.
Horrible traffic is in your future, Dear Readers!
Reconstruction of the New Hampshire Avenue over Sligo Creek will constrict 6 lanes of heavy traffic on that major artery to 4 lanes. It will also block access to Sligo Creek Parkway – a popular cut-through route. Commuters seeking alternate routes will likely find them through his Ward 6, Shultz said. Keeping them out or at least slowed down will be high on his agenda, he said. State Highway Administration plans to begin construction work in spring, 2013, finishing in the fall, reported Schultz.