COUNCIL VOICE : Tim Male on current controversies

COUNCIL VOICE • BY TIM MALE, Ward 2 City Council Member

Takoma Park city ouncilmember Tim Male’s addresses issues currently before the council; whether to require the future city administrator to live in the city, and whether the council should have a role in hiring city department heads.

Residency requirements are a common practice in both small and large cities for City Manager positions.  To give you a sense for just how common it is, follow the history of our two most recent city managers.  Rick Finn went from a job in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin to Sandusky, Ohio to Takoma Park.  He was a finalist for a job in Marco Island, Florida and then was manager in Peekskill, New York.  Every city but ours had a residency requirement and all are between 15,000 and 30,000 in population. Barbara Matthews moved from Gladstone to Kirkwood to Manchester, Missouri. Two had city residency requirements.  Manchester had a state not city requirement.  All were small communities like ours.  Next our manager lived in Reston because her husband took a city manager job there – with a residency requirement.  Now she has moved to Rockville – residency required.  College Park and Greenbelt have the same requirement.

To make a change like this in Takoma Park, the City Attorney advised the Council that we need to amend the City Charter.  This past Monday, the Mayor and four Council members, found a way forward that would allow us to create the ability for this or future Councils to create a residency requirement or preference.  We did it by creating residency as an option in Charter that would take an ordinance to put into effect.  We listened to the many residents who said that they didn’t want the requirement placed in Charter.

We also listened to the many residents who said that they wanted the Council to have a greater role in future department head hires, but were worried about the effect that a Council vote or veto would have on Manager-Department head relations.  Again, the City Attorney counseled us that a Charter change was necessary.  We found a way forward that the Council supported with six ‘yes’ votes and none against.  The approach is to require the manager to seek the Council’s advice at points in the hiring process but never hold a vote – i.e. taking our advice but not requiring our consent.

I view these as subtle changes that strengthen the nature of our democracy, create a more responsive city government and create another check and balance to help our very good city government take one more step to becoming a very great government – one that matches its people.

 

NOTE: Related opinion article here. Extensive coverage of this and other council issues in the Voice’s Granolapark column. Ward 1 city councilmember Seth Grimes has a blog entry on these issues.