GRANOLAPARK: Wrong track


Dear Readers,

Two questions we wish the Takoma Park city council would ask itself:  “What is the problem?” followed by, “What is the best way to solve it?”

If the “Gang of Four,” the nickname being used to describe the four out of seven councilmembers who are driving the train, could back it up to the station, they might see that the track they took does not go to the destination they want.

What they want is a city manager who doesn’t passively resist their goals like the last one did, in their view. They say she dragged her feet when the council wanted her to hire an environmental sustainability coordinator, for example. Some feel she stalled on hiring staff and increasing hours so nearby residents, many of them low-income, could get full use of the city community center.

Maybe they’ve got a point. But, does their solution – making the city manager live in the city – solve it? Will living in the city prevent future city managers from resisting the council’s goals?

It is like putting a duck into a chicken yard to make it a chicken. Making it live in the chicken yard will not make it a chicken. If you want a chicken, get a chicken.

And for Pete’s sake, if you have a Chicken-Selection Task Force, then let them get the chicken and you should stay out of it.

Task force?

The city does have a council-appointed City Manager Selection Task Force. Why not let them set the criteria and find progressive, enlightened candidates who will embrace the city’s goals? Where they reside has nothing to do with it, necessarily. They might want to move here, but shouldn’t that be up to them?

This attempt by the Gang of Four: Councilmembers Tim Male, Terry Seamens, Kay Daniels-Cohen, and Jarrett Smith, interferes with the task force’s mission, and is a huge distraction, focusing everyone’s attention on one small aspect of hiring a new city manager. The train is on the wrong tracks and the passengers – we citizens – are hanging on the emergency cord. Of all those who have spoke up or written, the majority is against the proposals.

The last time something like this happened – which was when the public got furious about a deal the previous council was making with State Highway Administration – the council dropped the deal like a hot coal, and apologized to their constituents. Just sayin’.

The first reading (of two) of the residency requirement is presumably coming up Nov. 5, postponed from last week due to the hurricane. First readings often end in major revisions to proposed city legislation.

This is the council’s chance to bring the speeding train to a stop, pose those two questions to itself, and find a better track. That’s what they did on the “advise & consent” proposal. They went back to the problem – they were unnerved when the city manager announced her exceutive hires with no chance for input. They realized their proposal – to have a vote in the hiring of the final candidate – did not solve the problem. In fact it had the potential to cause even more problems. Really, they decided, what they wanted was to be put in the loop. In the revised proposal, they would just be kept informed and would give feedback through the process.

Hopefully, they can do that again.

Where we stand

There was a public meeting two weeks ago in which the council revised the proposals, and came to an uneasy compromise.

Residency would not be required in the city charter. The charter change would only allow the council to pass an ordinance that would require it. This is not such a drastic step as putting the requirement in the charter.

They’ve dropped the idea of residency requirements for department heads.

Advise and consent is now minus the “consent.”  The Gang of Four is happy just being involved in the hiring process so they know what’s going on.

– Gilbert

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 "GRANOLAPARK: Wrong track"

  1. Seth Grimes | November 1, 2012 at 8:36 pm |

    Gilbert, while the council will not proceed with a charter change to require department-head residency, we did, by a 6-0-1 first-reading vote, move forward with a charter change that would allow an ordinance to require department-head residency. I abstained because, in that same vote, I favored council “advice” on department-head hires, and a council member can’t vote “Yes and No.”

    I am the only council member who favored putting the city-manager residency question to the City Manager Selection Committee to understand members’ and the publics’ views.


  2. Elizabeth F. Wallace | November 1, 2012 at 9:48 pm |

    Perhaps it could be encouraged that the city manager NOT live across the river in VA. Perhaps at least in a 5-7 (or something) mile radius so that when we have weather challenges, the chances of the manager being nearby or even in the city would be greater. I owned a company for 30 years in DC and whenever there was an ice or snow or hurricane warning I booked a room at a hotel a few blocks from my office so I was sure at least I would be in to answer the phones. One time, it was 3 days before any employees could show up to work. Perhaps the Marriott in Silver SPring would be a good place to have a room nearby?

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