GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT
“I’m confused” was the most repeated phrase of the evening, uttered by almost every Takoma Park councilmember.
It was an excruciating two hours. That’s how long it took for residency-requirement to slip into a coma. Finally, we can get on with our lives.
The charter change was disposed of in seconds at the Nov. 13 meeting. But first there were 20 minutes of apologies from the city attorney and mayor for procedural confusions and changing legal advice over the last week that left the council and observers feeling like they were watching a tennis match.
For complex reasons that would take a few paragraphs to explain, only three councilmembers had the power to revive it, and none of them wanted to, so it died.
The short explanation: the charter change resolution failed last week on a tied vote. Because it was such a confusing vote, the resolution was up for reconsideration this week. Roberts Rules say the only way to revive it is that one of the three who voted against it could make a motion to bring it back. The three declined to do so.
That wasn’t the end of it. There was still the city ordinance to deal with.
Follow this carefully. The city charter change and the ordinance were a package deal. The charter change made possible an ordinance imposing residency requirement on the city manager and department heads. The current charter does not allow that.
You’d think they would have just dropped this, since it was dependent on the charter change.
Councilmember Tim Male, the author of the charter change and ordinance proposals, started to re-word the ordinance on the fly to get around the charter. Instead of requiring the city manager to reside in the city, how about we require the COUNCIL to only choose candidates who agree to reside in the city? This sparked rampant face palming, another hour of confusion, and short-tempers.
Everyone was hyper-aware of Robert’s Rules following the previous week’s snafus, and the procedure was complex. Male made a motion to consider his re-write, but nobody was sure what the re-write was – including Male because he was still re-writing. Kay Daniels-Cohen made a friendly motion to table Male’s motion. Other motions followed until they realized they had to back up to the first motion, a process that was like untangling a snarl of yarn. Several people said “I’m confused,” at various times.
Councilmember Jarrett Smilth, who had been one of the so-called Gang of Four pushing the charter change, made it very clear that he was done with it, and would no longer be voting with the other three. Without his vote, the cause was lost. Regardless, Male, assisted by councilmember Kay Daniels-Cohen, and with councilmember Terry Seamen’s tacit support, forged ahead with the new proposal.
The irony got so thick you could have made nails.
The faction that had been complaining because the charter change had been put on the fast track suddenly wanted to speed up the process. The side that had been driving the issue in the express lane suddenly wanted to slow down.
The council members who didn’t want to be bound by a law passed by a previous council wouldn’t accept a residency criteria or preference set by the candidate search committee. That would be too temporary. They wanted to pass a law that would bind “this council and next council, and council after that to have to seek candidates who are willing to be residents,” said coucilmember Tim Male.
The anti resident-requirement side admitted that when the last city manager was hired there was a residency preference spelled out in the job description but there had been no fears then about it limiting the pool of job candidates – the chief argument against it now.
One of the Gang of Four pointed out that their position had evolved from wanting to make residency a requirement to making it a recommendation, but were still being opposed – even though the other side said all along they preferred a recommendation.
Irony of ironies in the background – previous city manager Barbara Matthews was hired with the expectation that she would reside in the city. But, because of a change in her husband’s job, the requirement was waived. Here comes the best part – Matthew’s demeanor is the reason some people want to require future city managers to live in the city – with a possible waiver.
The Spirit of Barb
Oh, and more irony. After Male’s attempt failed and the council moved on to other issues, the council discussed JUST the sort of proposal that Barb Matthews would have soaked with a big wet blanket. Her response would have been the sort of thing that gave her the reputation in some circles for not understanding and being part of the community – which would have been solved, somehow, by making her live here.
The proposal is the pesticide ban, the “Safe Grow Zone Initiative,” which the council has largely embraced. It would prohibit the use of “cosmetic” pesticides and herbicides in the city, first on public land, then after a time on private land.
The citizen-activist authors have written up this proposed law to say certain things shall be regulated, enforced, monitored, and updated by the city and the city manager, but not giving much thought about whether the city manager or anyone else will have the time, or how it will be paid for.
We can just hear Barb Matthews methodically adding up the costs and burdens proposed. Among them are: enforcing the prohibitions, processing applications for exceptions, designing and printing notices, forms, and educational materials, identifying and notifying retailers, lawn, garden, and tree-care providers, churches, schools, other institutions in the city every two years or more frequently, publishing public notice of the ordinance, lists of panned pesticides, alternative products, practices and methods, and issuing licenses to people who want to use pesticides to control an invasive species. That’s a lot of work and expense, and unless you believe in Progressive Fairies, somebody’s got to do it and somebody’s got to pay for it.
If this is the council’s priority, says the Spirit of Barb, then I could fire some librarians and a crossing guard or two. Then we could hire staff dedicated to these tasks. Or we could keep the librarians and guards and create new positions, but then you’d have to raise taxes. Of course, that would anger your constituents, the ones who are already pissed off because the new regulations have turned their lawns brown and weedy, and because you fined them for spraying poison ivy without a permit. But, if that’s what you want me to do . . . .
Acting city manager Suzanne Ludlow took some small, diplomatic steps in this direction, but she wasn’t about to stand in front of the steam-roller as it was gaining speed. She said, “The difficult part that the council will have to deal with . . . is the staff time this requires.” She cited the tree ordinance as an example. “The tree ordinance takes an enormous amount of staff time, and it’s costly,” she warned. “What’s implied is some tax money for this or some fees for permits. That’s probably the more difficult discussion for you rather than the idea of doing this.”
Speaking of cost, the council discussed conducting another Resident Survey. There have been two of these and the staff finds them helpful. The data gives them indications of what services are most useful to citizens, said the acting city manager. However it is costly – up to $40,000. Councilmember Terry Seamens was skeptical of the results of such surveys, saying “we hear what we want to hear.” It has not been worth the expense, he said. The survey passed the first vote 6 -1, Seamens voting “nay.” There will be a second vote at a future city council meeting.
The city council salary/compensation raise and the New Hampshire Garden’s permit parking ordinances passed on the second, final, votes. There was little discussion.