GRANOLAPARK: How transparent?


Dear Readers,

Redistricting is not fun.

A member of the now-disbanded redistricting committee came to the microphone to accuse the council of superseding the committee’s recommendations “for personal reasons.” She said she resented having spent long volunteer hours, only to have the council reject the committee’s work, turning what should have been a independent citizen-led process into, she said, a non-transparent political one.

She made clear she was not speaking for the committee, but as a Ward 5 resident. Her ward, she complained, would suffer from the council’s proposed changes to the ward boundaries. They lower the median income level, increasing the disparity between Ward 5 and wealthier wards, and they increase the number of renters, moving a neighborhood of family homes to Ward 4.

According to her, the committee did its job according to the rules set down by the council, but when the results were presented, the city rejected them, asked for new alternatives, and then rejected those. Then the council presented it’s own map

The next resident, Anne Hollander, also of Ward 5 also questioned the process and complained that it was not as transparent as it should be. A committee of objective citizen volunteers came up with a number of proposals, and all were rejected and replaced by the council’s. “Why did that happen?” she asked.

Robert Lanza, who served on the city’s ward redistricting committee in 2000, said he also had “a problem” with the council’s criteria being changed. In the interest of transparency, he said, the council should reveal its process.


Mayor Bruce Williams, responded that to the contrary the process was transparent. The council has discussed all it’s reactions, objections, and suggested changes at public hearings, he said. All the options that have been considered are on the city’s website, he said.

The differences seem to come down to how the committee divided up neighborhoods. Some of their proposed borders fell where the council didn’t want them – down the middle of streets. The council wanted borders that kept neighborhoods together – best done, they said by laying borders down the middle of blocks between properties. Otherwise, they wanted borders to follow natural dividing lines – geographical features, for example.

As this was a public hearing for resident comments, the mayor spoke briefly and no other councilmembers spoke to the issue. Councilmember Seth Grimes, however, responded on his blog, here reprinted in the Voice.

There are two more opportunities for public comment on the proposed ward boundary changes, the next one at the Jan. 28 city council meeting.

Past Granolapark posts reported on this issue:  June, 2012, when the committee presented the first set of recommendations, which the council rejected, and October, 2012 when the revised recommendations were made.

Behind closed doors

The most interesting part of Jan.14th’s meeting was secret. The Takoma Park city council whispered and giggled with the city attorney behind closed doors, making crude jokes about the State Highway Administration (SHA). Oh, and they were also getting legal advice about city negotiations with the SHA over Route 410.

The city wants the SHA to resume maintenance of 410, one of Takoma Park’s major traffic arteries. The SHA agrees, but an official agreement must be made for that to happen. And that means the terms of that agreement must be, um, agreed to.

In the past the SHA has proved to be . . . difficult, to put it politely. In the case of REt 410, around 5 years ago, when state budgets got tight, they didn’t own it, which meant they didn’t have to maintain it. The road gradually deteriorated and the SHA referred repair requests to the city. Last year, they decided they DID own it, and would resume maintenance. Resurfacing from Elm St. to Park Ave. is due to begin this year in the warmer months.

The city is not so easy to get along with, either. Takoma Park wants a few special arrangements. They want more control over who, where, and when is digging up the street to lay pipes or lines or whatever. And they want the road repair done properly after such digging. That’s the sort of demand that makes the SHA rear back with wide, incredulous eyes, thumping the side of it’s head because the words don’t compute.

There is also the concern about future road widening. Civilian activists, who are more than a little cranky on this score, want the strongest language possible in any agreement that would prevent this. Unfortunately, this is not a point the SHA can give a satisfactory response to. Not, they say, because they are hiding evil plans to bulldoze half the city, but because making a deal like that with us would mean they’d have to make one like it with every municipality and neighborhood in the state.

So, speculating here, these are just two of the issues the city is negotiating. We all have to wait until it comes up in a public meeting. Gosh, we can barely wait!

Shock potential

A potentially hot issue started out cold. Housing code is about as exciting as rust, but since most part of it directly of indirectly touch on the electric issue of rent-control, it can be shocking.

The city will be making changes to the housing-code chapters concerning landlord-tenant relations. They have in mind strengthening tenant’s rights. The first discussion was Jan. 14, with many more to come.

– 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.

1 Comment on "GRANOLAPARK: How transparent?"

  1. Seth Grimes | January 18, 2013 at 6:12 pm |

    Gilbert, a city council work session “Discussion of Memorandum of Understanding with State Highway Administration regarding MD 410” is scheduled for the February 11, 2013 council meeting. The latest draft of the MOU will be made public prior to the meeting. (If it were up to me, I’d release it now, but it’s not up to me alone.) The council is then slated to vote, on February 19, on authorizing signing of the MOU. The mayor chose not to schedule a public hearing prior to the February 11 worksession, but public may comment during the public-comment period at the February 11 meeting or prior to the vote on February 19 or by e-mail to any time.

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