OPINION: BY ROBERT LANZA
The Council discussed charter changes, residency incentives, and a citizen’s charter committee at the April 1 council meeting. The council discussion of these issues was held between 12:00 Midnight and 12:30 AM April 2, avoiding April Fools Day in fact but perhaps not in spirit.
The Council was overall divided and lukewarm concerning whether the city council should have any formal or informal involvement in the hiring of the deputy city manager. Councilmembers Seth Grimes and Fred Schultz were opposed, other councilmembes were in various states of lukewarm-ness.
Grimes pointed out that the city council DID formally select the deputy city manager to be the current “acting city manager,” but could theoretically have formally chosen an outsider, so the council has already demonstrated that they have the authority to select the acting city manager, and therefore no charter changes are needed to address this issue.
With respect to residency “incentives” (which theoretically would apply to any city staff) the council was generally in favor of exploring what financial or other incentives could be applied to “promote” residency and how effective they would be. No details of the types of incentives were provided, but the generic incentives that were under discussion would not constitute any mandatory requirement for residency.
Worms worth the effort?
Councimembers (except for councilmember Grimes) leaned in favor of establishing a “Citizens Charter Committee” to discuss and propose charter changes to the city council. No details were provided as to how the committee would be constituted or how it would function. More or less all of the councilmembers agreed that a Citizens Charter Committee would be a “can of worms,” but some councilmembers were inclined to think that the worms would be worth the effort, others not.
Although councilmember Tim Male explicitly stated that residency requirements for the city manager and other city staff were NOT on the meeting’s agenda, councilmember Jarrett Smith indicated in his comments (directly after councilmember Male’s comments) that he thought that a Citizens Charter Committee would be a useful vehicle for a discussion of residency requirements.
The committee’s agenda
So in the event that a Citizens Charter Committee is formed one could expect that city manager and city departmental staff residency requirements would be a prominent agenda item. The hiring authority of the city manager and the roles and responsibilities (or lack thereof) of the city council with respect to hiring the deputy city manager and departmental staff would also be expected to be on the agenda of any Citizens Charter Committee.
Note that none of this would happen in the near future. Councilmembers indicated that they would expect any Citizens Charter Committee to have an extended and deliberative schedule.
Expect (unfortunately) additional discussion of these issues at future Council Meetings.
Aside from the fact that this important discussion should not, literally, have been conducted in the dead of night, proverbially speaking “it ain’t broke.”
Takoma Park does not need the equivalent of a “constitutional convention” to address issues of how the city manager and deputy city manager are managed or other issues of how Takoma Park’s government works.
Altering the city’s form of government
Our current council-manager form of government works well enough, and in my view the proposed charter changes that have already been discussed at council meetings related to how the city manager and deputy city manager are managed would in fact move Takoma Park’s form of government away from the current council-manager form of government that has served Takoma Park well to date.
Tell us what’s “broke,” if you can
In other words, “the problem” that the Citizen’s Charter Committee would be tasked with addressing has not been articulated by the city council. So, unless the city council can first articulate, in writing, exactly what issues are within and outside of the scope of the Citizen’s Charter Committee, i.e., “what is the problem?” the committee should not be established. ‘
We should not just set out a citizens committee into a free form discussion of prospective charter changes, the proverbial “can of worms” as councilmember Fred Schultz noted in his comments. For one thing, there are “rules” associated with city charters that are ensconced in Maryland law. If a citizen’s committee is formed, one of the most important issues will be to first provide the committee members with a detailed understanding of what they cannot do with the city charter because Maryland law says they can’t.
Off the rails?
Otherwise we might end up with a long list of prospective changes that are contrary to state law and therefore cannot be implemented. The citizen’s charter Committee could otherwise easily go off the rails if not closely controlled by a very detailed scope and agenda. So does the city council really want to spend all the time and effort that would be needed to manage the worms that would be released from the proverbial can? And for what purpose, since “the problem” hasn’t even been identified?