GOVERNMENT GEARS: Nights of the roundtable

GOVERNMENT GEARS • BY NAOMI EIDE with BILL BROWN

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Park of a continuing series by Naomi Eide focusing on how Takoma Park city government works.

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Part time staff are deserting Takoma Park’s recreation department for higher paying positions, the department director told the city council.

“This is the problem across recreation departments in the region,” explained the acting city manager at Takoma Park’s special Feb. 11 roundtable meeting between department heads, staff and the city council.

“The reason that we have these positions, primarily, is the training. It’s part of the commitment to the community to build good future employees,” said Gregory Clark, Recreation Department director.

Clark explained options to the council that would help keep part-time staff with the recreation department, such as a part-time wage scale and help from the planned minimum wage increase for those 18-years-old and under, who normally fill the part time jobs.

This, of course, might require more budget dollars for the Rec. Dept., and the Roundtables are the start of the budget process. Here, departments showcase their successes and lay out their challenges, setting the groundwork for later funding requests.

Clark - Rec. Dept

Gregory Clark, Recreation Department director.

New

Roundtable meetings are relatively new. Department directors used to give annual reports at city council meetings. They would field questions and discussions with the council afterward.

Suzanne Ludlow managed the city budget process Sept. 2012 to June 2013. She was acting city manager then – a position she finds herself in again. Last time, she was frustrated with how long it took to go through the budget. The following year, as assistant city manager, Ludlow worked with former city manager Bryan Kenner to create the department roundtables. Kenner recently stepped down to take a deputy city management position in the Washington, DC city government.

The department roundtables were intended to share more information about department duties with the council at the start of the budget decision process.

But, they needed some tweaking. Ludlow said this year the department heads are speaking for less time, providing less background and allowing the council to ask more questions.

Creative and strategic

The Recreation Department’s Feb. 11 presentation was typical. Gregory Clark, the Recreation department director, spoke with city council to share department accomplishments from last year, such as the increased participation in department class offerings.

“We have grown in programs and we’ve grown in participation and we’ve been utilizing the same resources, just about, to offer those programs,” Clark said at the roundtable. “We’ve been very creative…and very strategic, in finding out ways to make sure that we are able to staff programs, that we’re able to hire contractors and we’re able to have these programs.”

The roundtables were held over two separate nights in February. On Feb. 11, city council met with the Finance, Information Systems, Communications, Housing and Community Development and Recreation departments. On Feb. 19, the council met with the remaining departments, which included the Public Works, Lifelong Takoma, Library and Police departments.

Space

The roundtables also give the opportunity for the council to commend department achievements. During the Feb. 11 roundtable, Councilmember Terry Seamens praised the recreation department for their programming, even though the department is struggling with program space.

“Isn’t it fantastic though, after several years from when we built the community center that we were struggling to say, ‘well what did we build an art room for if we couldn’t use it,’” Seamens said. “Now we’re at a point where we need to say well, how could we have more of it.”

The city council will next meet about the budget on April 6, when Ludlow will outline the budget to the council. The council will the review and make adjustments to the budget during work sessions in April before voting on the final budget.