GRANOLAPARK: Sanity, truth and plastic bags

IMAGE: This is how happy the council looks when meetings end before 10 p.m. The Feb. 24 meeting finished up around (9:40 p.m.). Photo by Bill Brown


Dear Readers,

It’s outdated and unhelpful, said Takoma Park council member Tim Male, and “I don’t actually support our strategic plan.”

A low rumbling came from underneath the dais.

“I’m not sure how strategic it is, he said. Below him came the sound of breaking chains and crumbling barriers.

Male said he’s “seen it used to fit everything in,” and the floor beneath his seat splintered and rose up.

A marble pillar emerged and slowly lifted him high above the council dais. Upon its abacus were chiseled the words “SANITY” and “TRUTH.” Bluebirds and singing larks flew ascending spirals around him, some of them carrying a gossamer silk ribbon to wreath about his brow and rest upon his shoulders. Marigold petals floated down and formed little yellow drifts as fresh, bracing air gusted gently across the stage.

Your Gilbert could barely see the spectacle through his tears. At last, at last, a council member admits how dumb the Strategic Plan is.

The Strategic Plan was passed in 2009 and was intended to guide the council, the city manager and the staff for five years. Nobody noticed it’s supposed expiration in 2014.


Through those five years the main effect we saw was that the council, city manager and staff, plus grant supplicants, stuck the three awkwardly phrased guiding principles into every report, request, memo, statement, announcement, letter home to mom, text message and tweet.

We all know them. Everybody stand and recite: “Sustainability, Livable Community, Engaged, Responsive, and Service Oriented Government.”

Those three goals have been inserted into every freakin’ city document, stuck into introductions and summaries in the cringeworthy way “D” students stick required vocabulary words into an essay.

We described just one night of the MONTHS and MONTHS wasted on the Strategic Plan process – which then-mayor Bruce Williams described as like the “making of vegetarian sausage” – in January, 2009. “Vegetarian” because Takoma Park is animal-rights country.

Have you ever had one of those nightmares where there is a serious conversation going on – half obscure bureaucratic jargon, half childishly simple statements – and everyone else in the room thinks it is gravely important, but you can’t figure out why? Oh, wait, that’s not a nightmare, that was the city council discussing its “Strategic Plan and Council Priorities.”

Granolapark also compared Takoma Parks strategic plan with Colorado Spring’s clearer, shorter and better organized strategic plan.

Goals and projects on Colorado Spring’s Transportation plan read like a checklist for the public works department. … As our city’s plan is organized now, a Takoma Park staff person would have to hunt and peck to find all the items that pertain to his or her department.

This involves several different departments and at least two citizen committees. If this is a vegetarian sausage, as Mayor Williams described it, the links are all different shapes, some are not formed at all, some of it is still raw, and the sausage chain is tied up in several knots.


Now, the council is putting the final revisions to a mini strategic plan – the 2016 Council Priorities.

One of them is to create a new city staff position. The position will be to work with disadvantaged youth and families.

This is a response to the growing awareness of the city’s economic divide, made more obvious in recent years by the gap between the low-income, immigrant, minority residents (most of them renters) and the new residents who can afford to buy one of the city’s increasingly expensive homes.

Well-meaning, of course, but another staff position requires more money. Where is the money going to come from?

Maybe from the state, if Maryland’s municipalities can make a deal to restore their fair share of state highway user funds. The Republican governor is unenthusiastic to to that, said the city manager. There are other sources such as the county or grants. Maybe there will be a miracle and the county will stop double-taxing the city.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Or they could just squeeze more out of taxpayers. We. Shall. See. Budget season is coming up and the city manager’s plan – particularly this year’s tax rate – will be revealed soon.

Noise no more

The Noise Ordinance passed. This means police now have the power to close down an event or issue a citation for a noise complaint. Previously, they had to take noise measurements and there wasn’t much they could do except ask people to keep the noise down for the sake of the neighbors.

It also means the resurrection of the Noise Control Board, which will have the power to hear and pass judgement on noise complaints. The council will appoint residents to the board.


The city council looked into bags, where they found bags within bags. It was zen-like in a petroleum-product sort of way.

“We’re solving a problem we don’t have,” said council member Terry Seamens of the city’s proposed plastic bag ban. “I’d like to know where that real problem is and what the impact is going to be.” he said.

He was supporting a similar statement by council member Fred Schultz. Shultz observed that, as reported by the Old Takoma Business Association, merchants in the city’s historic shopping district have already phased out plastic bags.

This leaves, said Shultz, all the stores in more hard-bitten areas such as the Takoma/Langley Crossroads in his ward. Schultz said he’d like to talk to the 65 or so retail merchants there to see how a plastic bag ban would affect them.

Schultz was not against the ban per se. He pushed everybody into the Way-Back machine for a trip to his youth where there were produce managers who would weigh produce, wrap it in paper, and mark the price with a grease pencil. People, he said, have been shopping for food for millennia without using plastic bags. It shouldn’t be that much of a hardship to stop.

Hovering over the discussion was Old Takoma Business Association director Laura Barkley. She requested a plastic bag ban exemption for the Sunday Farmers Market. The farmers oppose a ban, she said.

She called the market a community asset the city should protect. Their sales are declining, perhaps due to more farmers markets opening up around the region, she said.

The council leaned back for the farmers until their foreheads touched their ankles. Assistant city attorney Kenneth Sigman found a loophole. Farmers Market produce could be considered bulk food, which is exempt from the ban.

So, said one of the council members, buying one apple in a plastic bag is a bulk purchase? Tim Male said he’s seen two types of bag usage at the market: people loading up bags from the bins, and then the vendor offering plastic handle bags to carry all their other bags.

They ended up giving the Farmers Market a pass, but the council said they would “work in partnership” with the market to reduce plastic bag use.

In the current draft there are newspaper and dry-cleaning bag exemptions, but in a straw vote the council decided to look into eventually phasing them out, too.

Cash cow going extinct?

The city gets a frustratingly large amount of money from cable tv companies. Frustrating because the city is limited to spending it directly on the city cable tv station and operations. It is hard to find a way to spend it all, apparently.

Cable companies fork over the cash in exchange for their monopoly. There’s a limit on how many cable providers there can be in any area. The payments are legal kick-backs. This was set up in quaint pre-internet times when television was The Media. The sort of people who now can start a revolution by posting a Youtube video they made on their phones could only stand on a street corner and hand out leaflets. They would have been lucky to get a letter-to-the-editor published. So, the cable money funded public access channels. These have become local government stations such as the city’s. Because since Youtube who needs access to cable tv?

These cable tv funding arrangements with cable providers Comcast, RN, Verizon and the city and county are up for renewal. The city council discussed it briefly about at the Feb 24 meeting.

The discussion’s most whole-grain food for thought was the future of cable tv. Cable is losing customers, such as the two “cable-cutters,” council members Tim Male and Jarrett Smith. If cable goes away – as have so many once-standard technologies – so does the cash.

– Gilbert


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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: Sanity, truth and plastic bags"

  1. If cable payments decline, then there will be less money for the city tv channel, which we don’t really need anyway. It’s a self-correcting mechanism. The only media operation that the city needs is webcasting city council meetings.

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