GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT
How likely is it that someone might shoot up the city council? Is it likely enough to post a police officer at city council meetings? Or, rather, to continue to post a police officer at city council meetings?
This is one of the issues the council discussed Wednesday, May 24 before taking last week off – because May 30 was the fifth Wednesday of the month. We’re not sure why that is a good reason, but we got the week off, too, and that’s good enough reason for us.
Columbus out, Indigenous in
The council discussed the police presence as well as traffic-calming and the folk festival. They had votes, too. The council voted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. The city doesn’t take the day off anyway. The only locales that do are motivated by reasons having nothing to do with Christopher Columbus. They might as well rename it “Clog the Roads With Leaf-peeping Tourists Day.”
They proclaimed June 2, 2017 Gun Violence Awareness Day and voted for a budget amendment. They also voted for a consent agenda – which is what they call a bundle of voting items needing no discussion.
Several people, some of them non-residents, were there to speak for the Indigenous Peoples Day proposal. We note the city has not taken our advice to pass such proposals to a Feel-Good Legislation Citizens’ Committee which could conduct all the public hearings and listen to testimony from non-resident activists so the council wouldn’t have to. The committee would make a recommendation to the council, which would vote on it with no discussion, much like a consent agenda. It would save the city council hours they could spend on important issues – like traffic calming.
And, that’s what they discussed – traffic calming. The Safe Roadways Committee wants to change city code which favors speed humps, they say, over more preferred traffic calming methods. Yet, the council discussion was dominated by speed humps, they pointed out at the end.
Apparently the city manager quietly initiated an informal police presence arrangement following a 2015 confrontation – of sorts. If it is the one we remember (and wrote about), a resident-activist interrupted deputy city manager Suzanne Ludlow as she was making a report.
He would not be shushed, approached the dais and demanded to be arrested. Takoma Park police chief Alan Goldberg, who happened to be there to deliver his annual report and another officer escorted him from the room. He was not arrested.
It was the then-city manager Brian Kenner’s last meeting. Suzanne Ludlow became Acting City Manager, and apparently one of her first acts was to request an informal police presence at city council meetings. Later she was hired as City Manager.
Beginning in 2015 police officers have been a regular, but not constant presence in meeting or in the vicinity. Often police officers, including the chief, are present at meetings where they give a scheduled presentation.
They take advantage of the police shift change at 8 p.m. An officer about to go off duty meets an officer coming on duty at that time in or near the auditorium.
The council had divided opinions, but all wanted to know if there was additional cost or whether officers were being taken off other duties to guard the council.
Councilmember Tim Male was the one most strongly opposed. He thought it belied the city’s non-violent ethos. His questions about the practice led to the council discussion May 24.
The presence of officers, he said, can escalate, not calm, a situation, such as the one that triggered the practice. If police presence was needed in public spaces they should be stationed at the next-door county school, which would protect more people. And why should the police cover city council meetings and not city committee meetings in the same building on other nights?
Councimember Jarrett Smith held the opposing view, “Anyone can walk into the room and make a statement with a weapon,” he said. He said that other political bodies had stronger security, including the Montgomery County council which has a new search protocol.
I feel very safe
Acting police chief Tyrone Collington said, when asked, that some other local municipalities have police presence.
Councilmember Rizzy Qureshi though that a police presence “unnessarily gives the impression that we’re more important than we are.”
“I dont feel any particular threat,” said councilmember Peter Kovar, weighing different aspects of the issue. “Police are here to protect everyone here, not just us,” he said, but he had qualms about the militaristic appearance of an armed presence.
Acting chief Collington said “these are the times that we live in. Anything can occur.” His priority, he said, is to protect and save lives and keep a bad situation from getting worse. “We’d rather be cautious,” he said.
Councilmember Terry Seamens joked with acting chief Collington, “I feel very safe because you’re here.”
Though he has personally had threatening phone calls, he doesn’t favor civil-liberty eroding measures such as cctv cameras to monitor community center hallways.
“I’m on the fence on this one. I don’t really know,” he said.
Mayor Kate Stewart said that through her terms on the council she’s been casting the police as guardians, not warriors.
She told acting chief Collington, “You have special training in dealing with people with mental health issues. I don’t.”
“I’ve been affected by that, and so have my family,” she said. “I want to feel safe.”
But, she said, officers should not be taken from patrol or other activities to be present at city council meetings.
The discussion got down to semantics. What would they be voting on – assuming the discussion turns into a voting item in future weeks? Was police presence a policy or a practice?
They decided it was a practice, and that was what they were reviewing – not voting on. It could be proposed as a policy, which would elevate it to a voting item.
Councilmember Qureshi said, however that “if one person feels the need” for police presence, “it should not be a vote.”
The Takoma Park Folk Festival organizers reported it really is going to happen this year. Last year, the festival founded by the legendary local activist and mayor Sam Abbott, crashed on it’s 40th anniversary take-off. It was cancelled to everyone’s chagrin and many’s embarrassment a few months before it was scheduled to happen. Lack of experienced volunteers was purportedly the cause.
Main Street Takoma, House of Musical Traditions, the city and others stepped in last fall and held a small folk festival in Takoma Old Town – with a concerted volunteer recruitment effort. It seems to have paid off.
Enjoy the music and morris dancers Sept. 10, 2017, folks.
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