Ward 3 Voter Guide 2014: Controversy

Where do you stand on the controversial issues the council created last term?

[ezcol_1third] JeffN_200

JEFFREY NOEL-NOSBAUM

Safe Grow Zone ordinance

Generally supportive but not sure how enforceable it is.

Enfranchising 16- and 17-year-olds

Supportive and would let them run for office also.

Requiring the city manager and department heads to live in the city

Like idea but has practicality issues.

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[ezcol_1third] Roger-Schlegel-200

ROGER SCHLEGEL

The Safe Grow Zone ordinance

The council had a laudable goal in seeking to reduce the potential exposure of animals and humans to toxic pesticides and herbicides, but in its haste to eagerness to adopt some kind of legislation, the council seemed to lose sight of the overall goal and also dove into an iterative process that was fatiguing for many residents. The council should have begun by trying to measure the seriousness of the problem. We do not know how many people in Takoma Park are using weed control herbicides on their lawns, for example.

The initial draft legislation suffered from poorly crafted language. For example, all “chemicals” were referred to as being hazardous when even water itself is a chemical. The draft enforcement mechanism for the legislation unwisely seemed to rely on residents ratting out their neighbors, and this is why the final legislation came to incorporate more of an educational component. The final legislation passed probably will result in only a very minor reduction in the use of herbicides and pesticides because it exempts such uses as mosquito control, ant and cockroach control, and the control of poison ivy.

If the starting goal was more clearly defined as “reducing the overall exposure to pesticides and herbicides,” perhaps the council might have engaged in more creative thinking about education and outreach as well as about non-chemical approaches to mosquito and poison ivy control.

Enfranchising 16- and 17-year-olds

This was another case where the council began with a broad and laudable goal—to increase voter participation—but ended up with a very narrowly focused outcome. I would venture to say that by collectively creating a contested election in Ward 3, Jeffrey, Kate and I are going to increase voter participation more, in just one ward, than the enfranchisement of 16- and 17-year-olds did for the entire city in the last, completely uncontested citywide elections.

I am a high school teacher. In my observation, 16- and 17-year-olds who are still living with their parents often unconsciously mimic the political views of their parents and are often bribed, coerced or at least strongly encouraged by their parents to participate in activities that the teens themselves might not have chosen to do on their own. Perhaps even more so, I have seen that teachers can exert great influence on the political opinions of their students, and I have to be careful in presenting my views to my students. As a candidate, I feel some hesitation about directly approaching voters who are minors to ask for their vote, and I can see that some minors may not even have permission to come out and attend evening events such as candidate forums.

So I have several significant concerns that enfranchising 16- and 17-year-olds will effectively result in giving more political power to the parents of those teens – if those parents already vote. If you are a teen and you are reading this, ask yourself how you can ensure that you will be making a voting decision that is independent from that made by either or both of your parents, and please follow through with whatever plan you create. I can, of course, understand and sympathize with the arguments made that an earlier experience of voting will increase the likelihood of one’s voting as an adult. I would suggest that a more appropriate way to encourage voting among teenagers might be to set aside a small portion of the city budget as the teen program budget and to allow an elected teen council to make decisions concerning the allocation of funds in that budget.

The council made a huge mistake in not submitting this question to a referendum. In the first place, when an extension of the franchise is considered, it only seems fair to allow all of the existing voters to weigh in on the question since the power of each of their votes will be watered down by the expansion of the franchise. Secondly, by not submitting this matter to a referendum, the council ended up, again, fatiguing the residents and using up a lot of council time that could have been spent on other pressing issues.

Requiring the city manager and department heads to live in the city

This was yet another issues where the council spent an inordinate amount of time on a question that began with an admirable goal in mind but got sidetracked along the way. The council had a good intention: make sure that the manager and the department heads are in a position to know and understand the culture of the city, so that their decision-making is well-informed. This intention, though, is symptomatic of the council’s ongoing reluctance to provide clear programmatic direction and priority-setting to the city manager. The council tends to avoid tough decisions about what the priorities of the city should be and thus wants to embrace all values as somehow equally important. (Read the City Council Strategic Plan, which after five years, still lacks any ranking of priorities and does not establish any measurable goals.)

By seeking to have the city manager and department heads live in the city, the council hopes that somehow, magically, through interaction with their neighbors, the manager and department heads will imbibe the right sense of what city priorities should be and will thus free the council from having to provide very much direction. (I’m exaggerating a bit to make my point.) In practice, a well-trained and experienced city manager will do just as strong a job for a city regardless of whether he/she lives within the city limits – provided, of course, that he/she is close enough to respond quickly in an urgent situation.

There could even be some slight risk involved in having a city manager live in a city, in the sense that it might encourage a perception of conflict of interest, e.g. the manager might appear to be making decisions that favored his/her own neighbors. Also, given the cost of housing in Takoma Park, requiring administrators to live in town might reduce the size of the interested applicant pool. Ultimately, I think it is desirable but not absolutely necessary that the city manager and department chairs live in Takoma Park.

Because the council took several weeks to examine and debate the residency question in the fall of 2013, advertising for the position of city manager was delayed until the start of 2014, and the overall work of the City Manager Selection Task Force was extended by about three months. This placed an imposition on the acting city manager as well as on the volunteers serving on the task force. I would imagine that the council’s handling of this question thus had a long-term negative impact on the willingness of citizens to participate in task force processes.

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[ezcol_1third_end]  kates-200

KATE STEWART

The Safe Grow Zone ordinance

I support the Safe Grow Act, which restricts the use of carcinogenic and toxic lawn chemicals and supports the city’s efforts to protect public health and build a sustainable future.

Enfranchising 16- and 17-year-olds

I fully support enfranchising 16- and 17-year-olds and spoke at Council meetings in support of this change.  There is a great deal of research which shows that when young people begin to vote at 16 or 17 they are more likely to continue to vote and be engaged in their communities. I feel strongly that as a society we must set high expectations for our young people and provide the support for them to succeed.

Requiring the city manager and department heads to live in the city

Takoma Park needs to be able to attract and retain qualified administrators and department heads.  Given strength and diversity of our broader metropolitan community, imposing a residency requirement on key administrative staff will unnecessarily limit our ability to hire and retain the best candidates for city positions.

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