The old news is that Montgomery County Council voted 7-1 to restore the $690,000 tax duplication reimbursement amount to Takoma Park and other municipalities (see “Something Untoward”). This has been widely reported elsewhere. So has the fact that the Washington Adventist Hospital is definitely leaving Takoma Park, but as compensation to the community, will (maybe) establish some sort of an emergency-care facility here.
The new news is that the city council has lately been focusing on budget matters and other stupor-inducing tasks. An exception was the May 14th executive council session – “executive” as in “none of your beeswax”- held behind closed doors to discuss “potential litigation regarding rent stabilization.” Uh oh!
In the regular session that followed, councilmember Terry Seamens was the lone “nay” vote against the city paying $28,000 to an architect for a city council auditorium renovation feasibility study. This would be a study of how best to turn the council meeting room into a sort of Swiss Army knife. The idea is that if the massive and permanent council podium could be replaced by one that folds discretely away, and other changes made to the room, the stage could be used as a theater, concert hall, and so forth. The room could be available for such events the six evenings and seven days it is not in use as a council meeting room.
Seamens, however, objects to spending so much money for no physical result, and would rather spend it on food programs for the low income or recreational activities for young people on the street.
Councilmember Colleen Clay fell off the wagon. Her New Year’s resolution not to micromanage was forgotten when the city’s recreation department’s proposed 2008 budget was presented for review. She grilled the recreation director Debra Haiduven about the Extreme Horizons summer day camp program the department runs for teens. She questioned everything from the cost, to the camper/staffer ratio, to the very purpose of the camp, which takes participants on daily field trips. These trips include white water rafting, caving, the DC Science Center, rope courses, swimming, mountain biking, rock climbing, and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. To the disgruntlement of councilmember Clay, however, they also include amusement parks and destinations such as Dave-n-Busters, Funland (go carts, arcades, laser tag, putt putt), Busch Gardens, Hershey Park, King’s Dominion, movies and sports events.
Councilmember Clay, tapping her inner Obsessive Supermom, blasted the staff for including too many activities that are “pure amusement.” Pure amusement – on summer vacation! What were these recreational folks thinking? Clay said she would like to see the program, indeed, all of the recreational department programs, offer personal enrichment and development instead of simple “amusement”. The rec. dept. should not exist merely as a “gang diversion” program, she said, Her ambition for the department is “greater than that.”
Mayor Kathy Porter suggested that the councilmember was getting into far more detail than was necessary for a budget review and perhaps Clay should sit down with the staff and discuss program goals at another time.
Clay complained that if she did that “I’d be accused of micromanagement!”
. . . (sound of pin dropping) . . .
The Mayor pointed out that Clay was instead micromanaging from the dais. Clay responded that it was out of frustration with the system, calling it “a trap.” She had, she said, no other opportunity to weigh in on such matters since the council seldom gets to review specific city programs, and the budget process offered no opportunity for line item reviews.
Mayor Porter said that was on purpose, that when the city used to have line item reviews the council would get bogged down. Ahem.
Councilmember Seamens spoke up, saying he was not happy that there was only a month to go before the budget had to be approved, leaving not enough time for careful review or questions such as councilmember Clay’s. He reminded the Mayor that a year ago the council had agreed that it wanted to discuss city programs in more detail, but it had not been put on the council schedule.
He was also concerned with what he called the “Wallmart” strategy of hiring part-time employees so it didn’t have to pay them full-time staff benefits. There are 30 part-time employees in the rec. department.
Finally, he said he felt the city had done the wrong thing when it stopped taking scholarship applications on the “honor system”. Now, the city makes applicants provide tax information, which, Seamen’s suspects, stops many deserving people from applying.
Your Gilbert suggests that scholarships should be awarded on councilmember recommendation and that constituents apply to their councilmember, who can use his or her discretion in determining worthiness.
Probably all of this and any other “serious” news events in Takoma Park will be eclipsed by the Banjo Man, which is why we left it for last. It seems unnamed persons have complained about Frank Cassel the Banjo Man’s street performances on Carroll Avenue during the Sunday Farmer’s Market. They complain about the obstructed sidewalk and the sidewalk chalk drawings his young listeners leave behind. The city staff has jumped right on this and decided that Banjo Man is in violation of City Code, and are in negotiations with him to “identify options” that would address the complaints..
If the Banjo Man is forced to leave, Your Gilbert suggests the complaining citizens and overzealous city staff members should be required to baby-sit the children in their homes every Sunday morning while the parents shop at the market – but only after their homes are brought up to code for a child-care facility.