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GRANOLAPARK : Let’s all go to the lobby!

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GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT

Dear Readers,

Did you know the city has a secret agent spying on the state legislature?

Slight exaggeration. She’s the city’s official lobbyist. Michele Douglas of Public Policy Partners (PPP). The firm is a registered lobbyist for a number of state advocacy groups focused on such things as Alzheimer’s Disease, substance abuse, occupational therapy, and alcoholism.

Your Gilbert didn’t say a THING about how well Takoma Park fits into that particular group.

Good news

The good news, said Ms Douglass in her Jan. 7 briefing, is that the economy is improving.

This means more tax revenue, which means fewer cutbacks for municipalities like Takoma Park, which are at the bottom of the revenue food-chain.

Ms Douglas previewed the legislative year ahead – and some of the exciting possibilities. Unfortunately, what the city sees as exciting possibilities, the legislature may see as screw-ball pipe-dreams.

Such as the city getting the power to tax!

Right now, the city gets a cut of real-estate tax, highway user fees, and other financial crumbs from the state. There are “discussions,” said Douglas, about giving cities a cut of other taxes: income taxes, real-property transfer taxes, and taxes on bed-and-breakfasts. So, we’ll see who has the best lobbyist; Takoma Park, or the Maryland Bed and Breakfast Association.

Shivering

The council shivered with fear when the lobbyist mentioned the legislature might take action on speed cameras.  Cue the scary music

There has been daily coverage in Baltimore news media, said Douglas, about that city’s badly calibrated speed cameras and careless police oversight. A recent Baltimore Sun editorial calls on the legislature to impose state-wide guidelines, including one that would require speed camera vendors to get a flat fee – not a per-ticket fee. Takoma Park pays its vendor a per-ticket fee, or a flat fee if a quota is not met.

This makes the city nervous because its speed cameras, ALTHOUGH THEIR ONE AND ONLY PURPOSE IS SAFETY – not, NOT, to raise revenue, are a huge cash source that the city has become increasingly reliant on. Their fear is that if the legislature opens the subject it will find ways to horn in on the money action, or even take it away. The speed cams are, after all, exploiting a loop-hole in state law. Revenues from all other traffic infractions go to the state.

Look forward, says Douglas, to discussions on making Highway User funds available for cities, transportation infrastructure, and transit planning/construction for the Purple Line.

Also on the legislators’ minds is the reliability of utilities, . . .  and guns.

Guns

Guns were also on the council’s mind. A number of them mentioned the December Sandy Hook massacre in their first opportunity to make public comments since the tragedy.

Mayor Bruce Williams, perhaps cutting off any movements that would lead to a duplicate effort, mentioned that there was a city task force on gun violence a few years ago. It was created in reaction to 1999 attempt to put a gun ban referendum on the city election ballot. A Takoma Park gun owner went to a county court and got the referendum squashed. Counties and cities can’t make gun laws that differ from state laws.

Gun-ban activists persisted and found some support on the city council for a local gun ban – in spite of the state law and the threat of a very expensive NRA law suit. But, others had qualms about bucking the state and bankrupting the city.

As the council does in such situations, it formed a citizen’s committee and shoveled the stinking mess into their hands.

In 2000 the task force came back with a more holistic and realistic set of solutions to gun violence that would not violate state law. They recommended a gun-lock law, banning guns a certain distance from public places, creating recreational opportunities for at-risk youth,  gun-education, and efforts that dealt with the culture of violence and gun-use.

Surveying the city

“You’re just not lucky,” said acting city manager Suzanne Ludlow to Mayor Bruce Williams.

Williams is not one of The Chosen, the citizens who receive the city’s Resident Survey. He didn’t get the last one, distributed in 2009, nor the prior one in 2007.

Some council members got BOTH, Williams said petulantly. Wouldn’t distributing MORE get a better result?

Ludlow offered little hope for him. The consultants who conduct the survey send out more to apartment dwellers because their response rate is lower, but this is not a problem for home owners. Distributing more would not yield a better result.

“I’m sensitive to how long this survey is.” said council member Tim Male. The 2009 survey was 7 pages, 54 questions long. The 2013 draft version didn’t have as many questions, but at the rate additions were being suggested, it might end up at Bible length.

Most of the questions are repeated from other years for comparison. But, additional questions are added each time, some of them specific for that year. However, the 2009 additional questions on emergency preparedness may be repeated this time. And shouldn’t there be some questions about sustainability? Food security? Parking issues? Sidewalks?

And where is the most important set of questions: “Do you regularly read Granolapark?” “If ‘no,’ what is your pitiful excuse?”

Highlight

The highlight of the evening came when Fred Schultz, concerned that recipients will ignore it, asked “What goes into promoting this survey?”

Ludlow answered that people tend to be interested in the survey “because they think it will lead to improvements in their neighborhood.” She added that the city newsletter and ward representatives promote it.

Bruce Williams joked, “I was going to suggest we put council member Daniels-Cohen in some kind of outfit that I’m sure she already has, and put her out on the streets, soliciting.”

Councilember Daniels-Cohen, gamely said, “Wearing a sandwich board! I’ll do it!”

- Gilbert

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About the author: Gilbert

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.

4 comments

  1. Abbie Grotke says:

    Assuming the prior surveys were print. Any talk about doing an online survey and having everyone who wants to answer? (for those who aren’t lucky enough to get the print)?

  2. tj says:

    As a bike commuter and shopper I love the speed cameras. They DO make my life safer.

  3. Steve Davies says:

    We should be lobbying Capitol Hill, not Annapolis. Isn’t Mikulski the new Senate Appropriations Cmte chairman? And isn’t Chris Van Hollen one of the highest-ranking Democrats in Congress?

    If memory serves, and much like the $40,000 survey we’re paying for this year (which makes it $120,000 for surveys in six years), our lobbying expenditures have delivered little tangible benefit to most city residents. Our lobbying efforts seem mostly to follow the lead of the MML, but also focus on selected social issues, which are better advanced by grassroots groups, not paid lobbyists.

  4. Gilbert says:

    Didn’t the lobbyist help get the liquor law changed so Takoma Park can have a beer and wine store?

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