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GRANOLAPARK: Retreat from what?

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GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT

Dear Readers,

With little and late public notice, and no official opportunity for public input, the city council will meet to discuss next term’s council priorities Tuesday, Nov. 12.

The meeting time, place, agenda and copies of any documents to be presented are not listed on the city website as they are for regular council meetings.

Open, but . . .

The meeting is open to the public but there will be no opportunity for public comment.  It will not have a standard city council format, as it is labeled a “retreat.” It will not be recorded or broadcast/live-streamed as are regular council meetings.

counci-tax-duplication

Regular councilmeeting streamed live on the city’s website.

The retreat will be held at the Washington Adventist Hospital, Building 7620, 3rd floor, 6:00 PM.

The council will discuss what they want to accomplish this term, and “what are the themes for this term?”

The agenda includes the question “what are the criteria for evaluating priority items?

That item is followed immediately by “review of priority rankings memo.”

Listing

Councilmember Seth Grimes’ invited public feedback Nov. 10, posting the meeting’s agenda to a community email list. Grimes wrote, “Earlier this fall, City Manager Brian Kenner asked councilmembers to prioritize items in an extensive list of city matters.”

Based on council input, Kenner compiled a priorities list for this council retreat agenda. The top three priorities on it are: Washington Adventist Hospital relocation, tax duplication, and the city’s Gang Task Force. The full list is below.

Critics

Members of the community email list (The TakomaPark Yahoo group) made a number of critical remarks. A couple of people where mystified that “police in schools,” was on the list, though it has not been discussed at council meetings. One was dismayed that the dog park had a higher priority than the Flower Avenue green-street project.

Others objected that the list seems arbitrary and disorganized. Many of them have been dissatisfied with previous council actions.

Notably absent from the list is any mention of the ongoing crime wave. The Takoma Voice got more questions about crime than any other subject for the city Election Forum last month.

A good time

This is a good time to bring up some of the Election Forum public questions that we didn’t have time for.

• In 2009 the City Council approved a “Council Strategic Plan.”  This document is cited as justification for many Council actions.  However, this document is still not a true plan in the sense that it doesn’t prioritize goals or set any measurable objectives.  How do our Council candidates feel about the state of this document?  Are they satisfied with it, in its current state, or would they like to see the plan developed with more specificity?”

• Should a councilmember initiate legislation according to his or her own agenda, or should he or she initiate legislation according to constituent movements and requests?

• Will we continue to waste time with things like lowering the voting age to 16 in the next term?

forum-dais

The Takoma Voice 2013 Election Forum, Oct. 23.

The council was spared hard questions like these because most of them had no challengers in the last election. The council, or factions on the council, created three big controversies last year: a city charter change that would have required the city manager to live in the city, and would have allowed the city an advisory role in department head hiring decisions (defeated by a close vote), a voting reform package that included lowering the voting age to 16 (passed), and a pesticide ban on private property (passed).

People turned out by the score to promote or oppose these. The city was divided. It was not clear whether councilmembers were voting with their constituent majority, with the loudest faction, or with their own personal agenda.

If the council wants to avoid another two years of that (a big “if”), they really do need an objective means of prioritizing.

So, you want criteria for evaluating priority items?

That’s what the city manager is asking for. We humbly present a sure-fire method for evaluating the priority of proposed ordinances or resolutions – those that have nothing to do with maintaining the operation of the city government.

Gilbert’s Priority Evaluator. Calculate a number for proposed legislation.

- 25: the proposed legislation creates a new staff position, department, or annual revenue cost.

- 20: The proposed legislation is written, proposed, sponsored, or promoted by a “professional” interest group – an interest group with paid staff, office, and mostly non-resident membership.

- 15: The public comments and feedback are predominantly from interest-group staff, members, non-residents, residents who have never appeared before the city council on any other issue, and people who are misinformed.

- 10: Pro-legislation public comment comes from invited experts in the field, politicians, and children (other than members of the Young Activists Club).

- 5: the idea for proposed legislation came only from a councilmember or group of councilmembers.

0: the idea for proposed legislation came from one resident or group of residents numbering less than 10.

+ 5: the idea for proposed legislation came from a grassroots city organisation with no paid staff.

+ 10: the idea for proposed legislation came from two or more neighborhood associations.

+ 20. the proposed legislation has wide support from neighborhood associations, involved, informed citizens, and former city-council members. (-20 if the same folks turn up to speak against proposed legislation).

+ 25: the proposed legislation deals with a threat to the city such as loss of revenue, unwelcome development, highway changes, invasion of citizen’s rights, and so forth.

Citizen Impact Statement

In addition, it we suggest requiring a Citizen Impact Statement. Identify who will benefit and who will suffer: what socio-econom ic groups, what neighborhoods, wards, and so forth? What percentage of the city’s population will be affected? What will it cost? Will it raise taxes? What changes will it make to city government, services, resident’s lives? What are the hidden costs?

Of course, the assessment should be made by someone other than the proposed legislation’s authors.

- Gilbert

The list city manager Brian Kenner compiled:

Top 10 High Priority Goals – Prioritized
1. WAH Relocation
2. Tax Duplication
3. Gang Task Force
4. Dog Park
5. Flower Ave Green Street
6. Upgrade Web Content
7. Anti-Littering
8 (tie). Sustainable Action Plan
8 (tie). Police in Schools
10. Safe Grow

Top 3 Goals – organized by their rank in each thematic area

Environmentally Sustainable
1. Sustainable Action Plan
2. Safe Grow
3. Food Compost

Service Oriented Govt
1. Upgrade Web Content
2. Library Visioning
3. Outreach Coordinator

Safe, Accessible & Enjoyable Community
1. WAH Relocation
2. Gang Task Force
3. Dog Park

Fiscally Sustainable
1. Tax Duplication
2. Flower Ave Green Street
3. Takoma Junction

 

 

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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.

2 comments

  1. I like your Priority Evaluator, Gilbert. If the council had used it last night, we could have been home by 7 pm — yes, that includes the commute.

  2. Steve Davies says:

    Before doing a Sustainability plan, they need to define what they mean by “sustainability.” I would rather they work on a Pollution Reduction Plan, as that might require them to demonstrate how proposed changes would actually result in a cleaner environment. The plan put forth by the Brendle Group contains little that will improve our immediate environment, including the quality of the air and water, and state of the open spaces in town.

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