Monday, December 10, 2012

Proposal: Election Day voter registration for Takoma Park municipal elections

Please consider the following a proposal -- 
Takoma Park municipal elections -- for mayor and six councilmembers -- take place in November every odd numbered year, every two years. Voter turnout is often low, especially in uncontested races, with rates under 10%, and in the three more ethnically and economically diverse wards, Wards 4, 5, and 6. Even hotly contested races do not elicit turnout above 40%.
Election Day voter registration (EDVR), for Takoma Park municipal elections, is one step among many possible that may lead to greater electoral participation. Rather than having to register a month prior to Election Day --
Eligible, unregistered Takoma Park residents would simply show up at the voting place, ID establishing residency in hand, and would fill out the Maryland state registration form and be allowed to vote.
Takoma Park election staff would provide and accept the Maryland registration form. Election staff would verify the person's ID. The city clerk would copy and then transfer the original of each form accepted to the Montgomery County Board of Elections so that the person would be registered for the next national/state/county election.
Non-US citizens may register to vote in Takoma Park municipal elections. EDVR for non-citizens would be via the city's form for non-citizen registrations.
Given that excitement about municipal elections grows only after the nominating caucus a month before Election Day, EDVR could well attract new voters who have only recently moved to Takoma Park or who have never voted. Given use of the state registration form, these new voters would then be able to vote in the following year's county, state, and national elections.
These new voters could include youth, not yet 18 years of age, who would be eligible, via pre-registration, to vote in the following year's general election, per a pre-registration provision of Maryland law.
Candidates could be encouraged to extend their campaigns to encompass a registration drive, particularly targeting youth and underrepresented segments of the community, thus aiding in inclusion efforts.
Relationship to current law
Takoma Park currently allows provisional voting. Election judges accept and hold separately ballots of individuals who claim they are registered but whose names do not appear on registration rolls. Voter registration, via the Montgomery County Board of Elections (BOE), typically takes several weeks to process. That is, registrants are not eligible to vote immediately on submission of a valid registration form to the BOE, much less to a body soliciting registrations with the intention of forwarding the forms to the BOE for processing.
EDVR would supplement provisional voting. That is, the city could continue to accept provisional ballots from those who believe themselves already registered. As a fail-safe, an individual casting a provisional ballot, to ensure that his/her votes count, in case in actuality he/she was not properly registered, could submit a Maryland voter-registration form. [A point to verify:] The difference is that ID is not required of voters casting provisional ballots. EDVR would replace the "written affirmation submitted with the provisional ballot that the individual is a qualified voter of the City and is otherwise eligible to vote in that election" (city code 5.22.010-A) with a Maryland voter registration form submitted with the ballot. The city would take the signed affirmation on the voter-registration form, coupled with the address provided, verified by ID inspection, as sufficient for municipal Election Day registration.
Eight states plus the District of Columbia have some form of EDVR. They do not include Maryland. North Dakota does not require voter registration. A Wikipedia article summarizes.
According to Alice Wilkerson, chief of staff to Maryland D-20 Senator Jamie Raskin, writing in a September 24, 2012 e-mail message, "According to the [Maryland] Board of Elections, the City can have same day registration for municipal elections as long as they make it clear to people that they would still need to register with the state in order to vote in state and federal elections."
Implementation steps
EDVR implementation would require a change to the city charter.
Projected time-line
  1. Community and informal council discussion to gauge support: Through January 14, 2013.
  2. Council decision to proceed with a public hearing: January 14, 2013 council meeting.
  3. Submission of notice of a public hearing for publication in the February 2013 issue of the city newsletter: January XX, 2013.
  4. Public hearing, required for a charter change: February 2013.
  5. Council worksession for discussion and approval of a draft charter-change resolution: Early March 2013.
  6. First- and second-reading council votes: March 2013.
  7. Charter change takes effect:
  8. 2013 nominating caucus: October XX, 2013.
  9. 2013 municipal election: November XX, 2013.
Voter fraud: Yes, there's potential for fraud, if someone provides a false address. Presumably, such a person, if caught, could be prosecuted. Would we be allowed to verify the person's driver's license (if the person gives a number on his/her voter-registration form) or ask for other proof of city residence? It would be good to do that if allowed, or we could simply accept the person's signed affirmation on the form.
Cost: Implementation costs would be the time cost and staff and city-attorney's labor cost resulting from a charter-change initiative. Implementation cost is additional election staffing, perhaps the equivalent of half an election work, for each polling place.
Effectiveness: Frankly, it is difficult to say how many new voters EDVR would bring to municipal elections, but consider that the implementation and operational costs are very modest. The potential benefits are sufficient to justify this initiative. There is an added benefit: A successful EDVR initiative could inspire other Maryland local governments, and perhaps the state government, to implement EDVR.
Takoma Park holds a nominating caucus one month before municipal Election Day. Caucus-day voter registrants could be allowed to nominate candidates at the caucus.
Takoma Park allows for the initiation of ballot referendums by petition signed by registered voters. The petition signatures of signature-day voter registrants could count toward the referendum-petition threshold.
What are your thoughts?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Re-reversal on charter change for residency and "advice" + the Safe Grow Zone Initiative

The city attorney has advised a re-reversal on the charter change the city council has been considering. That's regarding residency requirements and an "advice" role for the council in department-head hiring.

The charter change did NOT pass.

"Done like a Frenchman, turn and turn again" (1 Henry VI, iii. 4).

The city attorney's latest memo is posted on the city's Web site.The essential point is that a councilmember is allowed to change her/his vote up until the time the mayor announces the voting outcome. The mayor did not announce the outcome, of the vote on the charter-change resolution, until after a revote that included a changed vote. The final tally was 3-3-1, but a majority vote is required for a charter change so the resolution failed.

I expect there will no be further reversals, although at Tuesday evening's council meeting (Nov 13), the floor will be open to a Motion to Reconsider. See the posted agenda materials. Such a motion may be made only by a councilmember who was on the prevailing side (which opposed the charter change) in the earlier vote. I expect there will not be a motion.

Absent a successful reconsideration vote -- and I expect there will not be one -- there will be no residency requirement in the charter for the city manager or executive employees nor an "advice" provision, in the charter, that requires the city manager to consult the council when hiring executive employees.

[Added November 11:] As has been known from the start, the council can require city-manager residency without a charter change, so there may still been an initiative to create a residency requirement.

On a different topic --

At Tuesday evening's council meeting, residents Catherine Cummings and Julie Taddeo will present the Safe Grow Zone Initiative, which "seeks to have the City Council enact a ban on the use of cosmetic lawn and garden pesticides on City property and to phase in a public education campaign and restrictions on the use of cosmetic lawn pesticides on private property within the City." ("Pesticides" here refers primarily to herbicides.)

Councilmember Tim Male and I have advised Catherine and Julie on this initiative, and they have also discussed it with the mayor. While Tuesday evening will be a worksession and not an occasion for public testimony, you're welcome to comment at the start of the council meeting or send your comments to me or to the council via Moving forward, since the Safe Grow restrictions would affect (and benefit) all residents, we're definitely looking for public input.

Enjoy the holiday weekend!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Positive vote on resolution to change the charter is reinstated

Last Monday's positive City Council vote, 4-2-1, For a resolution to change the charter, is reinstated. The charter will now allow the council to create a residency requirement for the city manager and other executive staff and will now provide for an "advice" role for the council in the city manager's hiring of department heads.

To explain --

The city attorney has found that a Motion to Reconsider an initial Monday evening vote was "improper and ineffective," and that in any case, such a motion would not apply to a charter-change vote.

For my reporting on Monday evening's council meeting, see "Council does not approve charter changes" (a carefully worded title). I wrote then, "City Attorney Sue Silber will check that reconsideration was proper. If it was, the rejection will stand." But reconsideration was not proper so the first vote, Mayor Williams and Councilmembers Daniels-Cohen, Male, and Seamens voting For, Councilmembers Grimes and Schultz voting Against, and Councilmember Smith Abstain, stands.

I expect that the mayor will now schedule the ordinance, to create a city-manager residency requirement, for the next council meeting or the one following. I oppose creation of a residency requirement, a view also held by the vast majority of Takoma Park residents who have voiced an opinion, and I expect to vote Against this ordinance.

Please let me know if you have questions or concerns.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Council does not approve charter changes

The city council, by a 3-3-1 vote tonight (Monday evening, November 5), did not approve proposed changes to the city charter. A charter-change resolution requires a majority vote, which tonight's resolution, on second reading, did not receive. The resolution failed.

Also, the council approved 50% city coverage of the cost of councilmember individual enrollment in the city's health plan, effective for the council elected in 2013, and an indexed council pay increase that should amount to $100-150 per year. The council rejected city payment, into a deferred compensation plan, for councilmembers who do not enroll in the city's health plan, of an amount equal to the 50% cost coverage.

The rejected charter changes would have a) allowed the council to create, by a separate ordinance, a residency requirement for the city manager and executive employees as well as waivers and b) given the council an "advice" role in the hiring, by the city manager, of executive employees.

Voting For were Councilmembers Tim Male, Terry Seamens, and Kay Daniels-Cohen. Voting Against were Mayor Bruce Williams and Councilmembers Fred Schultz and Seth Grimes. Councilmember Jarrett Smith abstained.

The October 22, first-reading vote on the charter-change resolution was 6-0-1. I abstained, given that I opposed the residency-requirement provision but supported the "advice" provision. I reconsidered my "advice" support because it went far beyond what had originally been proposed, namely to give council a role prior to the start of recruiting. Bruce Williams, Fred, and opposed I the residency requirements. Our first-reading votes -- Fred & Bruce for, myself abstaining -- reflected recognition that there had been compromises made by the proponents.

Tonight, the initial vote was 4-2-1, with Bruce voting For. Once Bruce saw the shape of the vote, he called for reconsideration, his right as one of the majority in the first vote. He changed his vote to Against, leading to a 3-3-1 tally.

City Attorney Sue Silber will check that reconsideration was proper. If it was, the rejection will stand.

Jarrett explained his abstention as reflecting concern about the bundling of multiple, distinct charter changes in a single resolution. He had proposed to table the charter-change resolution for one week, in order to allow the changes to be handled in separate resolutions. The council rejected that proposal by a 4-3 vote.

The council had received additional written public comment at tonight's meeting, all opposed to the charter-change resolution. Residents Bruce Moyer, on behalf of the Westmoreland Area Community Organization, and Troy Jacobs of Ward 5 testified Against the changes and resident Pat Loveless of Ward 4 testified For. Opinion I have heard recently, from Ward 1 residents and from other city residents, remained overwhelmingly Against.

Please contact me if you have questions or concerns about any of this.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Notes on the City Manager-Council Relationship

The following is text of a response I sent to Keith Berner, regarding Takoma Park's city issue of the month and a larger city issue --

There's a certain elegance to a residency requirement that would apply only to a city-manager hire who is relocating from outside the region, yet I can nonetheless see even that requirement as deterring some otherwise-qualified applicants who would be a good fit for Takoma Park. I like the flexibility of a preference rather than the handcuffs imposed by a requirement.

Regarding council-staff relations, city charter 702 reads, "Except for the purpose of inquiry, the Council and its members shall deal with the administration solely through the City Manager and neither the Council nor any member thereof shall give orders to any subordinates of the City Manager, either publicly or privately."  This provision is commonly accepted as meaning that council members may relay constituents' requests directly to staff. If the request concerns anything significant, that would require a staff member's doing any work outside the ordinary, I (and I believe other council members) copy or inform the city manager. I haven't personally had or heard any complaints, directly from staff or via the city manager, that any council member has crossed the line from inquiries to orders. My own belief is that this provision is fine as-is.

Regarding council-city manager relations, I would like to see the city implement measurement-based performance management. That is, the council and CM jointly set goals and determine how progress would be measurement, the CM measures activities and reports periodically (in addition to using collected information for operational monitoring), and then we analyze and use what we learn to produce better service plans, budgets, and methods. Incentive pay for senior management, awarded by the city manager in accordance with jointly determined priorities and milestones, could and perhaps should be part of this approach.

So far as I can tell, the police department is the only city department that does significant performance measurement; measurement and reporting are part of police culture and typical practices. My understanding is that Barb Matthews had told a previous council that she would move another department toward measurement-based performance management, but whether she said that or not, she didn't do it so far as I know. So incentive pay for the CM, for implementing performance management and strategic goals and for the departments' achievements, could help as well and perhaps should be part of the next CM's contract. (As an aside, I'd much rather provide incentive pay than a car allowance.)

Clearly there's room for further discussion here, and an opportunity, in the city-manager selection process, to ensure that we're positioned to make new, good stuff happen.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Steps toward residency and ratification resolution

Last night, the city council held public hearings and then voted on an approach to handling an initiative a) to require the city manager and department heads to reside in the city and b) to give the council an "advice and consent" ratification role in the city manager's department-head hiring.

Thank you to everyone who came to the hearing to testify, sent in an opinion, or participated in discussions. Community involvement and guidance were helpful.

The decision was to amend the charter a) to allow residency requirements or preferences to be enacted, for the city manager and for department heads, by ordinance, and b) to have the city manager consult the council in the course of department-head hiring, which eliminates the "consent" part of "advice and consent." I support (b) but not (a), and since I can't vote Yes & No, I chose to abstain, a luxury I allowed myself since all other votes were cast in favor.

This was a first-reading vote of a charter change that will require a second vote, and we should expect that vote to uphold the first vote without significant alterations to the text. (One gap or grey area did occur to me, on my walk home from the council meeting. The current text does not cover "advice" regarding Acting and Interim appointments like that of Interim Police Chief Drew Tracy, whom the city manager hired to lead the department, when former Chief Ron Ricucci retired, until a new chief could come on board.)

And there will be an ordinance regarding city-manager and department-head residency. Support for a department-head residency requirement has weakened, and I don't expect one to be enacted. Whether city-manager residency, or a preference for city residency, will be enacted, I can't say. One interesting possibility was raised: Requiring that a city manager who relocates from outside the area live here, but not requiring someone who lives in the area to move to Takoma Park.

The outcome was a compromise, involving a less substantive charter change than other outcomes. In particular, residency requirements that are set by ordinance can be undone by ordinance. And allowing the city council only an "advice" role in department-head hiring is a smaller departure from current practice than a "consent" role would represent.

Again, thanks to all of you who have watched and participated in the issues discussion of the past few months.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

October 22 Public Hearings on Residency & Ratification

As you may know, the Takoma Park City Council is considering certain city-charter & code changes. I've already stated my position online and won't repeat it now. I will, however, ask you to come out and give your opinion at public hearings, Monday evening October 22.

The combined hearing on changes regarding city-manager and department-head residency and council involvement in appointment of department heads is scheduled for 8:15 pm. Please come earlier to sign in. Information is online at . (That hearing will be preceded by a hearing on a parking-permit zone in the New Hampshire Gardens neighborhood: Not of interest to most Takoma Park residents.)

Councilmember Fred Schultz's write-up is useful. He gave me permission to forward it, below.

If you wish to submit an opinion outside the hearing, send it by e-mail to I suggest also sending directly to each councilmember: Bruce Williams <>, Fred Schultz <>, Jarrett Smith <>,Kay Daniels-Cohen <>, Seth Grimes <>, Terry Seamens <>, Tim Male <>. If you've sent an opinion already, you don't need to do it again unless your view has changed.

Ward 1 residents, please write or phone me (301-873-8225) if you have questions or concerns.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Frederick Schultz


THIS IS A HEADS-UP!!  Next Monday evening, 10/22, will see an important and probably controversial meeting of the city council. I expect the City's auditorium will be crowded.

There will be four (4) public hearings. The last three will be combined into one hearing.

(1)  A public hearing on Agenda Item 2 ---- the proposed "permit parking zone" in New Hampshire Gardens that would, if approved, cause signs to be posted by the City on certain streets prohibiting on-street parking from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. seven days a week, without a parking permit sticker on your car window.

Followed by these next three in combination:

(2)  A public hearing on Agenda Item 3 ---- an Amendment to Article VII of the Takoma Park Charter to:

        (1) Establish a residency requirement for the City Manager; and

        (2) Require Council confirmation of the City Manager's Appointment of Deputy City Manager and City department heads.

(3)  A public hearing on Agenda Item 4 ---- an Ordinance Amending the City's Code to establish a residency requirement or a residency preference in the selection of Executive Employees AND to require the City Manager to consult with & seek the advice of the Council when hiring Executive Employees.

(4)  A public hearing on Agenda Item 5 ---- an Ordinance Amending the City's Code to formalize the Council's oversight of the City Manager's selection of Executive Employees and to incentivize such employees to live in the City.


        There are multiple proposals on how and whether to establish a role for the City Council in hiring senior staff and whether and how to establish residency requirements or preferences for senior staff.

        Amending the City Charter will have a drastic impact on the city's ability to recruit candidates for the top positions in the city, including the city manager. Allowing the Council to confirm (i.e., to give approval of) the manager's preferred choice of department heads will reduce applications for the city manager job by an estimated 50%, according to the City's hired executive recruiting consultant, Mercer & Associates. The absolute residency requirement will reduce that percentage even more.

        I have offered compromise solutions that will address each of these issues in a simpler way without having to amend the City Charter. These compromises are reflected in Agenda Items 3 & 4. (For more details on the substance of these issues, see my October 7 email to you labeled "Top Issues for the City Council.")


Since a large crowd is expected:
-- Everyone who wishes to speak must sign the Sign-In sheet and, at your option, answer questions on your views.  This will be in the lobby. See the attached copy of the Sign-In sheet.
-- Get there early, sign the sign-in sheet and find a good seat.
-- The NHG permit parking zone (Item 2) will be heard first.
-- Speakers will speaker in the order they sign up.
-- Speakers should address Items 3, 4 and 5 at the same time.
-- The 3-minute limit will be enforced, says the Mayor.
-- No one will be able to come back to the podium for a second turn.
-- Council members will limit their own comments in order to help speed things along.

REMEMBER YOUR VOICE IS IMPORTANT TO US on this matter because the Council is split 3 to 4 on the need to make these changes permanent and mandatory by amending the Charter. Also, we must get this matter resolved so we can proceed with selecting our new city manager.

PLAN on staying seated after the public hearing for Councilmembers' debate on the Charter change issues.

Any questions, please call me at 301-434-7090 or send me an email.

Thank you for participating.


Monday, October 15, 2012

2012 Election Information: Early Voting and Voter Registration

Neighbors, here's information on the November 6, 2012 general election --

This year, early voting runs Saturday, October 27 2012 to Thursday, November 1, 2012, hours 10AM - 8PM (Except Sunday, 12PM - 6PM). The closest location to Takoma Park is the Silver Spring Civic Building. There are 4 other locations, listed at . We are not offering early voting at the Takoma Park Community Center.

Sample ballots are online at: . We're in Congressional District 8.

You can confirm that you are registered to vote and check your polling place (for folks voting in person on November 6) at:

You can obtain an absentee ballot application at:

The registration deadline, for November 6, 2012 voting, is October 16.

Register to vote, online at: to:
- Register to vote in federal, state, county, and municipal elections in Maryland
- Update your registration to reflect a change of name, address, and/or party affiliation

Otherwise, you can print an application for mail-in at:

Montgomery County has Voter Registration - Frequently Asked Questions online at:

Against Maryland Ballot Question 5, Congressional Redistricting

The following is a statement I prepared, Against Maryland Ballot Question 5, Congressional Redistricting, for presentation at an October 15 press conference organized by Montgomery County Councilmember Phil Andrews. Also in attendance at the press conference were County Councilmembers Marc Elrich, Valerie Ervin, Nancy Floreen, and Hans Riemer; Delegates Ana Sol Guitierrez and Aisha Braveboy; Gaithersburg and Rockville municipal officials; and precinct chairs and community activists.

Councilmember Andrews, thank you for organizing today's press conference and for inviting me to participate.

Maryland Ballot Question 5 would have the voters affirm Governor Martin O'Malley's and the state legislature's redrawing of Maryland's congressional districts. Their scheme is a poster-child for gerrymandering, for political machinations.

I am Seth Grimes. I am privileged to represent Takoma Park's Ward 1 on our city council.

Municipal wards are the smaller type of electoral district in our wonderful, progressive state of Maryland. But I can tell you -- given the opinions voiced in Takoma Park's own decennial redistricting process, now underway -- that boundaries matter. Voters want electoral districts that respect the integrity of their neighborhoods.

I choose the word "integrity" intentionally. District boundaries that divide communities serve no one but political fixers.

It is our duty as elected officials -- a duty that extends to Governor O'Malley and state legislators -- it is our duty as elected officials to serve our constituents by building community, not to divide our communities via gerrymandering that serves only ourselves.

I deplore the redistricting plan in front of us and call on my fellow Maryland voters to vote Against Question 5.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

410 item on the Sept 24, 2012 council agenda

The city council will have a worksession discussion Monday evening of the latest draft Takoma Park-Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) Memorandum of Understand (MOU ) regarding Route 410 (Philadelphia and Ethan Allen Avenue) in Takoma Park. It is scheduled to start at 8:20 pm. Please see the meeting agenda packet, which includes a September 12 draft MOU.

The September 12 draft doesn't have everything the city wants, but in my opinion, it is a significant improvement over the prior draft and is acceptable.

** Anticipating agreement on the MOU, the SHA expects to resurface 410, I believe between Park Avenue and New Hampshire Avenue, in the spring of 2014. The SHA has agreed to take care of sorely needed repairs to the stretch between Park Avenue and Carroll Avenue (facing the fire station) with a target date of October 15, according to Acting City Manager Suzanne Ludlow.

The September 12 document addresses major elements missing from earlier drafts, in particular, by respecting commitments made by former SHA Administrator Neil Petersen made in his April 2011 letter to the city, regarding SHA accommodation of city comments on work done along 410 in the city. It includes minor revisions requested by the city council in a September 10, 2012 closed-session meeting with staff.

This latest version is the product of late-summer staff negotiations. The cover page explains that several issues "have been resolved or clarified since the February 2012 meeting and are reflected in the attached MOU." One of them is state ownership of the road, which the parties now recognize, doing away with the need for the perpetual maintenance easement that was part of the prior, spring 2012 draft MOU.

The current version notably includes a commitment by the SHA to not only accept city comment on utility permits, signalization, signs, and pedestrian crosswalks, but further that "The SHA will review the city's comments and respond prior to commencing any action unless legitimate safety concerns require some immediate action of the part of SHA." Response to city comments is a key Neil Pedersen commitment that was not respected in earlier MOU drafts.

The September 12 draft MOU retains clauses from earlier version, that the agreement should not be construed as City consent to future widening and that the agreement doesn't limit city standing in future condemnation proceedings, etc. It protects existing crosswalks and recognizes city maintenance of sidewalks.

Please content me with your comments or concerns. There remains an opportunity to seek further revisions, should gaps become apparent, if the council agrees to pursue them. (Councilmember Tim Male has asked for the 1930s materials that are referenced, and Acting City Manager Suzanne Ludlow said she could probably have copies at the worksession.)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Residency and Ratification: Desirable or Disruptive?

The Takoma Park City Council is discussing creating residency requirements for the city manager and department heads and instituting council ratification of the city manager's department-head hiring choices. After much thought, I oppose the changes as proposed. The goals are worthy -- promoting community engagement and adding council oversight for strategic hires -- but the approaches on the table are needlessly disruptive and will narrow our pool of applicants and delay our hiring a new city manager.

There are other ways to reach our engagement/oversight goals without the high disruption cost. (Those goals are of secondary importance in any case: they would not enhance the economy, efficiency, or effectiveness of city service delivery.) Let's pursue alternative approaches and return focus to our city's primary staffing goal, hiring the most qualified candidate for each vacant position, from the city manager on down, without delaying our city-manager search.

City Manager Residency

Proposed change #1 is to require the city manager to live in the city or perhaps nearby, within 10 miles. Former City Manager Barb Matthews lived in Reston; her husband was required to reside there as a condition of his job. I think Barb was an excellent Takoma Park city manager, although I'm not thrilled about the environmental and energy impact of her long car commute. Barb is subject to a residency requirement in Rockville, where she will start as city manager on October 1.

According to Takoma Park's city attorney, the addition of a residency requirement for the city manager may require a city-charter amendment. Amendment would take months, involving a public hearing, notice periods, and council vote. (See charter Article 5, Section 502.) Yet the council can already require that the city manager reside in the city, without a charter change. The council can make city residency a city-manager search and selection criterion without undertaking a prolonged, multi-step process of writing a requirement into the city charter. If the council hires a candidate who agrees to reside here but then fails to relocate, the council can fire that person given the breach of trust.

Proposed compromise #1: I would happily agree to make city-manager residency a criterion in the city's current city-manager search. I would't make it a requirement: I don't want to preclude our looking at highly competent candidates who have entanglements such as kids in the Fairfax County school system or an aged parent who lives on the next block in Columbia or simply deep existing ties to her or his current community. But I would give a preference, say 5 points out of 100 for a candidate who commits to live in Takoma Park, diminishing by 1 point for each 2 miles distance from the city. Council colleagues: How about it?

Department Head Residency

Change #2 is to require city department heads -- the police chief, the deputy mayor, the directors of housing and community development, public works, and recreation, and others -- to reside in Takoma Park or perhaps nearby, within 10 miles of the city.

I question whether this requirement would lead to more-engaged senior management, the primary goal of the proposed rule. We expect professionalism and engagement from every city employee, from Rec Department part timers up to the city manager, and skills and experience should remain the primary hiring criteria. But given city hiring in the last several years -- a number of department heads live in the region, more than 10 miles distant from Takoma Park, who I strongly suspect would not have taken their jobs if forced to relocate to Takoma Park -- I have little doubt that a residency requirement would lessen the size and likely the quality of applicant pools. Further, a residency requirement restricts the city manager's hiring powers and therefore would complicate our current city-manager search.

(By the way, would we also end the Police Department's vehicle take-home program, which former Chief Ron Ricucci instituted in order to boost officer retention? It's an incentive that's most attractive to officers who don't live nearby.)

I favor, instead, incentives to promote staff's living here, and as a further suggested compromise, I would support making residency for department heads a secondary selection criterion rather than a requirement. That is, the city manager, as she has to date, will seek candidates with demonstrated skills, relevant work experience, and educational and professional accomplishment, who are strong cultural fits for Takoma Park, and will short-list the best of them. The city manager will then weigh residency in her hiring decision, with a preference for the top candidates who commit to residing in (or near) the city.

By the way, creating a waiveable requirement would not make sense: We would state a residency requirement in a job search, choose to make an offer to a candidate who knows of that requirement, then give a waiver as part of negotiations? Can you envision the city's doing that? And who would do it, the city manager or the council, by resolution? If the council, because the city charter disallows council "interference" in staff hiring, you'd have a form of ratification requirement. This point leads us to --

Council Ratification of Department Head Hires

Proposed change #3: The council is considering giving itself power to ratify or reject the city manager's proposed department-head hires. The council would vote yes-or-no vote on the city manager's preferred candidate. I like the idea, actually -- it's in line with the current requirement that the council approve city contracts of $10,000 or more, while it, like the contract-approval requirement, does not permit any other council role in hiring or procurement -- yet ratification's disruption cost is simply too high.

Again, we are currently seeking to hire a new city manager. We're hoping to have a position description out SOON in order to interview candidates in early December, but we have significant uncertainty about the powers of the person we seek to hire. I suggest that the council table ratification discussions until June, 2013. At that time, a new city manager, and the city's FY 2014 budget, will be in place, and actually, the lead-in to the November 2013 city elections will be a great time for public discussion of this change.

What You Can Do

Whether you favor the proposed hiring-rule changes or my compromise alternatives, or if you disfavor touching anything, please make your views known to your council representative.

I represent Ward 1 in the city council. I will say that, to this point, NOT ONE of my constituents has expressed support for the councilmember-initiated changes. I have heard, however, from folks who oppose them. Please let me know what you think.

If you are a member of the City Manager Selection Committee, you and your committee colleagues would do the council a great service if you would weigh in on a residency requirement for the CM:
  • Do you (and the city residents and stakeholders you poll) see residency as necessary?
  • If you do, should it be handled via a requirement or via a search & selection criterion? If the latter, what weight, among the various criteria, should it be given?