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.