Sunday, March 31, 2013

April 1 (No Joke): Residency, City Manager Authority, and Charter Review, Plus a Voting Discussion

The April 1 2013 city council meeting will include discussion of a proposed Takoma Park residency requirement for the city manager and executive employees and also of a council role in the hiring of executive employees and of a comprehensive review of the city charter.

I will tell you now: I oppose all these points.

I'm one of the instigators of another item on the Monday evening agenda, "Review of Text of Charter Amendment Resolution 'Elections and Voting'." These charter changes would create Same Day Registration, and extend the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds, for city elections. The latter discussion is preparatory for an April 8, 2013 public hearing on the proposed charter changes. Please do testify on April 8 or relay your views to the council via e-mail to clerk@takomagov.org.

Now, back to the first item --

A City Manager Residency Requirement

You'll recall that in the fall of 2012, a charter change to create a city-manager residency requirement failed to win enough votes to pass. Three of seven council members supported it: Tim Male, Kay Daniels-Cohen, and Terry Seamens. See my write-up, "Re-reversal on charter change for residency and "advice" + the Safe Grow Zone Initiative."

Public opinion was overwhelmingly Against a city-manager residency requirement, by a ratio of 8 or 9 to 1, but nonetheless the item is back on the agenda. Why? The council had had, on the November 5, 2012 agenda, proposed by Councilmember Male, an ordinance to institute a residency requirement in city code, based on the authority that would have been granted by the failed charter amendment. But we can still create that requirement, even without a charter change. So after the November charter-change failed, Councilmember Male withdrew his proposed ordinance in return for Mayor Bruce Williams' promise to bring back the topic at a later council worksession. That worksession is Monday evening, April 1.

I still oppose a residency requirement for the city manager or executive staff. The cost -- a reduced applicant pool -- is far greater than the supposed (but likely non-existent) "connectedness" benefit. Consider: Of the current city department heads, one, Public Works Director Daryl Braithwaite, lives in Takoma Park. I believe that Library Director Ellen Arnold Robbins, Finance Director Yovonda Brooks, Recreation Director Greg Clark, Housing and Community Development Director Sara Daines, Police Chief Alan Goldberg, and Deputy and Acting City Manager Suzanne Ludlow very ably serve the city despite all living elsewhere. A residency require

A Council Role in Hiring

The council, on April 1, will also revisit the question whether the council should play a role in the hiring of executive employees other than the city manager. No, that question wasn't settled back in November either. Public comments were strongly against council involvement then, despite the proposal's being softened from "advice and consent" approval or proposed hires to a council role in creating position requirements and reviewing applicants. I see no great harm in the first part, which isn't out of sync with the council's policy-marking role, but council review of candidates' applications would undesirably politicize hiring.

City Charter Review

Finally, the council will discuss establishment of a Charter Review Task Force. I don't see a need for a systematic charter review. I think that ad-hoc changes accomplish our goals, changes such as the proposed ones creating electoral reform, which I don't recall that I have ever heard a complaint of anything broken in our city charter. A task force would absorb attention and impede our ability to create incremental improvements. I envisions hundreds of resident, councilmember, staff, and city attorney hours absorbed in meetings that search for issues to address. Ugh.

Your Thoughts?

But what do you think, on any of the points raised? Please let me know by e-mail (grimes@altaplana.com) or phone (301-873-8225) or comment at a council meeting.

As always, thanks.

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