Years ago, the working of city council and major boards in the City of Rockville became more transparent with the broadcast of its meetings over cable channel 11 (Rockville 11) and online. This year, however, we’ve taken a big step back by failing to provide written minutes of meetings in a timely manner. The Mayor and Council haven’t provided minutes since March 2015 (about a dozen meetings) and the Planning Commission hasn’t provided minutes since May 2015 (about a half-dozen meetings).
That means if you want to know what’s being discussed or decided, you have to watch the meeting, which can last three to six hours. Reading the meeting minutes is a much faster way to find out what’s going on (you can scan minutes in minutes), plus it’s a better way to record decisions (no worries about interpreting inaudible words and paper survives much longer than digital recordings). You can rely on the local newspaper to report on what’s happening, but well, we really don’t have a local paper that provides that coverage reliably. Sounds like the old-fashioned way of producing written minutes of a meeting in time for the next meeting seems to look better and better.
Strangely, the Open Meetings Act for the State of Maryland (excerpted below) allows local government to skip the written minutes if they provide video (although it looks like the Planning Commission failed on both counts because a few meetings weren’t recorded nor have minutes, so you really can’t know what happened). It’s a bad idea if the goal is opening up the workings of government, especially when the requirements for minutes is minimal (list each item considered, action taken, and votes). Secondly, local governments only need to retain minutes for a year, after which they can be tossed. Really? What business or organization in America operates this way? Obviously, the Open Meeting Act needs to be desperately revised if we want to fully understand what’s happening in government (looks like a job for Senator Cheryl Kagan). In the meantime, the City of Rockville should establish better standards and practices for providing minutes of its meetings of the Mayor and Council and its boards and commissions.
Annotated Code of the State of Maryland, § 3-306
(b) Minutes required. — Continue reading →
A tense discussion late in the evening of the February 25, 2013 meeting of the Rockville Mayor and Council suggests that there are serious problems in the appointment process to boards and commissions, as well as in our elected officials. It was probably missed by most citizens because the chambers were nearly empty at 10:00 pm.
A sense of the troubles began hours earlier, when Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio nominated two residents to the Board of Supervisors of Elections, a city committee that recently lost three of its five members due to resignations. David Berthiaume’s nomination was approved with one councilmember abstaining and Andrew Powell’s nomination failed due to a lack of a second. With one of her nominations rebuffed, Mayor Marcuccio noted that, “I would like to point out that we are in need of a quorum for the Board of Supervisors of Elections and by appointing Mr. Berthiaume I think we have achieved that. But I am quite shocked that our Council does not choose to appoint my other suggestion.”
The issue was forgotten until Old/New Business, when it was raised again by Councilmember Newton (at 3:30 of the February 25, 2013 meeting):
Councilmember Newton: I was disappointed in the decision this evening on Mr. Powell and I would like to encourage this body to think long and hard about Continue reading →
Along with the City Council, the City of Rockville has 23 official boards and commissions to study, advise, and decide on a wide range of issues, from city planning to cultural arts, from human services to animal matters. In addition, there are at least ten other unofficial task forces or committees. All of these boards and commissions are composed of volunteers, usually residents (some include property or business owners who live elsewhere) and most members are nominated by the Mayor and appointed by City Council (a few have members elected in other ways, such as RSI).
Rockville has always encouraged and supported citizen involvement in its government, and used these board and commissions to keep the residents informed and part of the decision-making process. But how well informed are its citizens? All commission meetings are open to the public (I’m going to call them all “commissions” to keep things simple), but only three commissions–Planning Commission, Historic District Commission, and the Board of Appeals–have meetings that are regularly broadcast on Channel 11 and the City website (most likely because the City Council has granted them exclusive decision-making powers). For the other commissions, to find out what’s happening you have to attend the meeting, talk to one of the commissioners, or review the minutes. Obviously, the most convenient way is reviewing the minutes or notes of the meeting, so let’s see how we’ve done.
On January 20, 2012, I tallied the number of meetings and minutes posted on the City website for 2011 (cancelled meetings don’t count). By dividing the number of minutes by the number of meetings, I calculated a “public information score.” So if a commission had posted 9 minutes for 12 meetings, that would earn them a Minutes Score of 9/12 or 75%. The higher the score the better, and here’s how they fared: Continue reading →
Choice Hotels International is proposing to move their world headquarters to downtown Rockville but it includes a request to rename “Middle Lane” to “Choice Hotels Lane.” Really, this is no April Fool’s Joke–in a letter to the City of Rockville on March 11, Dan Slear of Choice Hotels International stated, “To clarify, Choice requests to change East Middle Lane in its entirety to Choice Hotels Lane.” It’ll be considered at the April 13, 2011 Planning Commission Meeting–but if it happens, the joke will be on us.
Although the name change was proffered as an incentive by the City of Rockville (really? really??), the staff report to the Planning Commission mentioned several concerns:
- it raised eyebrows at the Emergency Communications Center and the Montgomery-National Capitol Park and Planning Commission, who not only were concerned about confusion by emergency responders (are we going to the hotel or the street?) but thought it odd that we’d rename a street after a company.
- it changes the name of this street three times within a three block stretch–West Middle Lane, Choice Hotels Lane, and Park Road–in downtown. Boy, that’ll help people find their way around downtown.
- downtown businesses, such as Gordon Biersch and HSBC Bank, who would be effected by the name change haven’t had sufficient time to respond, but I’m guessing they don’t want to change their neutral address to one that advertises another business.
- it changes the name of an historic street, indeed, the name of a street that’s been part of downtown Rockville since 1803, when the first map of Rockville was drawn. Let’s see, which has the better track record? Middle Lane has been around for more than 200 years while Choice Hotels has been around since 1981.
I’ll add a couple of my concerns: Continue reading →
Last Thursday the Historic District Commission held its regular monthly meeting and if anyone was watching to the end, you may have noticed that the clock was nearing midnight. We usually try to finish at 10 pm but we had an ambitious agenda, including:
1. A joint meeting with the Environment Commission, which included three Planning Commissioners. The City has about two dozen commissions and boards but they rarely, if ever, talk with each other, even if they share some common goals or are tackling the same issue. This past year the HDC has requested meetings with other commissions but it’s been slow because finding mutual agreeable times is difficult and sometimes, I regret to say, the Chair of the other commission refused to respond to emails or phone calls to meet (what’s that about??). So far, we’ve met with the Planning Commission and this month with the Environment Commission. These meetings are just an hour so no decisions are made, but they provide introductions and we learn a bit more about each other to discover areas of mutual interest. It’s obvious that the Environmental Commission and the HDC both want to encourage Continue reading →