Usually this type of post goes up on January 1, but I always prefer a bit of distance to identify the biggest stories of past year. Although this is admittedly from my limited personal perspective and is bound to generate controversy (but hey, that’s what these lists are supposed to do), here’s my list for Rockville in 2010:
1. Red Gate Golf Course. This is continued to be a thorny issue and made have seen its thorniest moment when the City Council used $2.4 million in “surplus” money to pay off past debt and the anticipated shortfalls for 2011, and also (once again) punted the decision to another time. Despite countless meetings and studies, for years the Council has been astonishingly agonized about making a decision on whether to commit to an annual subsidy, integrate it into the recreation program, levy a tax to support it, or to close it down. Meanwhile, the golf course continues to bleed money and participation rates continue to slide. Perhaps we need to start over: if we were offered 130 acres today (Red Gate is the second largest park in Rockville), what would most benefit the community? I don’t think most people would say golf course.
2. Snowpocalypse. Who can forget this snowstorm? There was so much snow it closed the federal government for a week. The adventurous walked and explored the city in a new quiet way and neighbors found a new reason to talk and help each other. There was a lot of frustration with snow clearing and the City wasn’t prepared, but remember, the city worked around the clock and conscripted employees into snowshoveling duties to deal with this record snowfall. We also improved our abilities to monitor and respond to these situations so when this happens again (and it may not be for another fifty years), we’re prepared. And someone at the City gets two stars for Continue reading →
On Monday, September 20, the Mayor and Council concluded (for now) the situation with Red Gate Golf Course, an issue that’s been vexing them for the last year (and longer). Unfortunately, they didn’t resolve the issue, they just kicked the can further down the road to let the next city council deal with this tar baby. By eliminating past debt and next year’s anticipated deficit, they were able to put off the hard decision about the golf course until 2012.
Rosy predictions about the golf course’s future (“we’re giving them a clean slate,” “I just know they’ll succeed as soon as the economy improves”) are either condescending or naïve. The golf course has run deficits for years and has had declining participation for nearly two decades–this isn’t related to the economic downturn. Without a serious change in management or increased investment, Continue reading →
The Gazette sent a questionnaire to the candidates and will be publishing in an upcoming issue, but I thought I’d share them with you now in case you wondered about my stance of these topics:
Q. What qualities and experiences distinguish you from the other candidates?
I have decades of experience in public service, giving me a broad understanding of city government. During my tenure on the Historic District Commission, we not only preserved historic places and protected property values, but also simplified processes for property owners, updated and expanded the commissioners’ handbook, promoted joint meetings with other commissions, and installed markers for African American historic sites–all of which required working with a variety of people within a complex system. Before moving to Rockville in 2001, I served on the City of Upland Planning Commission and Main Street Upland (a downtown business association), where I developed ordinances to allow sidewalk cafes and bed-and-breakfast businesses, crafted design guidelines for a major housing development, coordinated events that brought customers to downtown, and helped our business association achieve certification. Finally, I am the only candidate from the southern side of Rockville, which would ensure a diversity of perspectives on the Council.
Q. If you are an incumbent, how did you vote on the fiscal 2010 budget and why? If you are not an incumbent, how would you have voted and why?
Given that the past three years had incurred deficits and that are reserves at a minimum, I would have sought to build up reserves to create a “rainy day” fund until the worst of the economic storm had passed. If that proved too difficult to achieve, I would have prepared an alternative budget with a 5% cut in the event we had to make changes later in the year, allowing us to move ahead hoping for the best but prepared for the worst.
Q. How should the city proceed with RedGate Golf Course? If it continues to lose money, should the city continue to keep it open?
As a recreational facility, it should be reclassified from an Enterprise Fund into the General Fund and made part of other recreational facilities, such as the swim center. All recreational facilities, including the golf course, should be regularly evaluated to determine if they provide good value to the city and to its users.
Q. What role should the city have played in the negotiations between residents and Montgomery Housing Partnership, the nonprofit that wants to develop Beall’s Grant II? Was it a mistake not to move quicker with the process, which some say would have secured state funding sooner rather than later?
Since this was a controversial issue, the City should have had the meetings facilitated by a neutral, third party to ensure everyone’s views were heard and considered in a mutually respectful manner, as well as proceeding as quickly as possible, both for the sake of the property owner as well as the neighborhood. Secondly, the controversy revealed a weakness in the Zoning Code, since the use and design of Beall’s Grant II was approved by the Planning Commission. The Code should have been reviewed to determine how it could be improved or revised to avoid future problems.
Q. Did the city’s recent compromise with Town Square merchants provide an ample solution to the discussions on whether to extend the hours patrons should pay to park in the three city-owned garages? How can the city make up the money that it might have received if it extended the paid-parking hours as they had originally been proposed?
Town Square is based on a complex arrangement between the City and several partners which required that the City would have to build the garages. The cost of those garages added a $1.4 million expense to the City’s budget, but it was assumed it would be covered by the revenue from parking fees and special property taxes. We also recognized these fees and taxes would be insufficient in the initial years as the Town Center built momentum, and that shortfalls would need to be paid by the City.
We always hope to reach financial sustainability as quickly as possible, however, the downturn in the economy and delay in opening the grocery store has exacerbated the situation. We have a symbiotic relationship with the merchants and residents of Town Square: if they fail, we fail. It is in our best interest to ensure that the Town Center does not fail, but its success may lie far beyond parking fees. As a former boardmember of a downtown business association, we discovered that events (rather than free parking) were the best way to attract and retain customers. Secondly, rather than talking among ourselves, we conducted research to better understand what customers wanted. It frequently turned out to be things we had never considered, such as better landscaping, more trashcans, and public restrooms, as well as a different mix of stores.
Q. How well does the city (elected officials and staff) communication with its residents? Are there ways it can improve, and if so, how?
The City has dramatically improved its ability to distribute information to residents, but needs to improve its ability to accept information from residents. True communication works in both directions. There are both simple and sophisticated solutions, including:
- instituting email addresses for every board and commission so that the public can submit comments via email, not just mail or in person.
- creating a blog for city announcements and projects which would allow comments and discussion by residents.
- holding Mayor and Council workshops throughout the city primarily for the purpose of hearing from local residents about their concerns and interests.
- developing a central electronic calendar of events and activities for all civic associations and non-profit organizations operating in the city.
- preparing and distributing the Mayor and Council agenda at least five days before the meeting
Q. Many have complained that the council has lacked civility toward each other and the residents who come before it. How would you guarantee that civility becomes a priority in the next two years?
Mutual respect among councilmembers, the staff, and the public has been quite low in the last few years. Guaranteeing civility is difficult, but there are two things I would pursue. First, I would continually remind myself and others that we all share the same goal–a better Rockville–and thus we’re all on the same team, not opponents or competitors. Secondly, to gain respect, you must first give respect, which requires listening to other perspectives with sincerity and a willingness to change your mind. I’ve always taken this approach on the Historic District Commission (watch any meeting or ask any commissioner) and have already taken this approach with the city council candidates (I’ve met with several of them during the race so we can get to know each other better). However, citizens also play a role. In the event a councilmember is hostile, disrespectful, or abusive, it is our responsibility to remove him or her from office at the earliest opportunity.