Monday, February 25, 2008

City Council Meeting, 2/25/08

Once again, the live blog of the city council meeting is coming to you on a delay because all wireless routers within a close distance of city hall are password protected, and I cannot steal internet from anyone to upload the post.

Let’s see what we’ll cover today!

Public Hearings:
-CA-01-08 City Administrator
-O-02-08 Notification of Bishpenol-A by retailers and R-01-08, the corresponding fines
-O-03-08 Lease of City Dock to Chesapeake Marine Tours
-R-08-08 Capital City Arts and Entertainment District

Legislative Action:
-O-27-07 Revised “D”: the Plastic Bag Ban that won’t die
-R-04-08: giving “parking meter money” to “homeless”
-R-09-08 First Sundays 2008
-R-10-08 Waiving Fees for Maryland Avenue Festivals

Let’s go!

6:54

HACA is here asking for money and various help for various things. There are a lot of people here listening to them.

6:55

Today’s back-of-the room VIP crowd includes John Spencer, myself, Tony Evans, and 2 police officers that are stationed here because somebody in some town came into a city council meeting and shot up the place. Also one guy I don’t know dressed in a suit.

(Post Intermission #1: What do vegetarians like to eat? I have come to believe that if make a good vegetarian menu at my new joint, I will rake money in hand over fist and can then hire a team of formerly-striking writers to transcribe my thoughts on to this world wide web).

7:04

The HACA meeting is running late, cutting into the public hearing and ultimately into my leisure. Also, Mike Miron has joined the VIP’s and is eating some Jelly Belly’s. Personally, I prefer Skittles, but to each his own.

7:05

Alderman Shropshire has launched into a diatribe about mentoring programs, showing he is always prepared to give a sound bite.

7:08

HACA meeting ends. Mayor announced 2 minute break. 2 minutes my butt!! Ten bucks says we start no sooner than 7:14. And I will collect if I win, because I just bought a magnetic spice rack for my kitchen and those things aren’t free.

7:09

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many people at a council meeting. Is there free cake somewhere? Many people are wearing suits, an ill-advised idea in this place, which still has HVAC from the Mesozoic era.

7:09:30

Speaking of failing city hall construction, the ceiling still has not been fixed—it fell down like 2 years ago.

7:13

Goodness gracious, there are a lot of people here and they are all standing in my way.

7:14

The gavel is sounding to start. Ha….the mayor just said “that was a long 2 minutes”. Let this show you that I know what I’m talking about when it comes to mistimed breaks.

7:17

All aldermen are present. Let’s do this thing.

CA-01-08

What Would It Do: Give the city administrator slightly more leeway, however would not allow independence from the mayor.

Arguments For: Council should be policy making body. Mayor should be figurehead. City administrator should run operations. This moves in the right direction. City manager is a professional manager. CA does not diminish the role of the mayor.

Arguments Against: A full city manager system is what we need. City administrator is not accountable to voter. The council should not give up its oversight. CA does not diminish the role of the mayor (same argument used by both sides). CA does not go far enough. CA is confusing and conflicted at points.

Division of Speakers: 4 for, 3 against

What Is The Correct Position: Against. The bill doesn’t really take power from the mayor and give it to the council. The city administrator would still make less $$ than the people who he supervises. Remember, this is not necessarily against the principle of this bill, but rather against the execution.

7:50

O-02-08

What Would It Do
: Require retailers to disclose on packaging when their products (or packaging, as the case is) contain BPA, a chemical used for 50 years as a liner on the inside of metal cans.

Arguments For: If public information is harmful, isn’t that the fault of the product? BPA can be dangerous. There is a study that says this product in the current commercial concentrations is harmful to children and fetuses. This is not a ban, simply a requirement for notification. What’s wrong with that? It should be the consumers to decide what’s right for them. The reason why the federal government has not come out with this ban is that the powerful corporate lobbyists have prevented it. Those lobbyists will never be pregnant!

Arguments Against: This is unnecessary—nobody else has a law like this. Repeat: no federal, state, or local jurisdiction has found the need to do this. It has a chilling effect on business because it would negatively differentiate products sold in the city. Now is not the time to make it harder for retailers. BPA content of most packaging is approved by the FDA and is safe. BPA and epoxy resins are an important part of keeping food safe during packaging, and keep food safe. BPA has been studied extensively by people who have to resources to study it, and they think it’s OK. Even a notification would cause people to summarily avoid the product because they will accept it as adverse to their health. Plus, there are too many signs already and there are metal cans all over the store. The way the bill is drafted, you could have 30 signs!

Division of Speakers: 2 for, 4 against.

What Is The Correct Position: Hard to say without knowing how harmful BPA is, which I don’t. That being said, I have never heard of Bisphenol-A, which leads me to believe it is not the worst thing in the world. On face, it sounds like an unnecessary regulation, harm, and expense. It is highly unlikely that anybody on the council has the resources or expertise to determine if this ban is appropriate. That the city would be ahead of the FDA on this matter simply because they are keener is not plausible. You need to decide (1) retailers’ obligation to inform the public of a potential hazard, (2) how much of a danger this is, and (3) how negatively such a notification would affect business. I would say that in general, any actions by the government to promote the flow of information is appropriate. The argument here arises from a regulatory market imperfection, namely that we would be the only jurisdiction doing this, rather than the whole country, possibly disadvantaging the businesses subject to the requirement.

8:30

O-03-08

What it would do: Allow Chesapeake Marine Tours (Watermark Cruises) to extend its lease until 2014.

Arguments For: This is a responsible business that cares about the environment, provides, jobs, operates responsibly, partners with the city for various causes, and gives almost $200,000 per year in amusement taxes to the city.

Arguments Against: The government is granting a monopoly, I guess. Nobody really made this argument—or any against. I am just trying to be the Devil’s Advocate.

Division of Speakers: 1 for, 0 against.

What is The Correct Position: For. Unless someone else wants to compete then the city should do a bid process.

8:35

R-08-08

What it would do: Create a special district for arts and entertainment types, including tax breaks.

Arguments For: We like artist and entertainment types. Plus Maryland Hall is struggling and we need to help those guys. The bill reads that the city council “may” grant property tax exemptions.

Arguments Against: Are you kidding? Half of the property in the city is already tax exempt, and why give breaks to artists? Why not teachers? What about police…don’t we need more of them? Nobody will ever agree on the proper drawing of the zone. The district may serve as a justification for 2 am licenses (which I actually am in favor of). Singling out this particular industry to receive benefits is unfair and inappropriate. To believe that the council wouldn’t grant property tax abatements is foolish. Also, what happens to the art dealers on Main St. when they are not included in the special district? (Answer: no more Main St. artists.) There has not been enough public information nor therefore enough time to analyze the redrawn district.

Division of Speakers*: I lost count. More for than against.

(There were public speakers, but this was not the “highlight” of this public hearing. The aldermen talked amongst themselves, with a planning commission guy, and with Mike Miron for 45 minutes, sparking a demand for watching paint dry as a respite from the boredom. The council immediately slapped an amusement tax on paint stores. The planning commission guy didn’t even know what was going on, and asked for a year to do a sector study.)

(The other lowlight of the hearing on this bill was the sabotaging of the city hall meeting by the Murray Hill residents, who meticulously blasted the city for not giving enough time to review the new boundaries. Murray Hill residents held the floor for longer than it’s taking my contractors to renovate my house—and they’re getting paid by the hour!! {Just kidding Brian and Randy})

What is The Correct Position: Against. Even if you support preferential treatment by a government, there are more deserving recipients, and perhaps ways that maintain taxable properties. If you are rational and realize that preferential treatment by governments is unfair and produces unintended consequences that are never good, you have a stronger reason to be against. Logistically, drawing the district will be a nightmare.

(Post Intermission #2: I have a very pleasant relationship with an artist on Main St. His name is Mr. Yang, and he created a painting by Dali depicting Dali’s own hometown in Spain, where Mrs. Politics and I visited in 2006. Fabulous work, really. We can look at the painting and see where we walked—where we ate!)

10:25

“one and a half minute break”

10:35

Meeting resumes.

Legislative Action:

O-27-07 Revised “D”, amended. Long story short, it disregards fiscal consequences in favor of supposedly helping the environment, and does it in every way possible. Nobody knows what is going on with this bill because, as usual, Alderman Stankivic submitted revisions and amendments too soon before the meeting.

(Excuse my language, but these last minute changes are fucking bullshit. Everybody is so confused because of last minute amendments, and it is taking forever to vote on a bill that basically should have been already figured out. Alderman Stankivic can’t even figure out her own amendments, the city attorney and the city clerk are baffled, and the rest of the city council doesn’t want to pass the amendments but they also don’t want to postpone the vote. I would request alcohol at this point.)

PASSES. REPEAT: PASSES. Wait, oh my God, Alderman Shropshire wasn’t paying attention and he and Alderman Stankivic made a motion to reconsider because he didn’t get his chance to amend. Only Alderman Israel knows the proper parliamentary procedure, but somehow now the bill is back on second reader. Ok, here we go again: PASSES. Good or bad: bad.

R-04-08, amended. Gives the amount of money taken from 5 parking meters during the 4 winter months and gives it to “the homeless”, which is actually defined as recipients designated by a commission. PASSES. Good or bad: bad—slightly ambiguous for my taste.

First Reader Passages:
R-09-08: exempting “First Sundays” festival from fees.
R-10-08: exempting “Maryland Avenue” festivals from fees.

Business:
Ratification of union contract to give police raises.

1 comment:

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