Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Follow Up: Karen Engelke

This is sort of ridiculous. At first I didn't think it sounded unusual, but then I realized that it would only normal if it were on television. The Karen Engelke crony situation is boiling up. I said in the previous post that I don't necessarily have a problem with cronyism as long as the cronies are right for the job and there are facts presented in their support. But when Mrs. Engelke's support was that the decision to give thousands of dollars to a man that was her business AND personal partner was made "above her pay grade", I lost all hope for legitimacy. Read for yourself:
Karen Engelke, special events coordinator for the city of Annapolis, would
like you to know that everything is on the up and up.I reported the other day
that a guy she's in business with - at a firm based at her house - had done work
on special events that she oversaw as a city employee.

"There's no collusion or anything else," Engelke said. "It's someone
helping the city.

"Engelke acknowledged that she has had a professional relationship with
Joseph Meany of Samuel Hutton Associates for 16 years. She also indicated that
they have a personal relationship. "Part of our relationship is private," she

And so it should remain, unless she's steering work to the guy. Engelke
said she's done no such thing.

Meany was paid $14,000 to plan a recent symposium on Annapolis history,
according to Engelke. But Engelke said she didn't hire him. He was mostly paid
with Maryland Heritage Areas Authority grant money, so it was the state that
essentially chose him for the job, she said.

But she did have a hand in it. After Meany came up with the idea for the
symposium, Engelke said she "was asked to write a grant, of which planning for a
symposium was one component."

And then there's the Clay Street kiosk project. Smaller potatoes. Meany
wrote up some history for the panels and was paid $2,000, city records

"I have no control over the money," she said. "They were all approved far
beyond my pay grade."But Engelke was manager of the kiosk project, and she
acknowledged that she recommended Meany for the job.

Can she understand why people might think that's sort of a cozy

Cronyism In City Government

Most political administrations are criticized on some level for giving political jobs or directing lucrative contracts. The O'Malley administration famously padded the purchase price of land that the state was buying from a member of the Governor's transition team.

The Moyer administration is not free of such controversy. Finance Director Tim Elliot's wife is on the payroll (although she may well be qualified for the job). There are implications of improper use of city money, including sister city voyages and the pulpit given to clear mayoral candidate Chuck Weikel via the Annapolis Alive program. Perhaps most egregiously, the Mayor has twice changed the charter and created entire new departments that are promptly staffed with her friends in $100,000+ director positions.

Reporters with more resources are able to make more pointed connections. Laura Vozzella, a columnist for The Sun, recently found a dubious connection between the city special events coordinator and Moyer appointee Karen Engelke, and a firm contracted to work on the city's recent anniversary celebration:
Yet there's a tribute to Her Majesty, calling her "the mother of elected,
democratic government here in Maryland" on the Annapolis Alive! Web site.

Where'd the city get that idea? That bit was written by
"writer and historian Joseph Meany of Samuel Hutton Associates." He had a hand
in several aspects of the charter celebration, including arranging for Ellefson
and other symposium speakers to come to town. Where'd the city find Meany?

I tried to ask Karen Engelke, the city's special events coordinator. I
never heard back from her, but it seems she didn't have to look far to find

Samuel Hutton Associates is based out of a Cornhill Street house listed in
state records under her name. Engelke is listed as a "principal" in the
two-person firm on a company profile posted on the Web.

Is it really possible that someone in charge of special events for the city
could hire her own firm to do work for those events? The Annapolis Alive! site
describes how Meany wrote up some history that was posted on a kiosk in the Clay
Street neighborhood. "The kiosk project manager was Karen Engelke," the Web site
notes. The site makes no mention of Engelke's connection to his firm.

I am actually fine with a certain level of cronyism. I have some friends and family that are smart as hell, and if I was elected Mayor I would appoint them on the first day. Some of them have companies that do really good work, and I would want the city to do business with them. The difference is, it wouldn't be a secret. I would defend my appointments and awarded contracts. My public information officer would know about it, and he would be instructed to say "Those people are smart and those companies are good, so calm yourselves down." With this administration, it's always quite the opposite, and one can't help but be a cynic.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sidewalk Tax

I live a life of luxury, amenity, and commodity* outside of city limits, so I did not receive a $25 or $150 sidewalk bill like many of you folk. However, I am aware of said bill, and have some thoughts on the matter.

(*By life of luxury, I of course mean that only the left side of my basement floods when it rains.)

People are pissed about the tax. The most prevalent argument seems to be "I don't have a sidewalk in front of my house, so why should I have to pay?". This argument is not proper--sidewalks are an appropriate care of a government--i.e. the entirety of the people. Even if there isn't a sidewalk in front of your house, odds are you use one in a public area. Most people believe that having sidewalks, at least on busy streets, is enough of a safety benefit to public health as to warrant public money. Sidewalks are necessary, and since it doesn't make sense to have people individually building sidewalks, it's the government's/the citizens' job.

The problem, for me, is that sidewalks are not taken care of by the 83 MILLION DOLLARS ALREADY COLLECTED EACH YEAR BY THE CITY! Roads and sidewalks are like priority #3 for the city government, yet non-profit grants and the city magazine are funded before sidewalks? Poppycock! Even if you group sidewalks separate from roads, the city priorities look like this:

1. public safety
2. infrastructure (water, sewer)
3. roads
4. sidewalks
5. public works services (trash removal, etc.)

I will not accept that in the entirety of the general budget, sidewalks cannot be funded. But what I am willing to accept doesn't matter--it's what the city council is willing to do. The council passed the tax in October of last year, apparently a time in history when "tax" meant not a forced seizure of money. Alderman Hoyle, in particular, seems confused. The fee "wasn't a big deal", she remarked. Mrs. Hoyle also added "It has gotten racial, with people saying 'The city wants to build sidewalks so Hispanics can walk the streets'", a statement which is more lacking in appropriateness than my choice of bright magenta for the color of tile in my foyer.

Fortunately, the city council is not beyond persuasion if they realize they have made a political error, and reeling has already started. Alderman Cordle, amongst others, seemed to take both sides of the issue, and an article today revels that the future of this tax could involve repeal, amendment, or even immunity from action. The normally solid Alderman Paone, in a move that will surely anger his fan club (though possibly not his ward), suggested that "he also would be open to amending the bill if residents without sidewalks didn't have to pay the tax", handily opposing the point I made in the second paragraph.

More evidence supporting a structural problem with this tax (rather than the idea of the tax itself) comes from Eastport activist and provocateur Bob McWilliams, who researched some data for Los Angeles, which adopted a similar policy:

1) They have 10,750 miles of sidewalk

2) 43% or 4,600 miles are in need of repair (and that's in a climate that doesn't have the freeze and thaw of winter)

3) If not one more sidewalk breaks, Los Angles estimates it will take
83 years to fix what is currently broken

4) Los Angles estimates that it will cost $1.2 billion to fix their 4,600 miles of broken sidewalk.

5) Annually, Los Angles spends $3,000,000 on lawsuits over broken sidewalks.

Bob estimates Annapolis' burden as a fraction of that total, and calculates a total liability created by this law of $7.5 million--not a good cost-benefit analysis when you consider that the measure will generate only about $500,000 in taxes.

Sidewalks should be funded out of the general fund. The city would be forced to trim other budget items that are probably less useful, and can fix the sidewalks without added legal concern. Time will tell if the political winds will sway such a result.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

This Guy Is In Trouble

Look at this police report that was just sent out:
On June 10th at 8:26 AM, a motorist reported seeing what appeared to be an
attempted abduction. The caller said that the driver of a blue Toyota pulled
over next to an adult female pedestrian as she was walking on Poplar Avene near
Locust Avenue. The driver of the Toyota, a male, got out of the car and grabbed
the pedestrian by the arm and tried to pull her towards a wooded area, according
to the witness. She screamed for help. Other motorists stopped and focused their
attention on the suspect and victim. Apparently, that was enough to cause him to
give up his attempt. The victim ran back to one of the other cars in the area,
and that driver allowed her to get in her car. She then drove the victim to the
police station. The suspect got back in his car and drove off.

Witnesses were able to give a good description of the suspect*s
vehicle, as well as the tag number. A responding officer spotted the car on the
East side of Poplar Avenue. The suspect refused to stop for the officer. The
officer followed until the suspect vehicle struck a parked Ford Pick up truck on
Poplar Avenue. The suspect then drove off the roadway up onto a grassy hill
medium. Officers were close behind and the suspect got out of his car
brandishing a knife. He was ordered to drop the knife and gunpoint and did so.
He then began to flee on foot, but some construction workers from a house
remodeling project nearby had seen the events and were lining up in a manner to
stop the suspect.

Apparently the suspect took note of this and gave up his escape
attempt.He was taken into custody without further incident. The victim
said that she does not know the suspect. She was identified as a 39 year old
Arundel on The Bay Road resident. The suspect was identified as 34 year
Richard James Haney of the 1400 block of Norcross Lane in Severn,
Maryland. He was charged with Attempted Abduction, Assault, Reckless
Endangerment, Traffic Offenses, and other related offenses. He is currently
awaiting his initial court appearance before a District Court

Monday, June 9, 2008

City Council Meeting: 6/9

Holy hell. In my preview post for this meeting, I made a smart-ass comment about how the air conditioner would surely be under performing during this meeting. To my fabulous dismay, I was right! According to PIO Weaver, a compressor was struck by lightning, and is currently not working. So, we have what you see below.

Mr. Weaver has assured us that the device was indeed not the prototype for a new energy-saving HVAC unit at the market house, a proposition that is gaining mythical status with the VIP crowd in the back of the room.

Sadly, I literally cannot hear anything on account of the wind turbine located to my left. I could sing 99 Bottles Of Beer on the Wall out loud and nobody would know.


The city attorney has instructed me to unplug the turbines so we can hear what is going on. Back in business!


Alderman Cordle has moved to postpone the majority of the meeting, citing a thermostat reading of 94 degrees. We are still going to hear from the public, and vote on a couple of things including the budget.


Finance Committee Recommendations:

-do not raise taxes
-maintain tax rate and balance budget
-crime demands attention (funding)
-“seed” and “matching” money for non-profits
-specifics to come in a future post


One of the finance committee recommendations is to cut the “Arts in Public Places” funding from $68,000 to $35,000, and somebody representing that outfit is testifying in a spirited manner against such an action, citing their requested burden on the general fund as around one tenth of one percent. The council is giving her kudos, but this is probably already a done deal. They have been deliberating for a while, and have a requirement to pass the budget soon. Alderman Shropshire just “pledged to work for full funding” for the group, perhaps emptily, perhaps not.


While conceding that an officer on the street is probably worth more than art on a wall, an Arts fellow just make a pitch that their programs involve the community, and therefore make the communities safer. He made another (valid) argument that can be simplified as this:

Recently approved tax breaks for entertainment arts district combined with cuts to arts funding does not make sense.


Tony Evans, my #2 favorite Democrat, just made a variety of fiscally responsible points, managing to use “elasticity” and “embargo” in the same city-government related sentence.


Trudy McFall may be on to something. The finance committee wants to cut public safety funding to HACA but agreed to fund non-profits that didn’t even apply for money. To quote her (roughly): “I think this makes a great statement about your priorities”.


Budget voting starts.


There is still an embargo on cold air.


Alderman Israel, apparently moved by citizen testimony or other factors, moves to break the conglomeration of finance committee amendments to isolate the Arts funding and the intern program funding into their own votes. That motion passes 5-4 (Moyer, Israel, Hoyle, Finlayson, Shropshire).


The finance committee amendments save the 2 mentioned above pass as a whole, by the same margin as above and with the same yea and nay voters.


Now under consideration is a motion to restore the funding of the Arts in Public Places to the orginal $68,000. Alderman Paone is now arguing that such an action would be bullcrap, that the finance committee thought long and hard about the reduction, that we don’t have the money to fund the program, and that the success or wonderful-ness of programs is not the primary consideration given our economic situation.


Alderman Shropshire is now firing back at Alderman Paone, seizing an opportunity to prolong the discomfort that is the ambient temperature right now.


Alderman Israel launches into dialogue regarding the historical precedent of giving money to the Arts program, announcing “I have not yet heard a reason why a cut of this magnitude is being implemented on……”, but before he could finish, Alderman Stankivic zealously thrusted her hand in the air, causing Alderman Israel to observe “Maybe we are about to hear”.


They are still debating the Arts in Public Places cash. It's kind of annoying that they haven’t figured this out yet and that they are having the debate now, but I guess it’s a good thing that the recommendations of a 3 person committee are not given carte blanche when it comes to spending the taxpayers’ hard-earned.


Yes to restore arts funding: Moyer, Israel, Hoyle, Finlayson, Shropshire.

No: Paone, Cordle, Stankivic, Arnett.*

(*Notice a pattern? Also, I am highly surprised that they would pass a motion of this nature on the floor at this time.)


The finance committee has recommended removing the city intern program to achieve a savings of $60,000. Alderman Israel is upset because he promised money to some prospective interns. Cordle points out that interns are valuable but they would still work for free to boost their resumes. Paone moves to restore half of the funding, $30,000. The funny thing is, the funding for the intern program for this year was only $20,000, which means that $30,000 would be A 50 PERCENT INCREASE IN THE PROGRAM.


Paone moves to cut the $84,000 budget of the city magazine, calling it a “puff piece” that we could “perhaps” afford to fund in later times! That is a no-nonsense thing to say, which is why Alderman Paone is the only alderman to have a fan club. The Mayor is furious, calling the magazine the “public relations dollars for every department”, which doesn’t quite make sense. I believe her argument is that it is necessary communications with the public.


Ray Weaver just brought me a glass of cold water, which is a no-nonsense thing to do, and is another reason why he is the only appointed city official with a fan club.


Alderman Shropshire keeps saying that we can spend more money because the budget will be down by 1%, which is not proper reasoning even if it is correct.

Also, the mayor could not be more annoyed that this amendment has been proposed.


The magazine motion failed.


Oooh Alderman Cordle just called Alderman Israel out for considering a previously unheard budget motion on the floor after promising not to do so.


Moyer and Cordle are getting a little feisty with each other. Once I got feisty with Mrs. Politics and the result was not favorable.


Cordle said he is not voting for the budget, and Mayor questioned why, since Cordle is on the finance committee and can drive policy. But of the 3 votes, 2 are Democrats, so it is not surprising that Cordle would get voted down.


So, the above statement basically accused Alderman Shropshire of voting along party lines in the finance committee meetings. He just said this: “To all of my constituents of Ward 7 who may be watching on TV, I have just been accused of voting along party lines in finance committee meetings. I am not here to support the wishes of just Democrats—I represent the interests of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents in Ward 7. Doing what is right is the most important thing.” All I’m saying is: tone it down a bit.


Operating Budget, as amended, final vote:

Yes: Moyer, Israel, Hoyle, Finlayson, Shropshire

No: Paone, Cordle, Stankivic, Arnett


Now, the Capital Budget. Israel moves to break capital grant to Historic Annapolis Foundation into a separate item. Capital budget without the HAF grant passes.

Motion to restore bond funding of HAF to next FY is made. Passes.


Budget fees resolution (R-16-08) passes.

R-27-08 passes.

R-28-08 passes.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Preview: City Council Meeting 6/9

I have been told by several people that this Monday's council meeting will be eventful and long, so I have postponed my water aerobics class and stocked up on Tang in preparation for a marathon blogging session in a room that is sure to have a malfunctioning air conditioner. Hopefully the seminar on how the Iraq war affects city government will not run late, and we can start on time.

To see the full agenda, click HERE.

The first item of business is the "final" report from the finance committee giving their recommendations for the budget. This is a statutory requirement more than anything else, because the details of the budget have been argued in committee and over glasses of White Zinfandel for quite some time. (Plus they are voting on the budget in th same meeting!) However, the relevant portion of the code that I found says that the Finance Committee must report no later than the second Monday in May, so maybe they just thought the meeting wouldn't be long enough.

Before we get any further along, I have a major announcement: WE ARE GOING TO HAVE A NEW SISTER CITY! If you are like me, you have been dreaming for the day when our relationship with Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil would be solidified by resolution. So, why is this city becoming a sister city? Because Alderman Shropshire visited there.*

(*Not joking)

Here are some other things the council will be legislating on Monday:

-budget (final vote)
-O-33-07 and CA-02-07, making changes to the election code
-vote on CA to change responsibilities of the city administrator

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Marmaduke's To Return?**

This is like super rumor alert** but it is marginally interesting.

Mrs. Politics and I went to St. Michael's*** yesterday to celebrate her birthday and wound up talking to some guy who claims that his uncle is the owner of the old Marmadukes, which was located in Eastport where Ruth's Chris is now. This random guy said that his uncle had his fun vacationing in Key West and other tropical locations, and was now going to return to Annapolis to re-establish the old haunt. We didn't trust this guy enough to ask for details, but I suppose it would be interesting.

(***The motto for St. Michael's is The City That Fooled The British......apparently one day in 1813 the British Navy came to bomb St. Michael's, so the citizens raised their lanterns to the top of their ship masts. That maneuver causes the British to think the city was farther away than it really was, and all but one of the cannonballs sailed safely over the city! We all wish that war strategy was that simple today.)