Monday, December 21, 2009

City Council Meeting Cancelled


However, the Annapolis City Council will hold a special meeting and take legislative action at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, December 21, in City Council Chambers, 160 Duke of Gloucester Street, Annapolis. 

To view the meeting's agenda, please click here.  For more information, please contact Seth B. Zirkle, Legislative and Policy Analyst with the Office of Law, at (410) 263-1184 or

Monday, December 14, 2009

City Council Meeting 12/14/09: Live Blog

It works!  I'm here...with a new computer, a new internet connection, a new city council, and a new the same cynicism that has vaulted this blog to the 56th most popular local political blog in the General's Highway Corridor!


Ok, sorry for the late start.  Had to set up the new internet connection and it took me a minute.  Many new and old VIP's are here, and Mayor Cohen has started off the meeting with a brief statement from each Alderman of which ward they represent and where that is.  If you are new to this politics stuff, here's the location low down:

Ward 1: Downtown
Ward 2: West Annapolis and Germantown
Ward 3: Parole
Ward 4: Outer Forest Dr.
Ward 5: Hunt Meadow and Central Forest Dr
Ward 6: Robinwood, Tyler Heights, other random streets
Ward 7: Inner Forest Dr and Bay Ridge Dr/Ave
Ward 8: Eastport


The most disturbing thing I've noticed so far is how tall Kenny Kirby and Ian Pfeiffer are.  Being the only Republican, Alderman Paone in my opinion needed to rely on his menacing stature, voice, and trial lawyer experience to get his bills through.  But if Kenny Kirby puts on like 7 lbs of muscle, he will clearly be the most menacing member of the council.  I plan to immediately contact Alderman Paone for an emergency strategy session after this meeting.


A bit of procedural consideration:  Attention Eastport residents: I like you.  My last post was not meant to offend you.  Please appreciate the attempt at humor and please know that I agree with like 97% of the stuff you fight for.  Oh, and I know there are people from all wards involved in your causes.  No hard feelings? Great.


Josh says he aims for 'efficiency' and to be 'the best run city in Annapolis'.  Also, the third Thursday of every month from 1:15-4:15 will now feature a legislative work session aimed at increasing transparency and understanding of the issues.  This of course also means that every third Thursday of the month from 11:15-1:15 I will be hosting a political tailgate in Hillman Garage.

Too many changes!  Now, all Monday meetings will be BOTH a public hearing and legislative meeting.  This is really not a change at all, as the distinction between the 2 types of meetings was much like the current distinction between commercial banks and Savings & Loans after the banking crisis of 1981: nothing.

New public testimony policy: when the buzzer goes off, stop talking.


The public is speaking...time to test this new policy.

The first speaker is Julie Stankivic and she outed a controversy that I haven't gotten to yet!  Ross Arnett, an economics professional and chief understander of the budget, was left off of both the finance committee and the economic matters committee.  The committees don't have chair-people yet, and word on the proverbial street was that this snub might be the result of a failure to properly promise his vote for a certain chairperson*.

*Rumor alert.

I will post the committee list for you tomorrow (or some other day).


Herb McMillan: "Reverse the trend; cut the budget".

Resident of Miami Ave: "The time to cut the budget is now".

Steve Samaras: "Brilliant selection of Doug Smith."


I went to high school with Steve's son, Drew, and he produced one of the most memorable moments of my high school life.  In government and law class, Drew asked the teacher how fast over the speed limit do you have to be going to get pulled over.  Our teacher, Mr. Kirby, reclined to an incredible angle of nearly 180 degrees horizontal in his chair and said "Drew, it's the limit".


Public hearing time.  Like half of the room just left.  I imagine they were supporting this, not with testimony, by simply by their presence.

O-03-09: limiting the height of building accessories in the MX district to 100 feet.  "Accessories" appear to be  clock towers, indoor theaters, and other things associated with the Park Place development.


Although my view from the back is obstructed, Alderman Arnett appears to be sporting a winter beard.  I once tried to grow a winter beard, only to experience failure after 4 weeks of not shaving produced only the appearance of neglected hygiene.


A reader of this blog has cleverly utilized the comment technology, as I have received his real time complaint that I didn't list the committees.  So, friend, per your request:

Economic Matters:
Alderman Israel
Alderman Paone
Alderwoman Finlayson

Alderman Israel
Alderwoman Hoyle
Alderman Pfeiffer


(Still talking about the height of Park Place).

Park Place representatives: "We want you to help us out".  What they actually said I don't know, as a late afternoon coffee manifested into an early evening bathroom break while they were talking.  But I'm assuming they said that.


While listening to the PPP (Park Place People), Josh leaned back in his chair to a modest reclining angle that I estimate to be 100 degrees--barely leaning back.  I will call Mr. Kirby (not Kenny Kirby) to see if he gives lessons.

Also, I would like to say that I use the moniker "Josh" not as a sign of disrespect, but in recognition of a commonality we have.  We both have economics degrees from the University of Maryland.  Sharing the experience of learning about 'Neo-Keynesian policies' and 'production possibility frontiers' while continuously being told to "Fear The Turtle" produces a "bond of lifelong boredom" that affords its bearers the right to call each other by any name or nickname they see fit.

But if he asks, I'll call him Mayor Cohen.


I've spotted a woman crocheting while listening to the proceedings of this meeting!  Wow.  If ever there was proof that meetings are boring, such proof exists in the fact that crochet is the reprieve from the monotony.


People disrespect the General's Highway Corridor.  Here are the 5 best things to do on that stretch of beautiful Anne Arundel County, listed in reverse order for added drama:

5.  Go bowling!  As my favorite comedian says: Some people have their own bowling ball AND their own bowling shoes friends.  My ball is called the Activator*, my shoes are black Drexel lace-ups*, and....does anyone want to hang out tonight?

(*this is actually true.)

4.  Buy a Christmas tree from Matthew Weller's stand.

3.  Go to Lures.  Locals owners that welcome you to their dream.

2.  Bet on when the billiard supply store will go out of business, only to reopen as another billiard supply store.

1.  Get on I-97 without driving on Aris T Allen Boulevard.


If they don't stop talking about Park Place soon, I'll be forced to write more jokes, and political humor can get old real quick.


Serious business now...public hearing on O-47-09: to prohibit the use of a taxicab's horn to announce its arrival.  Those damned noisy taxicabs!  I know what you are wondering: and the answer is: former Alderman Stankivic sponsored this bill.

Robert Eades (owner of a taxicab company): "This is totally stupid".

Alderman Paone is asking a series of questions that alerts me to the fact that he thinks it's stupid too.


All of the Aldermen are seated at acute (less than 90 degrees) reclining angles--they are actually leaning forward! That's just silly.  A couple years of practice, and maybe they can learn to recline like a Mayor.


Alderman Arnett just pointed out that it's Maryland law that you can't honk your horn for any purpose other than an emergency.  What a spoilsport.  Oh wait.  His point is that this law is already redundant of state law.  So he thinks this bill is stupid too.  Good point Ross*.

(*also on the economics-degree first name basis).


Devin Heritage: Let's not create unenforceable laws.


A red-haired person just walked in!  Exciting!  The audience now includes:

-a red haired person
-a woman still crocheting
-someone with so little regard for free time that he is live blogging a city council meeting
-various city workers that more or less have to be here
-a taxi company owner
-several other people who have yet to distinguish themselves

We now move to a public hearing on O-59-09, which would update our stormwater regulations to conform with state law.


Voting time!  There is nothing on final reader because the new mayor and council want to learn more about the bills before making a final vote.  All of the following were passed on first reader and referred to committee.  The bills sponsors and co sponsors are listed in parentheses.

O-66-09: Clarifying Mobile Food Service Permits (Hoyle)
O-67-09: Rezoning of a Part of Duke of Gloucester St (#214) (Israel)
O-68-09: Changes in the Way Legislation Is Passed (Israel)
O-69-09: Establishing a Financial Advisory Committee (Israel)
O-70-09: Order of Voting (Rotating Sequence with Mayor Voting Last) (Cohen, Paone)
R-73-09: Establishing a Citizens Committee to Review Alcohol Laws (Israel)

Budget amendments passed over Paone's objection.

Adjournment: 9:37.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Eastport Residents To Offer Solutions To Budget

Eastport has always been special....sort of like when you are at a family gathering and realize the need to turn to your child and say "Little Suzie, just ignore Uncle Ralph--he's special".  You may remember such groups as 'Eastporters Against Gunshots", "Annapolitans United Against Crime", and most recently "Eastporters With Big Expensive Houses Against Another Eastport Resident With A Particularly Big and Expensive House".

What you may not know is that Eastport residents have long been active in community affairs.  Here is a partial list of some of their lesser known causes:

1517-Eastport residents give Ferdinand Magellan 1 end of a long rope in advance of his circumnavigation of the world.  Already knowing the world was flat and not round from their Wednesday Night Armada Races, Eastporters wanted to have a tug-of-war with New Zealand for ultimate nautical bragging rights.

1691-Eastport Witches For Home Cooking forms to combat the spread of restaurants.  (The first restaurant wasn't really recognized until the mid 18th century but the Salem witchcraft trials were in 1692 so just pretend the Eastport witches could predict the future).  Starting on the ground that now houses Rockfish, the women cast a spell that prevents any restaurant from being successful.  Fortunately for us foodies, before the witches could move down Chesapeake Ave (then known as the Chesapeake Brownish/Red Dirt and Rocks Path), they were burned at the stake by members of the Franyo and DeCastro families.

1861-Inspired by the Confederacy, this is when the first attempts to secede from Annapolis are traced to.  With land supply routes owned by the enemy and after decades of brutal Harbormaster regimes, radicals are relegated to "storming City Hall" once per year, followed by 72 consecutive hours of drinking at Davis' Pub.

Late Twentieth Century-The Chart House Restaurant replaces the old Trumpy Boat Yard.  (Remember, the witches didn't get down that far.)  Soon thereafter, the Eastport Civic Association is formed.  The mutual support of the neighbors allowed them to dine at a restaurant that represents the decline of the Maritime Industry while simultaneously complaining about the decline of the Maritime Industry.

In any case, Eastport has a cause once more, and this is a good one--budget reduction / tax increase prevention.  I have obtained an advance* copy of the letter they plan to present this Monday at the City Council meeting**.

(*I say 'advance' to make myself sound awesome, but for all I know this letter could have been printed 2 weeks ago.)

(**I will be at that meeting live blogging.)

We will be using the tried-and-true 'letter to the editor format', where their ideas are listed in bold and my commentary is in normal font.  Ward 8 unites!

1) Eliminate Contract Employees (Savings - $4.0 million):  Contract employees have mushroomed into a political patronage system.  As the Blue Ribbon Commission pointed out, this practice should be stopped until the City Council develops proper guidelines and oversight for this method of providing city services.

Ok....$4 million is a big nut, as they say.  Contract employees are really bad when you have a cunning person that uses them for patronage, as they allege and as is true.  However, contract employees are easier to fire and their benefits aren't determined by the union contract.  So IF we get the better oversight, contract workers can actually be more beneficial than municipal employees.  The financial horror of all horrors for the past 8 years was that the vague "contractual services" budgets for many departments were spent on contractual workers, only see see many resolutions aiming to convert those contract positions into full municipal jobs.  Certainly that has to stop, and until the process has its checks and balances, I agree with this suggestion.

2) Consolidate 18 Departments into 6 (Saving $3.0 million):  Given the six figure salaries for many Department Heads, and the cost of associated staff, City Department should be focused on our most immediate priorities.  Also consider consolidating the City and County fire departments into one unit.

Absolutely beautiful work by those drunk sailors.  Just kidding.  About the sailor part.  For an outsider looking to do business in the city, there are at least 4 places that can claim to be the "go-to" source for permit information: DNEP, Economic Affairs, Planning and Zoning, and Special Project Coordinator.  The redundancies are glaring and there is no doubt in my mind that departments started to reward the Mayor's friends turned into running jokes about how much money could be spent without providing any benefit.

3) Eliminate City Grant Program (Savings - $0.5 million):  We can all see some benefit in charitable giving, but the City simply doesn’t have money to be giving away.  Additionally, there is little accountability for how these tax dollars are being used.  Leaving charity to the private sector will allow the citizens to realize the tax deductibility of giving, and restore control how their money is spent.

This issue has been hotly debated and probably needs more attention than the 5 sentences I'm about to give it.  I think everyone agreed that there was too much dependence on the city for funds.  Alderman Stankivic introduced a bill (which I believe passed) requiring non-profits receiving city money to prove they raised a certain portion of private money.  The ironic problem is that a lot of private money often times has the requirement that non-profits get public money, because they take it as a sign that the government somehow approves of the work.  The next problem is that non-profits want money from more than 1 government.  An NP getting 90% of its money from the state might need the other 10% from the city to get the 90%, and if the city totally closes the coffers, they would be screwed.  For the private sector charitable giving to really produce the right incentives, the state and federal coffers would have to be closed as well.  Good luck.  And the last problem is that many people don't want to see the effective charities denied money, perhaps even in our current budget situation.  Even as a mean emotionless Republican I don't know if I would favor totally eliminating the grant program.  But I don't have a better solution either.

Ok, turned out to be 9 more sentences (plus the phrase "good luck").

4) Cut Non-essential Programs (Savings – TBD):  Things like the Sister City Program, Sea Level studies and such come to mind.  In a period of financial crisis, all the “nice to do” stuff must be set aside.

Goes without saying.  The challenge will be Josh and the council's interpretation of "essential".  Even so, all these types of programs probably account for half a percent of the total budget.

5) Audit the Transportation Department (Savings - $1.0 million): The overtime expenditures for many departments is spiraling out of control.  The Transportation Department, however, appears to be the primary culprit.

The poor transportation department has the dubious honor of being the only department singled out by EAT (Eastporters Against Things), and for good reason.  The transportation department reminds me of when I put a $3000 non-refundable deposit on an office space I never used, then leased an office for 3 years that COST me money instead of MAKING me money because I had to hire another manager and extra delivery driver, nearly bankrupting the company that has since afforded me the opportunity to buy the computer I'm using to write this post.  In other words: poor management.  There will always be overtime for police and fire because their union contracts say that OT is required for holidays, plus you never know when there's going to be a crime or a fire.  But for the transportation department--supposedly the king of schedules--to have a schedule so poor as to rack up millions in OT....fully support this "audit".

6) Outsource New Recreation Center to YMCA (Savings - $0.5 million):  As you may be aware, we have a new multi-million dollar Rec Center, but there’s no money in the budget to operate it.  A possible partnership with the YMCA might offer an opportunity to recover from this expensive budget omission.

No real plan here other than to explore a "possible partnership".  But, as I remember, this is the new headquarters for the Parks and Recreation Department.  It seems silly to have Parks and Rec employees there already and have to hire someone else to run the building.  Unless the YMCA pays the city for using the building, which would be appropriate, I can't see how this would make all that much difference.  But I'm with them in spirit.

Now I will explain what the real deal is.

85% of the budget is salaries and benefits.  Reducing that cost is the only possible way to prevent tax increases.  EAT has good ideas, and consolidation of departments would go a long way.  Even so, Josh has the biggest opportunity with his upcoming union negotiation.  The union contracts come up every 4 years, conveniently, so that the incoming mayor can negotiate for themselves.  I distinctly remember being at Ram's Head, drinking a Copperhead Ale while Josh had a Miller Lite, listening him explain to me that the city has considerable negotiating power especially in tough times.  What they come up with is crucial.

The next thing to watch out for is fees.  Lowering taxes by raising fees is like paying off your credit card with a loan from the mafia.  Silly.  The enterprise funds (water, sewer, parking, etc., which generate the fees) are supposed to generate at least what it takes to administer the fund.  For example, parking fees should at least pay for the parking enforcement officers.  In practice this does not happen, and I wouldn't be surprised if your "taxes" didn't go up but the cost of a residential parking permit was $1,564.87.

And the last budget buster is the Capital budget.  For many people, the capital budget is a separate magical land where hundreds of millions of dollars of projects are planned, funded by bonds, executed, and done with.  Sadly, there is a connection between the general budget and the capital budget, and it's debt service on the bonds we issued to fund the magical projects.  This year, debt service is almost $6 million or 7% of the budget.  For you math majors, if 85% of the budget is for personnel, 7% goes to debt service, the city hall roof is falling, and the city dock water is rising, how many extra projects can you slip into the capital budget.  Answer: like negative $100 million worth.

Should be a good council meeting.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Cohen-Smith Era

Politics makes strange bedfellows.  That was my pickup line to get Mrs. Politics to give me her phone number.  But I believe it was also said by a famous person.  (Or maybe not so famous.)  In any case, I'm confident that at least 3% of people recalled this quote upon learning that Doug Smith was appointed as the City Administrator and leader of the Cohen Team.

As with many things, I have thoughts about this matter.  First, the unavoidable hypocrisy from both Smith and Cohen cannot be ignored, and critics are right to point it out.  I mean COME ON!  YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING.  I would describe Cohen and Smith as no less than (policy) enemies during the campaign.  If there were 2 knocks against Josh, it was that he was too opportunistic / never finished anything, and that he was too closely tied to Moyer and the other Democrat higher-ups.  If there was another knock against Josh, it was that he didn't support city manager.  The latter was more of a strategic problem than a qualification problem--as Doug Smith chaired both the City Manager effort and Ward 1.  And since Ward 1 is an important voting block, there we were.

Josh made efforts to appease the city manager folk because he knew his policy stood to lose their vote.  I could be confusing candidates, but I doubt it, and I'm almost positive Josh promised to hire a 'credentialed administrator', assuring CM supporters that his CA would be just like their CM, and imploring people not to confuse Moyer's lack of leadership with a breakdown in our structure of government.  Focusing on the one department head that excelled under Moyer rather than the 15 that would have done better with a CM, Josh emphasized that only he could promise to retain the services of Chief Pristoop, as the other mayoral candidates would be subject to the police chief chosen by the CM.

By all appearances, Josh was Doug's last choice to endorse.  McFall was his candidate in the primary, and an endorsement from the ABC City Manager group was withheld until Cordle "suddenly realized" that a "change a language in the bill" was the only thing separating his lifelong view of the role of Mayor with the CM structure that Smith wanted.  I don't know if Doug would have ever supported Chris Fox, but I do think that Chris' support of CM from the get-go impressed Smith, as Doug was quite helpful throughout the campaign.

It seems that Josh was the only one not surprised by this appointment.  In Doug's own words:
Josh did surprise me by asking me to come in as city administrator. We were on opposite sides of the city manager issue, but I said from the time he announced for the primary that I thought he would be a very good mayor. The issue of city manager was always about structure, not about personalities.  And while we might disagree on one issue, that doesn’t mean we can’t work together. More importantly, there is a long list of things where we do agree.
Normally in politics I would suspect cynical motives: money or power.  In Doug's case, I am actually entertaining the possibility that he is most concerned with bettering the city.  WORA Pres. is a pretty pain in the butt job that does not guarantee future elective or appointed office, and Doug spent his own money on the CM issue which is like the ultimate proof of dedication to an issue.  In the end I think Doug just decided that he could better help the city as its administrator than fighting for an issue that the incoming Mayor would surely  fight against.  It will be interesting to see how vociferously the CM people continue the fight, and if/how Dough would support a measure that threatens his job and his boss' power.

Josh could only have 2 possible motives: political strategy or improving the city.   A quote from Josh's farwell letter to his county council constituents might shed some light: Politics is like water -- they both tend to follow the path of least resistance.  Rather than resist Ward 1 and the CM people and lose their vote in the next  election, have them involved in the process. 

I read a book once (actually I read it twice, going against all my bedrock beliefs) that talked about the "tyranny of the OR" and the "genius of the AND".  If you could only pick one motive OR the other, knowing Josh, you'd be forced to assign political strategy and get really mad.  There is no doubt that he created political value with this appointment.  The genius happens if Smith was appointed because of his political value AND his skills in running operations.  In that case, Josh is a good politician AND a good public servant.  

Friday, December 4, 2009

Cohen Team

Annapolis, MD (12-04-09) Mayor-Elect Josh Cohen announced his Core Administrative Team today, committing to advance his goal of making Annapolis the best run city in the state.

"This group of individuals is made up of professionals who are
passionate about Annapolis, possess a solid work ethic and a strong background in both public and private sectors," Mayor-Elect Cohen

As part of the Core Administrative Team, the Mayor-Elect named the
following appointees:

Doug Smith, Chief Administrative Officer
Karen Hardwick, City Attorney
Tim Elliott, Director of Finance
Kimla Milburn, Director of Human Resources
Gail Smith, Director of Services
Phill McGowan, Public Information Officer

The Mayor-Elect also hosted a bus tour of city facilities for newly
elected council members, as well as new members of his Administration.

The tour included at least twenty facilities with stops at the Truxtun
Park Recreation Center, the Water Treatment Plant and the Police