Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sister City Program Suspended

The blogging world lost its battle cry against wasteful city government today as Mayor Cohen announced he would spend the remaining $27,500 in the sister city budget to mitigate the deficit in the general budget.

For a long time, former Mayor Moyer denied that the Sister City Program cost the taxpayers any money.  Recently the city admitted to spending money on the program, but I still have not been able to find a line item for the program in the city's budget.  My best guess is that it exists as part of the Boards and Commissions Budget, or as a part of the Mayor's Special Projects Budget.

The old Mayor didn't even acknowledge our financial problem, so Josh's efforts are a step in the right direction.  It remains to be seen if the contractual positions that have been added will be more than balances out by job cuts or monetary savings elsewhere.

Here is the press release:

Annapolis, MD (01-12-10) – As part of his continuing effort to attack the city's financial deficit, Mayor Joshua J. Cohen announced today that he is redirecting the $27,500 remaining in the Sister Cities program to the general fund for the current fiscal year. 
"Now is not the time to be spending $27,500 on the Sister Cities program when we are struggling even to fund essential services," said Mayor Cohen, whose administration is focused on eliminating an estimated $6.5 million budget deficit for FY 2011. 
The Mayor also is convening a group of community stakeholders to review the Sister Cities program and recommend ways to explore public/private partnerships that would provide long-term benefit to the city. 
"A strategically thought-out international exchange program has the potential to add value to our economic development efforts, as well as our educational and cultural institutions within the city," Mayor Cohen said. "It is time to take the Sister Cities program out from under the umbrella of city government and make it a more community-based initiative." 
Individuals who have accepted the Mayor's invitation to review the Sister Cities program and make recommendations include: 
Linnell Bowen, Executive Director, Maryland Hall for the Performing Arts Reginald Broddie, Chief Professional Officer, Boys & Girls Clubs of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Bob Burdon, President and CEO, Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce Connie Del Signore, President and CEO, Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitors Bureau Kevin Maxwell, Superintendent, Anne Arundel County Public Schools Joe Rubino, Director of Governmental Affairs, U.S. Naval Academy. 
Annapolis first began as a Sister City in 1980, partnering with Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, Canada.  Since then, Annapolis has partnered with many other cities, including Wexford, Ireland; Dumfries, Scotland; Tallin, Estonia; NiterĂ³i, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Rochefort, France; Richmond, North Yorkshire; and Newport, Wales. 

Monday, January 11, 2010

City Council Meeting 1/10/10: Live Blog

Merry 2010, blog followers!  The city has truly taken a step forward and I can't believe nobody told me about this yet.  When I set up my computer here, I did my typical search for internet signals and took my typical pessimistic tone.  When the possible connections came up, I noticed an unsecured connection at full strength labeled "CCC"......"City Council Chambers"?!!  Unbelievable.  After a torturous time with a Mayor who was slow to embrace such pesky technologies as the internet and airplanes, I am tickled to see the adoption this blogger-friendly policy.

A mini-budget workshop has been going on since 7:00, the highlight of which came when Alderman Arnett asked for assurances from the finance director that the city council would not be jailed for violating the provision in the city code requiring a balanced budget.  I once asked for assurance that I would avoid jail time, and was immediately "jinxed" by my lawyer, who didn't allow me to talk until I paid him a sum of money adequate to buy him a tailored pinstripe suit.


The Mayor just promised, I believe, to maintain the current tax rate and level of services.  These types of promises are notoriously elusive when coming from a politician, so I will get verification from the city clerk that these words indeed were uttered in the record.


Alderman Israel just noted that we have 200 more employees than other cities this size, a nagging thorn that was quickly softened by the quasi-accurate statement that we have many more special requirements than other cities our size.


I'm done covering the work session because it's passed its allotted time.  So let's focus on appearances!  All Aldermen are present, a positive sign, and most are wearing suits and/or ties (where appropriate!).  Alderman Arnett continues his commitment to facial hair, a strategy with the clear dual purposes of intimidating neighboring Ward 7 Alderman Ian Pfeifer and creating the aura of having the wisdom of the ages.  Also there is a tall Christmas tree in city hall that has been nearly taken down, except for a few ornaments at the very top of the apparent 9 foot tree. Let's hope this obvious dereliction of duty on the part of Aldermen Paone and Kirby will not be a sign of things to come.


Meeting time.  There is some type of award being presented, which I have decided to ignore because the word "insurance" appears in the name.  While the award is being presented, let me direct you to an example of what political satirical writing is supposed to be.

There is another award being presented to a resident of Ward 1 for voluntarily clearing snow from driveways.  He seems equally happy to receive the award and to not have to stay for any more of the meeting.


We are "privileged" to hear a presentation on overtime cost reduction.  The report identifies lack of top-down management, poor monitoring procedures, and certain federally mandated overtime pay (for police and fire)  as chief drivers of overtime.  The most curious thing I saw was the declaration that certain "budgets were artificially reduced during the 2009-2010 plan preparation".  Wow.  Every April 15th I attempt to artificially manipulate budgets, without any success.  Doug Smith explains that this means that a certain group of insiders knew that a particular budget would be high, but submitted a lower budget estimate as a motivational tool to reduce spending.


2009 Snow Emergency Report!
-emergency routes were cleared but was difficult to keep up with other streets
-priority is 1. emergency routes, 2. connecting streets, 3. businesses, 4. residential streets
-parked cars impeded plows
-300 calls to the 1 staff person at the water works plant
-county residents given the city emergency number (wtf!)
-city streets in Kingsport not even added to the 'street responsibilities'
-level III emergency
-general plans out of date
-all departments had independent plans and didn't know what the other departments were doing


Alderman Paone just gave it to CAO Doug Smith a little bit...."I personally spoke with you on Wednesday, and roads we talked about were not cleared after that discussion.  What gives?"

Also, neither Alderman Pfeifer, Kirby, nor Silverman have said anything yet.  They are clearly being dominated by Alderman Arnett's beard.


A lot of people are blaming the county for this, and blaming the county has been a trendy thing to do for like 8.2 years.  The 8 years are not this Mayor's fault, but he should be concerned with the .2.  As a former county councilman, Mayor Cohen pledged more cooperation with the county.  There will be many more opportunities to showcase this partnership.


Comments from the Public:

Vincent Leggett: Supports renaming Obery St. to Bertina Nick Way.

Sam Brice: As a city employee, I see the city needing to (1) decide exactly what it wants to be and fund itself accordingly, (2) stand up to face and FUND our problems, (3) recognize that employees are the most valuable asset to the city and city needs to fund them adequately.  The "second" thing he wants to talk about is the budget.  "Stop creating new programs".  The "third" item he wants to address is revisions to the ethics commission.

Herb McMillan: Let the public speak at the beginning of each meeting.  "Budget has been balanced on the back of the taxpayers" as property taxes went up by 100%.  City employees need to take pay cuts and some employees need to be cut.  Net gain of 5 contractual employees is not the right direction.

Will Small: Police spend a lot of time on "trivial issues" and "trumping up allegations".  Please add to city bicycle lanes.

Tony Evans: It snowed in Wisconsin when I was a teenager.  More heavy vehicles and better planning are needed for snowstorms.


Public Hearing on  CA-09-09: City Manager Form of Government

-Anne Lawrence: supports council manager form of government

-Dave Cordle: supports both charter amendments (city manager and tax cap).  Be a representative government and listen to what the people want.

-Tony Evans: No such thing as a "water walker".  Opposes city manager.

-Lee Fitting (sp?): As a consultant to city governments, council manager forms of government provide structural benefits.

-Bob Burdon: Chamber of Commerce opposes the CA.  Now that we have a new administration, the timing of the CA is inappropriate and wasteful.

-Bill Kardash: ABC (Annapolitans for Better Community) supports the CA and the council manager form of government.  We need to take politics out of operations.

-Trudy McFall: The fact that Doug Smith serves against the provisions of the charter is the latest example of why we need a city manager--the Mayor has too much unchecked power.

-Marcia Marshall: Favors council manager charter amendment b/c it fixes fundamental flaws in our government especially the fact that the city council has very little authority.

-Will Small: Supports the council manager CA.

-Gil Renaut: ditto.


Public Hearing on CA-10-09: Property Tax Cap

Bob Burdon: Chamber of Commerce opposes the tax cap because it hamstrings governments.

Herb McMillan: I am representing the 3,000 people that signed the tax cap petition in 2 months.  "3,000 of us want a tax cap".  County is in a better position than the city and they have a tax cap AND they fund schools.  Tax cap measure is prudent.

Sam Brice: "I don't think this council needs to enact a tax cap.  They just need to pay attention to the tax dollar."


Public Hearing on O-52-09 and $-56-09: Registration and Maintenance For Foreclosure Properties.

Mike Malinoff: DNEP needs better ability to track down people responsible for foreclosures.


I typically try not to do this, but I'm just to bored to stay for the rest of this meeting.  I think any patience I have depletes as I get older.  I try and find out about this stuff tomorrow.  Goodnight!

Live Blog Questionable

There is a city council meeting tonight, and I will be in attendance.  I am looking to expand my food service conglomerate to a secret location downtown and I have take this opportunity to butter up the members of the historic commission to grant me a liquor license where one doesn't currently exist.  Does anyone have Alan Hyatt's phone number.......

In any case, I don't know if I'll be able to live blog.  Hopefully I can pick up an internet signal.  So, if you don't see a live post by 7:36 tonight, just check back tomorrow morning for the whole recap.