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Welcome to my blog, which features frequent updates on local Takoma Park issues, including City Council meeting agendas, plus occasional commentary on national news and politics.

Agenda for January 17, 2018 City Council Meeting

Dear Neighbors:

The following is a link to the agenda for the January 17, 2018 City Council meeting: https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-agenda-wednesday-january-17-2018/. We have votes scheduled on a resolution outlining our State legislative priorities for the coming year, as well as a resolution regarding Sunday liquor sales for a business on New Hampshire Avenue. In addition, there will be a vote on a group of routine items packaged together in a "Consent Agenda":  a grant agreement for the Takoma Park Independence Day Committee; the purchase of Police radios and vehicles; and an appointment to the Emergency Preparedness Committee. I’ll be voting in favor of the Consent Agenda. Finally, there will be discussions (but no votes) on the Montgomery County Public Schools process for selecting a new elementary school site; on proposed changes to the City Charter relating to Council input into the hiring and firing of City employees; and on Council meeting procedures.

State Legislative Priorities.  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20180117-1.pdf. I'm generally supportive of the list of priorities and I plan to vote for the resolution. During our discussion on this matter at last week's meeting, however, I did raise concerns about several of the items on the list, including the importance of taking into account: 1) the impact on historic preservation in considering possible reconfiguring of Takoma Junction; 2) the effect on housing and especially affordable housing connected to Purple Line construction; and 3) the necessity to work for fairer treatment of our part of Montgomery County in the context of school construction funding. (That last point will also be part of our elementary school siting discussion at this week's meeting.) The City Manager indicated that she would work to include these concerns in the City's interaction with our State elected officials. And as action on the issues moves forward at the State level, I'll do all I can to see that these concerns are appropriately taken into account.

Sunday Liquor Sales. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20180117-2.pdf. This vote applies to TJ Beer, Wine and Liquor, a store located on New Hampshire Avenue in the Takoma-Langley Crossroads area. I'll be voting for the resolution allowing them to sell on Sundays.

Elementary School Site Selection Processhttps://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20180117-4.pdf. Last year the Montgomery County Board of Education recommended the creation of a panel to identify potential sites for a new elementary school in the down county area. This is a reflection of the projected continued increase in the student population in our area, and the likelihood that the existing schools will become increasingly overcrowded. Unfortunately, the initial group of sites that has been identified by the site selection committee would involve undue travel distances for students in the Takoma Park area, not to mention that several of the sites are otherwise impractical or ill-advised (for example because they would involve building on existing parkland). After consulting with the City Council, the City Manager sent a letter (a copy of which is included in the documents for this agenda item) to Superintendent Smith expressing deep concern about the work of the site selection committee. The Council will be discussing appropriate next steps to help bring about some geographical balance to the sites that are under consideration.

Charter Amendment. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20180117-5.pdf. The question of how involved the Council should be in hiring and firing of City staff arose in connection with the recent process in which our new Police Chief was hired. Under our current system of government, the Council has direct supervision and hiring authority over only two individuals:  the City Manager and the City Attorney. All other employees are hired by and fall under the responsibility of the City Manager. While we debated the idea of giving the Council sign-off authority or other hiring responsibility with respect to the Police Chief (and potentially other department heads) we decided in the end to stick with the current system, albeit with the Council passing an ordinance on the characteristics and traits we wanted the new Chief to have. In addition, we had an opportunity to interact with the finalists for the Chief position and to view videos of other applicants responding to key questions, before a final decision was made by the City Manager on hiring the new Chief. We were able as part of that process to let the City Manager know our thoughts on the candidates with whom we interacted. I thought that was a positive process and I'm pleased with the choice for our Chief, Tony DeVaul, who has deep connections to Takoma Park.

Since our City Charter is not entirely clear on the extent to which the Council can have this type of involvement in hiring, it makes sense to amend the Charter to allow it. So I support making that authoritymore explicit. While considering how best to do that is the main purpose of the discussion, we may also delve into broader questions about the Council having a more explicit role in hiring. When we talked about that idea in the context of hiring the Chief, I didn't support giving the Council more direct authority, in part because I thought we should see how what looked like a fairly open process would play out. As noted, I'm happy with that process. But that doesn't mean we should totally rule out a greater Council role in the future, and, again, I look forward to exploring that point in our discussion.

Council Procedures. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20180117-6.pdf. It's my view that our Council meetings have been very open and productive during the two years I've been a member, and I don't see the need for major changes. One area we ought to take a look at is whether there are other ways that it would make sense for members of the public to participate in Council meetings beyond the standard three-minute public comment process. That's something I plan on raising at the meeting.

Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns about these agenda items.

Peter Kovar, Takoma Park City Council, Ward One

Agenda for January 24, 2018 City Council Meeting

January 10, 2018 City Council Meeting Agenda