Here is a link to the agenda to the agenda for this week's City Council meeting:
There are internal links to detailed information on each of the agenda items.
For many residents, the key issue we will consider on Wednesday night will likely be the Takoma Junction development. I previously circulated an explanation of my views on where we are on the project, and I am attaching to this email a copy of that for those who didn't have a chance to read it. As mentioned in that document, a special time has been set aside during the regular public comment period at this week's Council meeting for members of the public to comment on the Junction development plan, and I am hopeful we will hear from a number of residents.
Before the public meeting starts at 7:30 PM, the Council will meet in closed session at 6:30 for a briefing from the Police Chief on various matters relating to public safety and the Police Department. While I appreciate that there are sometimes matters relating to ongoing investigations or personnel matters that may not be able to be made public, as a general matter I prefer an open approach, and I will be urging the Chief, to the extent possible, to share as much information as possible with the public.
There is a preliminary (or first reading) vote on the Vacant Properties Registry ordinance, which the Council has previously discussed. I think the proposal is reasonable for what it does (setting up a process to better identify and keep track of vacant or abandoned properties, and establishing some standards for maintaining such properties). There is still a larger question of how as a community we should handle long-term vacant properties that have a negative impact on their blocks or neighborhoods. This ordinance doesn't address that point directly, though I do think it can be useful in helping us understand the scope of the problem (with further actions potentially taken in the future to address the larger problem once we gather more information through the ordinance). I will be voting in favor of it.
I will also be voting in favor of three other ordinances that will be up for a final (or second reading) vote: Stormwater Management Fees for condominiums; a budget amendment (the key component of which is accepting the $453,000 in funds we are receiving from the Comptroller's office because of errors that office made in distributing revenue); and an ordinance providing funds for the law firm assisting the City with the Takoma Junction project.
There will also be discussion (with no scheduled votes) on two other topics: the Community Grants Program and Synchronizing Takoma Local Elections with State and Federal Elections (in other words, moving our local elections to "even" years).
With regard to Community Grants, I think the program provides important support to a wide range of valuable local initiatives, and I am pleased that the City sponsors the program. One area that I believe requires some additional discussion is what kinds of projects we should focus on in awarding the grants. My view is that we should place a stronger emphasis on projects that benefit lower income residents of the City, and I look forward to discussing that idea when we take up this agenda item.
Finally, on the election issue, I am a strong supporter of the idea of moving our elections to even years. With the even year election turnout in Takoma Park ranging between 40 - 75 percent (the higher figures occurring in recent Presidential years), and the turnout in our local elections mired in the 10 - 20 percent range, I think it's clear that if we shift the elections without negatively affecting our unique local election features (such as allowing 16 and 17 year-olds and non-citizens to vote, same day registration, etc.), we will end up with substantially higher voter participation. With people around the world and even in our own country facing barriers to voting, I think we should place a priority on seeking ways of expanding our local suffrage, and I am hopeful we will be able to make the change.
Please feel free to be in touch if you any questions or comments about any of these matters.
Peter Kovar, Takoma Park City Council, Ward One