I officially took office at a swearing-ceremony Monday, May 10.
The swearing-in also included a Council organizational meeting – commission/committee assignments, approving our work session and business meetings schedule, received Town Hall keys, iPad and the required paperwork for pay, taxes and other deductions.
We provided our commission choices, so I was assigned to the Town Center Corporation (TCC) (I helped to establish in 2013) and the Parks and Recreation Commission. These were my choices and align with my interests and experience.
What I’m doing
I was disappointed that we didn’t have a better transition as new members, given the significant and complex issues we face. We did have an hour long virtual meeting prior to our swearing-in.
I (and several Council members) met individually with the Town Manager, Town Treasurer, Police Chief and Public Works Director to hear their respective concerns, issues and needs.
No time to reflect on the election, with our first Council work session, Tuesday night, May 11. This was followed by my first Parks/Recreation Commission meeting 7:30 AM the following morning.
After this initial flurry, I’m getting organized as well. Completed all the paperwork, set-up my IPad, received a town email address, accessed our Office 365 enterprise account, ordered apparel with the Town logo, and updated my election Facebook page to a public official page. I’ve haven’t used Apple products for many years, so this is another learning process to maximize its use for Town business.
Using the Town’s Office 365 account let’s me separate business versus personal use. This is important for practical and legal reasons (See the issues list below).
Rather than have another cell phone forTown business, I and several other Council members will use an app – RingCentral. This has a separate phone number and can be used for texting as well. Use and costs can then be tracked, again separating personal versus town business.
We posed for official Town photos, now posted on the Town’s website. It turned out pretty good – I actually smiled!
I’m using Harvest to track my Council hours. I’m getting paid, so I need to put in the work to justify my pay. I didn’t know the salary until the prior council approved a pay increase in April to $15,000! I didn’t want to vote on that and would have voted NO.
The Real Work
I’ve already engaged in the real work of an elected official – constituent services. I’ve received many emails (through my town email) and phone calls from residents asking specific questions about possible zoning violations, the proposed FY 22 budget, building permit inspections and process, and police service, retirement concerns. My goal is to respond within 24 hours, even if only to acknowledge their inquiry and then follow-up with a response or referral.
My knowledge and experience in planning and zoning has already helped. When walking my dog in my neighborhood, there was a construction crew installing internet cable, within a 15 foot wide utility easement along the front yards of homes. The contractors were working for Comcast. After my walk, I emailed to Town Manager and Planning Director, copying the Mayor ( chain of command, all on the same sheet) and asked if a building permit had been filed. Within 10 minutes, they responded that no permit was on hand. Code Enforcement and Public Works personnel shut the job down. They resumed their work a week later after filing the required permit.
It’s easy to be critical when looking in from the outside, not necessarily knowing the “the rest of the story”. I suspected this was the case, later confirmed from our issues brief on the afternoon we took office.
Our key issues:
- Town Council operating procedures: As new members, we are struggling to understand how we must work together, how to place items on meeting agendas and meet to candidly discuss these and other sensitive issues, while complying with the Maryland’s Open Meeting Law and requirements.
- FY 22 budget: review and approve by June 8 ( effective July 1); the budget process started in January 2021 by the previous Council; the tax rate has already been set, any opportunity for amendments is very limited.
- Potential law suite: An attorney for a developer, and owner of a +-200 acre tract, annexed in 2000, has submitted a letter that all records and documents for this project and an adjacent project under construction, be preserved. This is likely in advance of a law suite they will file about the project review process by the prior council.
- Police benefits: The Police ( 25 total staff)want to switch to the state retirement system; there is a retention and recruitment concerns if the change in not made now; there is an equity issue – what about other Town staff, cost ($4-6 million to switch, $400-600K annual cost). Note – the proposed budget includes $75K for a salary/benefits study), previously delayed but needed now to provide factual data and context.
- Is the Town organized and staffed for projected growth? This is related to the previous item; Town population is +-10,000 and expected to grow significantly based on projects in the pipeline; Do we need more staff? Do we need a full time Human Resources ( HR) staff or consultant (73 Town employees)? Do we need full time Town Attorney?
- Infrastructure: We operate a water and sewer treatment facility, provide trash/recycling (paid by enterprise funds – users pay for it in fees),police and park/recreation, services primarily funded by property taxes).The fees are set each FY and will increase by 3% in the FY 22 budget. An immediate issue – water. The State will not grant additional groundwater aquifer withdrawal, so we may have to buy water from a regional water authority, at a significantly higher cost. Are we prepared for cyber attacks?
- Public Participation/Engagement: The May 4 election turnout was dismal (<5% of eligible voters!). Actions needed – a new Town website, use other social media channels, change how and where the Council meets, start Town Hall meetings, meet with Homeowners Associations (HOA) and other groups. We have been meeting with the town business association. We have a PR consultant, but need to fully utilize them for more effective engagement.
So we have a lot to do!
The Goals and Objectives for my 4-year term.