January 9 City Council Meeting
Greenbelt’s city charter, approved by Maryland Legislature in June 1937, established a council-manager form of government. The elected City Council passes ordinances, and the appointed City Manager is responsible for enforcement and execution. Election is held every two years, and all seven Council members are elected at large (which means each member is elected by the entire city rather than a portion of the city). The current Council has just started a new term, having been elected in November 2011.
The City Council holds regular meetings the second and fourth Monday of each month (except July, August and December when it meets once a month), and these meetings are held in the Council Room in the Municipal Building. They are open to the public and are broadcasted on local TV and city website.
The following is an account of the January 9, 2012 City Council meeting. The agenda can be found here.
Mayor Judith “J” Davis calls the meeting to order (Item 1 on the agenda), and City Clerk Cindy Murray calls the roll (Item 2). A brief period of silent meditation (Item 3) follows for several Greenbelt residents who passed away recently including Allen Law, who worked at the Co-op, and Joseph “Golden Joe” Natoli Sr., who was a long-time operator of Generous Joe’s Deli at Roosevelt Center. Then everybody stands for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Here flanking the Greenbelt Seal are, from left to right, flags of the United States, State of Maryland, Prince George’s County, City of Greenbelt, Maryland Municipal League, and a “We Honor Those Who Serve” flag. The City Council members are from left to right Leta Mach, Konrad Herling, Edward Putens, Mayor Judith “J” Davis, Mayor Pro Tem Emmett Jordan, and Rodney Roberts. Council woman Silke Pope is out on family business, and her seat is empty. City Clerk Cindy Murray sits at the desk on the left and takes notes during the meeting. City Solicitor Robert Manzi, who offers legal advice, and City Manager Michael McLaughlin share the desk on the right. The podium on the right is for members of the audience who would like to address the Council or for city employees who answer questions from the Council.
Within a council-manager government, the Mayor does not have executive power, and in Greenbelt, the position is elected by the Council and is by tradition the person receiving the most votes in the popular election. The Mayor does perform many ceremonial duties representing the city, and when she is not available, the Mayor Pro Tem takes her place. In Greenbelt, the Mayor Pro Tem is by tradition the person receiving the second most votes.
The meeting agenda is then agreed upon (Item 4) with two additional items and one item moved up (Item 5). Before tonight’s meeting, there were discussions on the Greenbelters Yahoo Group email list regarding item 17 on the agenda which is the appointment of Council Member to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) Policy Boards and Committees. That item is moved up to after 13. Council Member Roberts then receives a 20-year service pin (Item 6, Presentations), and here in this photo Council Member Putens receives a 30-year service pin.
Mayor Davis is presented with Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Elizabeth and David Scull Metropolitan Public Service Award.
There are no petitions or requests (Item 7), and minutes from previous sessions are approved (Item 8). The next item (Item 9) is Administrative Reports, and here City Manager Michael McLaughlin talks about volunteer opportunities for the upcoming Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.
Item 10 is Council Reports. Leta Mach (left) reports that Clean Air Partners is having their annual poster contest for children. Konrad Herling reports about holiday gift wrapping activities organized by the Lions Club and meetings he attended at the County. Emmett Jordan tells about a farewell gathering at GHI for its General Manager. Mayor Davis talks about the well-attended 75th Anniversary kick-off event yesterday.
Item 11, “Committee Reports,” is on the Consent Agenda which will be approved as recommended by staff and will not be discussed in the meeting unless someone objects. Item 12 is “An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 17 ‘Solid Waste’ of the Greenbelt City Code for the Purpose of Adding Specific Penalties for Dumping and to Increase Penalties for General Violations.” Temporary signs on public property and dumping at Northway waste disposal area are discussed .
Currently the city collects yard waste on Fridays. Resident Chris Shuman argues that residents should be allowed to properly dispose waste at Northway waste disposal area because he does not like storing multiple bags of leaves at his yard for a week.
The City Manager explains that the city has decided to collect yard waste on Friday after collecting trash and recyclables earlier in the week, and the consensus in the room is that if residents are allowed to dump waste themselves at Northway, it will be hard to prevent illegal dumping. The ordinance does give the City Manager power to grant special permissions, and Mr. Shuman is advised to contact him in these situations.
Item 13 is “A Resolution to Negotiate the Purchase of Leasing Police Vehicles from Acme Auto Leasing, LLC. Of North Haven, Connecticut.” Resident Michael Hartman urges the city to consider hybrid vehicles such as Toyota Prius. He explains that it will be unnoticeable as an undercover police car because so many residents in this city have it.
Some other person suggests an electric car but Mayor Davis notes that the city does not have a charging station yet.
Item 17 is “Appointment of Councilmembers to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) Policy Boards and Committees.” This item was moved up because a number of people in the audience have come specifically for it. The point of contention is regarding Greenbelt’s representative on the Transportation Planning Board (TPB). Council Member Roberts has served on the TPB for a number of years, and he believes that he should be able to maintain that position because it has always been a Council practice that whoever has the assignment and wishes to continue has been allowed to do so. Council Member Jordan is also interested in the position, and he does not believe that it should be based exclusively on seniority.
City Solicitor Robert Manzi is consulted and he states that this is a policy issue not a legal issue: “The Council is a policy-making body, and policies can be changed by the policy-making body.” He puts forth the example of choosing the Mayor. The City Charter only says that the Council will choose the Mayor but it does not specify how the Council chooses the Mayor. Historically the highest vote getter has been chosen but the Council can alter that practice by a simple majority vote.
Several people in the audience speak about this issue. Tom Jones does not think that seniority should be the sole criterion: “My parents and grandparents lived in Greenbelt. I have blood going back to the beginning. That gives me absolutely no seniority over my wife, who just moved to town a few years ago.”
Sylvia Lewis asks the Council to do what is best for Greenbelt: “Please don’t duck this issue. You are being a lot of wimps!”
Bill Orleans believes that independence is the most important criterion: “I think the primary criteria for Greenbelt’s representative should be (1) interest (2) attempt to understand what the issues are and (3) and most importantly be unafraid to take a position different from every other voting member of that board.”
Doug Love: “I don’t really care for seniority but I really appreciate Rodney’s votes. And I’m really impressed with Emmett’s credentials. I’d like to see them both on this board. I’d like to see Rodney doing the voting for now. I’d like to see you resolve this policy issue for two years from now.”
The Council votes five to one to defer Item 17 (Roberts votes no) and then moves on to Item 14, “Sustainable Land Care Policy,” “which describes the actions the City’s Public Works Department will implement to eliminate the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.” Here Lesley Riddle, Assistant Director of Public Works, who prepared the Policy, answers questions from the Council.
Item 15 is “Federal Legislation”: “Below are several Federal legislative items which Council has asked staff to review. Based on Council’s action on these items, staff will draft the appropriate letters of support to the City’s Federal delegation.” The legislative items are Community Access Preservation Act (HR 1746), PACE Assessment Protection Act of 2011 (HR 2599), Ten Million Solar Roofs Act of 2011 (S 1108), Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (S 1270/HR 2284), and Safe and Complete Streets Act of 2011 (HR 1780). There are some discussions about these legislations and their relevance to Greenbelt.
The remaining items move quickly. They are 16 “Appointment of Councilmembers to City Boards and Committees,” 18 “Other Reports,” 20 “Community Development Block Grant Operating Agreement,” and 21 “Appointment to Advisory Board.” Item 19, “Reappointments to Advisory Groups,” is on the Consent Agenda.
The City Council room is sparsely decorated. Except Greenbelt Seal and the flags, the only other items of note are these photographs of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, shown here above signers for hearing impaired.
The meeting is adjourned at 11:39 pm. Standing at the podium is David Moran, Assistant City Manager. Most people have left after Item 17, and sitting in the audience is a reporter for Greenbelt Patch.