<![CDATA[Tim Male - Ward 2, Takoma Park City Council - News]]>Mon, 04 Dec 2017 07:43:31 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Junction follow up]]>Sun, 15 Oct 2017 16:25:26 GMThttp://timmale.com/news/junction-follow-upThank you to all of you who came to the meeting and public comment period last week.  If you stayed, you know the discussion took us until about 2 am.  In addition to all the feedback you heard there (or can watch on CityTV) I wanted to share the results of the survey I did and on which about 70 of you responded (out of 2,500 ward 2 residents). 

Current concept
Overall, 21 said they liked or strongly liked the current concept and 43 dislike or strongly dislike it. Or 31% to 63%.  (In other words, sadly its polling worse than Donald Trump.)   Luckily, we and NDC still have a lot of room to change and improve the concept.

Third floor
I find surveys helpful, not just for what each question says separately but how they relate to one another.  So what this question shows is that even among those folks who like the current design (or were ambivalent to it) there is dislike of the third story.  Here is the response below on the third floor - 67% oppose or strongly oppose it. 
Pedestrian, Public and Outdoor Space

No one wants to see less ground floor pedestrian and outside space.  Many (34%) are satisfied with the amount on offer now.  62% want to see more.  Interest in this kind of space - public gathering areas where you don't necessarily have to buy something to be there - was an area of strong interest throughout the process.  In our discussion last week, Council also talked about different kinds of desirable space.  Outdoor restaurant seating, upper story space that could be reserved (or rented) and used for meetings/gatherings, and truly public space.  In addition, there are also ideas to make the wooded hill more accessible.  I asked city staff for background on county zoning requirements for public space, because there are requirements that are additional to what we included in our development agreement. 

In addition, when I asked, "Do you want to see more or less indoor space that is available for unpaid community uses (i.e. controlled access that would need to be locked some of the time but still free)  compared to what is shown in the recent presentation. This could include seating, shared dining space such as is present in the Union Market, etc?" 52% said 'more' and 36% said about the same.  

From this, I take it that people feel even more strongly about truly public space than retail or other gathering spots but that there are strong views in support of both. 

In addition, 60 people ( 88%) said they supported or strongly supported having a restaurant on the ground floor with outdoor seating (7% opposed and the rest were neutral). This is the strongest response in the survey. 

Loading and Lay-by
The responses on the loading configuration were the most interesting to me.  Basically people don't know if the lay-by will work, with about equal numbers of people saying, accept, don't accept and don't know.
One point that has been raised is that there are not good examples of a lay-by being used by a grocery store.  With the help of a friend, I found an example in the Berkeley of the West (aka 'Berkeley') that sits on a busy street with dedicated bus lines and lots of traffic and that uses a lay-by for 18-wheeler deliveries and street-side parking around the corner for box trucks.  In their case, its not even a full lay-by (as you can see from the picture below).  The second picture (where the curb is painted yellow) shows where box trucks arrive for delivery when the front is unavailable.    From my friend, who spoke to the store manager, "I'm also sending 2 pics of the Berkeley Natural Grocery Company. This is more of the size of a "typical" food co-op. It sits right on a busy street in a residential neighborhood and doesn't have a loading dock. I spoke briefly with the manager who said that trucks come between 7AM - 8:30AM (Berkeley has a noise ordinance so they can't come earlier). The 18-wheelers park right on the street out front and smaller trucks park on the side street where there's a loading zone (marked by the yellow painted curb). The 18-wheelers know they can't double park because it's a busy street but they don't need loading zone parking out front because there are never cars parked there in the early morning. They unload the pallets off the trucks with the fork-lifts that come with the trucks and bring them in through the double doors (to the right of the customer entrance). Staff then break down the pallets."

Traffic study
The final question on the survey I sent around asked about the traffic studies.  Most people said that both NDC and the city's traffic studies are important (24%) or very important (64%) to them. 

If you haven't responded to the survey, feel free to do so https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/6GBZBHQ

<![CDATA[Takoma Junction Development]]>Sun, 08 Oct 2017 14:49:15 GMThttp://timmale.com/news/takoma-junction-developmentAt the October 18th the Council will be voting on a resolution concerning NDC's development plan for the city-owned lot at Takoma Junction. On October 11th (this Wednesday), Council will be discussing that resolution and the project in general.  I want to share my view of where things are regarding the renderings and concept plan NDC presented last week, and priorities going forward. 

My first concern is with the growing size of the project, noting that some of the four original development finalists were rejected partly for this reason.  The table below shows some of the numbers from earlier versions of NDC proposals.  At the time NDC was selected, their stated building size was approximately 33,000 square feet.  The latest proposal has grown to 53,000 square feet.  I don't think this size building is what we wanted when we started this project, nor do I think the mix of uses (now at a greater volume of office space than retail) is what the Junction Task Force or others in the community identified as the desired mix of services that were in demand from the community.  In earlier votes, I supported a two story building and I continue to support a two story building.  I also do not support a third story because it compromises the availability of parking for this site, the Co-op, and businesses across the street.

In January, I supported a lay-by approach to parking through this project as an acceptable tradeoff to be able to maximize first floor retail opportunities.  My support for that was buttressed by comments from Co-op staff to me personally and in our public meetings, indicating that they had accepted or could live with this approach (and that the remaining obstacle to Co-op expansion in the project primarily concerned price).  I continue to support a lay-by for at least some deliveries (especially those by 18-wheelers).

However, I am interested in the design and location of the lay-by and the proposed uses.  It may be better to configure the lay-by location and outdoor seating/green space so that the two are not immediately adjacent.  For example, if the west end of the site, near the fire station, was configured for outdoor restaurant seating it would likely be more attractive for patrons and tenants if the lay-by were at the east end.  Right now, the expanded outdoor area overlaps with the lay-by.    I am also not clear whether the lay-by would be designed for use by all deliveries to the site or whether box trucks for smaller retail operations would use, at least in part, access from below ground parking for deliveries. 

Associated with the delivery issue, will a freight or delivery elevator be included?  Allowing some deliveries (including of furniture for upper level offices) to be from the parking structure with a freight elevator providing access would reduce street-side truck use and presence, improve the aesthetics of the outdoor space, possibly benefit traffic flow, and reduce need for extensive scheduling of the lay-by with the Co-ops 18-wheelers.  (Note:  Does anyone know whether the Co-op used 18-wheelers when they first moved here or whether 18-wheelers for deliveries were added later?  If later, was there a Council decision (or even information provided) authorizing use of the city lot for 18-wheelers?).  I also have questions about the logistics of trash storage and pick up. 

The January 2017 design included second floor outdoor space (3,750 sq ft) and I remember discussions about possible use of this space for restaurant seating or public gatherings.  The idea of having two spaces (one first floor and one second) with outdoor seating facing Carroll is exciting.  I'm not sure that it makes as much sense or is as useful for retail or community uses when its on a third floor.  The new design has no outside space on the second floor and I am unclear on the proposed uses of the third floor.  If it is only available for events, then it would have very limited general community use (other than events). 

The community has never been in one place regarding what we mean or want from 'community space.'  Councilmember Schultz seems to just want a water fountain somewhere. Back at the beginning, some in the community were talking about a stage for music, areas for pop-up festivals, and outside seating.  The current design is very unclear on what, if any, community space exists except for the sidewalk and right-of-way.  Now, I think that sidewalk and right-of-way are important and if maximized for use, can go far to meeting the community space needs envisioned when we accepted NDC's concept plan from 2014 or for shared seating indoors, as was envisioned when we discussed the Union Market concept in January.  It would be further helped by any space available for community uses (including event rental) on the second story.  However, a couple of notes.  Fenced off or otherwise separated outdoor seating isn't really community space, just like the tables and chairs in front of TakomaBevCo are not really community space. Public benches and other features might be (like Fred's fountain).  Also, I just cannot see un-restricted community use of the third floor.  For example, for security reasons.  A 24/7 open outdoor space or even daylight outdoor space on the third floor would largely be invisible from the street or nearby areas.  How would security be provided in such a space?  Would there need to be (NDC paid) staffing for building security in general? It's possible that the space (internal alley to access second story offices could be expanded to create space as well.  I just don't see the current design doing as much as previous ones did for usable, accessible community space. 
Please send me your comments, send them in writing to the City Clerk, or come to the beginning of our next two meetings at 7:30 pm so you can help shape what is in the Council's resolution on about 2.5 weeks from now.  (P.S.  I also read all the posts on the 6 neighborhood listservs so I will see your comments there as well.).  Also because you know I like surveys.... here is one!
<![CDATA[Murals and art process]]>Mon, 02 Oct 2017 01:30:16 GMThttp://timmale.com/news/murals-and-art-processI thought it would be helpful to share the following background, which comes from Sara Daines, the city's Housing and Community Development Director:

"1) Public Art Policy and Process Plan

The Arts and Humanities Commission developed a Public Art Policy and Process Plan which was adopted by the City Council in June 2005.
2) Conway and Prince Georges Avenues Mural - Artists Selection and Design Process
A Call for Qualifications for a Public Artists Pool was issued by staff in April 2015. Fifty-five artists from across the region responded. Their submissions were reviewed by a subcommittee of the Arts and Humanities Commission which found 22 of the 55 artists to be qualified to participate in the planned public art pool. The artists advanced by the subcommittee were endorsed by the full Commission and their names were added to the public artists pool.
A scope of services for three public art projects - Flower and Erie Avenues, Houston Court, and Conway and Prince Georges Avenues - was sent to the artists participating in the public art pool in the fall of 2015.  Four proposals for the mural on Conway and Prince Georges Avenues were submitted. The proposals were initially reviewed by staff to ensure that the work would be safe and to consider any potential long term maintenance concerns.  The proposals were then advanced to the Arts and Humanities Commission which selected Mr. Kirby's work based on his experience, the unique quality of his work, etc. The Commission's recommendation was forwarded to the City Council. A single reading ordinance authorizing the execution of a contract for the proposed mural was approved in January 2016. The contract itself was finalized and executed in May 2016.
Mr. Kirby's initial design concept, developed after biking and walking the neighborhood on numerous occasions and meeting informally with residents, was posted online and displayed at the Community Center in June 2016. Councilmember Male and staff solicited feedback from the community which was shared with the artist. The Artist, Councilmember Male, members of the AHC and staff met on-site in early June to walk residents through the project and get additional feedback on the design. The design was re-worked and re-posted in July. A second meeting was held in August. The current design was accepted soon after this second meeting.  Work on the actual project began in October 2016.
For a variety of reasons including the delayed approval process, poor weather conditions, unanticipated staffing changes and competing projects, work on the mural has taken longer than anticipated.  
If additional information is needed, please let me know.
- Sara"

<![CDATA[The Benefits of Syncing Local and National Elections]]>Wed, 26 Apr 2017 01:49:02 GMThttp://timmale.com/news/the-benefits-of-syncing-local-and-national-electionsOn Wednesday night (April 26th) there are three public hearings - including one on the tax rate, one on the 2018 budget and one on the charter amendment that residents last voted on in 2015 - that would amend the date of future city elections to match up with state/federal elections.

I hope residents come out to speak on any and all of these subjects, but I wanted to spend a little more time explaining why I think its so important that we move forward with the proposal to sync our city elections with state and federal ones.

In a 2015 letter to the City Council, the ACLU of Maryland described the proposal to sync city elections with state and national ones as a "proposal with great promise to increase voter engagement... substantially increasing and diversifying voter turnout for local government and thus promoting a more representative government"  and stated that the "benefits of consolidated elections outweigh the risks." 

In 2015, Takoma Park voters had your own chance to weigh in on the question, with 75% of voters across all parts of the city supporting the referendum which read: "Beginning with the election in November 2018, and providing that voting rights can be maintained for City residents who are 16-17 years old, non-citizen, or on parole or probation for felony conviction, and that instant runoff voting and same-day voter registration can be maintained, the City of Takoma Park municipal elections for Mayor and Councilmembers should be changed to the Tuesday following the first Monday in November in each even-numbered year in order to coincide with Maryland statewide general elections.

The most obvious reason to make this change in election date is that it makes voting easier for residents - elections are on the same day in the same year.  The second, is that it appears that synced municipal elections see dramatically higher turnout from voters.  For example, in it's letter of support to the Council the ACLU noted that Richmond, Virginia's shift to synced elections saw turnout increase from 17% to 42% and Ocean City, Maryland's turnout doubled to 48%.  Looking at Takoma Park's own election results, turnout is about 400% higher in state and local elections or to put it another way, about 4,000 voters, on average, stayed home for the last 4 city elections but showed up for the last four state/federal elections. 

Off-year elections disproportionately affect apartment residents and minorities
To me the most compelling reason to make the change is because the current election date has a disproportionate effect in pushing some voters away more than others.  The data is available from past election results to directly look at this question.

Here is one example:  Essex House on Maple Avenue is a large apartment building that provides affordable housing to a a very diverse population. In Presidential election years, about 90 residents from this building have voted in recent years.  From gubernatorial elections, about 30 residents.  City elections?  Ten or fewer voters. 
Essex House Apartments compared to Woodland Avenue
This wouldn't be a big deal if all parts of the city dropped by a similar amount... but that is not what happens.  Here is an example below.  Looking at data from the same Essex House apartment building, there are about the same number of potential voters there as on Woodland Avenue in Ward 2.  If blocks with lots of single-family homes and apartment buildings that support our most diverse populations were equally affected by the timing of elections, the graph below would not look any different from one year to the next - city and fed/state elections would be all mixed up in the height of the bars. 

Instead, what you see is that in Presidential election years, there are more voters from Essex House than Woodland Avenue, but in city elections there were as few as one Essex House voter for every 8 who showed up from Woodland Avenue. Residents of this apartment building are not showing up at city elections compared to areas of single-family homes.
7600 Maple Park Ritchie compared to Takoma and Cedar Avenues
This pattern is not isolated to these streets or a few buildings, it is true throughout the city.  Here are a few more examples.  In national/state elections there are about 75% as many voters in the Park Ritchie Apartments at 7600 Maple Ave in Ward 4 as vote on all of Takoma and Cedar Avenues in Ward 1.  However, in city elections there are only about 35% as many voters.   Or look at the 2015 city election for these areas and the 2016 election 12 months later.  Park Richie generated 82% fewer voters than these Ward 1 streets in the 2015 city election but almost exactly the same number of voters in the 2016 national election.
Ward 6
Or consider all of Ward 6 which had almost 1,200 voters participating in the 2016 election.  In Ward 6, residents of apartments had almost an equal likelihood of turning out to vote in state and Federal elections: they were 82%, 74% and 96% as likely to vote as residents of single-family homes in the last three elections.  But in city elections?  Far more residents of apartments stayed home.  On average, apartment residents were only 28% as likely as single-family home residents to vote. 
The date of our election, as much or more than any other factor, changes the make up of who votes in city elections and leaves us with city elections that are a lot less diverse and representative than the city as a whole or than the voters that come out for state/federal elections.  I will miss the special nature of having one polling place, one line, and our own special day to vote, but its far less important than making a simple change than makes everyone's lives easier (except the politicians running) and will result in a vastly more diverse and representative population of voters picking the city council. 
<![CDATA[Updated crime trend data]]>Mon, 11 Aug 2014 13:55:15 GMThttp://timmale.com/news/updated-crime-trend-data1Picture
This chart uses city data reported to the FBI between 1985 and 2013 and controls for change in population during that time so that the graph shows likelihood of a type of crime/per person/per year.  This graph shows data for murder, rape, robbery and assault.

In the same way as the graph above, this chart shows data on property crimes - burglary, larceny and vehicle (car) theft.  Note that the jump in home burglaries is about a 74% increase over the previous year but its still the fifth lowest rate in the last 10 years.  Vehicle thefts have been dropping since 2002.

<![CDATA[Parking enforcement vs. Crime-fighting]]>Sat, 26 Jul 2014 01:07:47 GMThttp://timmale.com/news/parking-enforcement-vs-crime-fightingOn Monday (July 21st) during a routine budget amendment to move expenses from one year to the next, Councilmember Grimes introduced an amendment to add about ~ $40,000 in expenses this year to hire a half-time parking enforcement person to expand city capacity to ticket cars that are illegally parked or have not paid for parking.  These expenses are additional to the budget we just approved about 2 months ago.  The amendment passed at first reading, 4-3 and I voted against it.  Why?

Ward 1 and Ward 3 are experiencing more parking zone and parking meter violations as well as just simply illegal parking,
like blocked driveways.  Much of this is happening because Republic restaurant is so successful, along with Ace Hardware and Roscoe's in addition to our other businesses.  More parking congestion will presumably come to Ward 1 when Busboys & Poets opens.  These are real problems that we should try to address.

However, I don't believe adding staff is the right strategy at this time.  If we are going to add staff to our police department, I would add personnel to do investigation work, patrolling, community outreach/victim's assistance, or
crime data analysis (in that order).  Between 2012 and 2013, home burglaries went up by 71% in Takoma Park, as described in the report here.  I proposed an amendment (to the amendment) to change the proposal to focus on adding this capacity instead of parking enforcement, but the amendment did not get support. 

From Ward 2 residents, I most often hear irate stories about the parking tickets you have gotten while running into the post office for five minutes, or parking at a broken meter.  A new half-time parking enforcement person may add 1,000 additional parking tickets, many of which will be given to city residents. 

And I think a new staff person is not the right 'next step' to address the problem, added to our Police Department which will now have its biggest staff in any budget year I can find on record.  I would have preferred the police spend a little time visiting the businesses that we think are associated with the problem and letting them know that existing officers will be doing aggressive ticketing patrols during busy nights and to try to work with the businesses to get them to help us address the problem first.   

<![CDATA[blighted and vacant property tax ]]>Sat, 19 Jul 2014 02:09:36 GMThttp://timmale.com/news/blighted-and-vacant-property-taxCouncilmember Kate Stewart and I have been working on and learning about this issue - the helpful and detailed summary and analysis below was written by Councilmember Stewart
"Background on Vacant and Blighted Property Tax Unfortunately vacant and blighted properties are an issue across our city.  These properties deny the city government needed tax revenues, consume city staff time, erode the value of nearby homes, pose health and safety risks, and negatively impact our neighborhoods.  In 2010, Philadelphia studied the impact of vacant and blighted properties and found that, in addition to the economic toll vacant and abandoned properties imposes on communities, among those most hurt by the damage caused by vacant properties are long-time homeowners, many of them senior citizens-the very people who have helped build a community and help hold it together. According to the US Fire Administration, an estimated 28,000 vacant residential fires occurred annually between 2006 and 2008, resulting in an estimated total of 45 deaths, 225 injuries, and approximately $900 million in property loss each year. 

"Recently, on Westmoreland Avenue, the potential danger of vacant properties became a reality and our community became part of the statistic when a vacant property caught fire. Fifty-five firefighters responded to the blaze and three were injured. Thankfully no one else was injured, but there was property damage to a nearby home. While the city has in place procedures to address code violations, they are not sufficient to address the myriad problems caused by vacant properties.  Dealing with these properties takes a great deal of staff time and it can take years to rectify problems. Years that adversely impact residents and our quality of life in the city. To provide staff with another tool to address this issue the City Council is discussing the pros and cons of a vacant and blighted property tax. Establishing a vacant and blighted property tax to address this housing problem has become popular in many municipalities. 

"What is a vacant and blighted property tax?  This tax allows the city to establish a tax incentive program to encourage property owners to remediate or redevelop blighted properties. The property taxes  are increased on blighted properties and can subsequently decrease once the property is remediated or redeveloped.

"What is a vacant property? Vacant property is vacant.  Thus, a tax would NOT be levied on properties which are currently being used as a primary residence by the owner or renters. 

"What is a vacant and blighted property? Such properties are both vacant and in such a state of disrepair that it affects other properties or safety or otherwise impacts the neighborhood.  

"Where are their regional models for such programs? Washington, DC, Philadelphia and a number of other cities provide examples. An example of one such ordinance can be found here. Advantages: A blight tax could motivate property owners to stabilize and improve the blighted conditions on their properties or sell to others who are willing to do the work. It also allows the city to recover the public service costs associated with blighted properties. If a property is vacant or underutilized, the higher tax may encourage the owner to rent it in order to pay the extra taxes. These actions could subsequently increase the blighted property's value and that of nearby properties.

"Additionally, because blighted properties often demand a higher level of government services (e.g., public safety and code enforcement services) than other properties, the higher tax allows the city to recover some of the costs associated with this increased burden.

"Disadvantages:  Depending on how a blight tax is put in place it could place a burden on low-income individuals, seniors, individuals with disabilities, and struggling businesses that have been unable to improve the blighted conditions due to economic circumstances or other reasons. 

"Programs in place in TP to assist low-income homeowners:  To ensure our policy would not burden low-income or fixed income individuals we need to carefully craft the program as well as explore additional partnerships with organizations that help individuals maintain their homes. One example is the city's partnership with Rebuilding Together Montgomery County, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, which utilizes the skills of community volunteers, works in partnership with the community to address the needs of low-income homeowners by providing home repairs that address safety, accessibility, energy efficiency and basic needs. "

Further reading: 

Vacant Properties The True Costs to Communities


Connecticut OLR Research Report: http://www.cga.ct.gov/2013/rpt/2013-R-0335.htm

Kennessaw: http://mdjonline.com/view/full_story/24893703/article-City-of-Kennesaw-approves-blight-tax--in-unanimous-vote

Savannah: http://savannahnow.com/news/2014-04-30/city-looks-increase-tax-rates-blighted-properties#.U7xJAbEric4

Atlanta: http://saportareport.com/blog/2012/09/atlanta-city-council-moving-forward-on-plan-to-raise-tax-rates-on-blighted-property/

<![CDATA[Endorsements]]>Wed, 04 Jun 2014 19:18:05 GMThttp://timmale.com/news/endorsementsWard 2 voters face a long list of exciting election races coming up for County and State elected offices.  To the extent that you think my opinion can be helpful, the following are some of the candidates that I think would best represent Takoma Park in county or state work. 

Anthony Brown and Ken Ulman – I’ve met with Lt. Governor Brown or heard him speak many times - he is an experienced leader with a vision for how the state can help close the achievement gap between populations of children in our state and he's helped lead a number of successful policy efforts and programs in the last 8 years.  I personally do not fault him for the failure of Maryland's health exchange given how many other state exchanges around the country also failed.   Having talked with him about leadership, I know he would be an effective leader of the state's tens of thousands of employees.  He knows how to set goals and empower his senior staff to implement.  He's led state efforts to prevent domestic violence and protect victims, helping achieve a 20 percent drop in assaults, expanding police training, opening new domestic violence treatment centers, and passing laws to toughen penalties and create better protection for women and children from potential assailants.   I believe the O'Malley-Brown Administration has done great things for the state and I see that continuing if Anthony Brown is elected governor.

Ken Ulman became the youngest County Executive (Howard County) ever elected in Maryland.  He led the county to top rankings as one of the best places to live in America, created a County Office of Sustainability and was one of the first signers of the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.   His work to create the "Healthy Howard" initiative to improve public health earned him a "Bright Ideas" award from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and the initiative helped find health care coverage for more than 7,000 residents.  He's a nationally-known leader in health care policy and he also created a co-op model of delivering healthcare to low income and working families through the Affordable Care Act.

Attorney General
Brian Frosh – Brian Frosh is an easy choice for Attorney General.  He has served in the state legislature for more than 25 years and chairs the Senate Judiciary committee, helping lead passage of legislation on gun safety, restricting assault weapons, cleaner drinking water, fraud protection and many other issues. 

County Council District 5

Tom Hucker – I’ve known Tom since I started work on Council and he and his staff have responded quickly on almost every request I’ve made on behalf of Ward 2 residents.  I expect he will bring that same commitment to service to the County Council alongside of his ability to get legislation passed on living wages, worker protections for pregnant women, environment, fair job benefits, protection of our food supply and Chesapeake Bay and a host of other progressive priorities that will help Montgomery County become an even better place to live.  Tom follows through for people and he knows how to put together majorities to pass legislation. 

County Council At Large
You get 4 - four - votes for At Large representation on the County Council.  I am happy to endorse George Leventhal.  George is a Takoma Park resident who has served us on the County Council since 2002.  I appreciate and respect George's leadership on the Purple Line, environmental issues, health care, and smoking bans in common areas of apartment buildings, and to help provide seniors with tax credits that let them age in place.  He's been extremely responsive whenever I asked for help on behalf of Ward 2 residents on everything from illegal buildings to WSSC and I look forward to his continuing service. 

Hans Riemer has my strong support.  He is a Takoma Park resident and the only Councilmember with young children in our schools. He led an effort to provide more assistance to the working poor and his county Nightlife task force will keep generating innovative ideas to deliver improvements in quality of life, countywide, that mirror business, restaurant, walking improvements we see in TkPk.  He also deserves credit on issues like keeping sidewalks clear of snow, getting buses on accurate schedules, more transparency into what the county is doing and bikeshare.  I look forward to his future work on pre-K and afterschool care. 

Board of Education
Jill Ortman-Fouse would be an exceptional representative for all of Takoma Park’s children if she is elected to the Board of Education, At-Large.  Jill has been a fantastic community advocate, bringing parents together in past campaigns to protect and improve schools in the Silver Spring/Takoma Park area.  I’m amazed by how many parents I run into who have a personal experience with how Jill has tried (and often succeeded) in helping them with a school issue.  With Jill on the Board, I think we would first get more information about what the Board does, second would see more funding directed to this areas schools which have more children in need than any other part of the county, and third, get more engagement from the Board with parents who have great ideas about innovation in our schools. 

District 20 for State House of Delegates
You get three representatives - and three votes -  in the state House of Delegates and I remain undecided on my third preference.  Darien Unger and David Moon are both strong candidates.  I plan to support:

Will Smith is a candidate with the right positions on big issues for a stronger middle class.  Yet he understands that as a newly elected member of Maryland’s lower house, his power lies in case work - constituent services - for you.  I believe he will provide excellent assistance as your advocate when problems arise with state agencies, utilities and other challenges while taking on broader state policy as well. He would champion further innovations in our health care system, improvements in the state’s education system to help students throughout Maryland and smarter growth that help small communities like ours thrive.  Will listens and acts, rather than just talking.

Sheila Hixson is a fantastic advocate in Annapolis, would be the only woman on our delegation and is likely to remain Chairwoman of the powerful
Ways & Means Committee.  It will be years before any other of our Delegates gets that level of seniority to influence legislation and spending.  Sheila has been key to passage of much progressive legislation and deserves reelection. 

District 20 for State Senate
Jamie Raskin does not have any competition in the June primary election that I am aware of, but he has been such an effective champion for Takoma Park in Annapolis and leader in passing better policy that I can't help but share my enthusiastic support for him.  He works incredibly hard and throws himself into big and little issues and never forgets about constituent services.  I'm proud to have him as our one and only senator.   

Democratic Central Committee at Large and D20
Dave Kunes has been a friend and ally on many issues that are important to Takoma Park.  He worked as a staffer in the House of Delegates in Annapolis for years and also led the Montgomery County Young Democrats.  Edward Kimmel is a Takoma Park resident and Ward 2 resident who gives near constant attention to policies and politics in the county and state.  Both would be able and fair representatives of the area to the state's Democratic Central Committee.
<![CDATA[License plate reader policy]]>Fri, 09 May 2014 21:02:15 GMThttp://timmale.com/news/license-plate-reader-policyI wanted to respond to comments and emails I've received abouot police-operated license plate readers.  Its an important issue, where we need to carefully balance privacy concerns and public safety benefits. 

Takoma Park's police currently have three mobile license plate readers that they attach to police cars and use while on patrol.  These readers help detect stolen vehicles, vehicles that are the subject of some sort of regional alert (for example, an Amber Alert where a vehicle has been associated with an abducted child), and vehicles that have expired license plates. 

Past Policy
Years ago, Takoma Park was one of the first jurisdictions in the area to adopt a policy to govern the use of the data captured by those readers.  Currently, our policy provides the authority to store data captured by the readers for 30 days, after which it must be deleted.    

Proposed Policy

The proposed policy creates a new statement of policy that only allows data to be used for law enforcement purposes.  The proposed policy maintains the limit that data would be kept by Takoma Park for only 30 days and then deleted from City files or computers.  The policy newly allows the automatic transfer of data to the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center (Coordination Center) where it could be kept for up to 1 year.  This is similar to the policy in place in the City of Rockville and I understand that Prince Georges County and Montgomery County are having discussions about passage of similar policies. 

What would automatic transfer of our data to the state Coordination Center and their retention of the data for one year mean? 

The Coordination Center is governed and overseen by state and other legislatures.  In fact, it is a helpful bill authored by our State Senator Jamie Raskin and passed by the Maryland legislature this year that makes some of these changes possible.  The bill is named SB699 and was passed unanimously by both the Maryland House and Senate.  The new state law mandates that:

  • law enforcement agencies can only request data for legitimate law enforcement purposes and defines those purposes,
  • creates fines and penalties for violation of data use (up to 1 year in jail),
  • prohibits data from being subject to Maryland Public Information Act disclosure,
  • requires the Coordination Center and State Police to report back annually to the Senate and House Judicial committees on the number of readings collected and requests for data made from the system (by each agencies) and whether those requests resulted in release of information and whether there were any data breaches ;
  • establishes reporting and audit requirements to ensure that data requests by individual police agencies or individual officers are tracked and can be audited,
  • requires development of an audit procedure for the state database
The bill text can be found here and I found the analysis and background by the nonpartisan professional staff of the legislature to be helpful as well.  Its linked here

The Standard Operating Policies of the Coordinating Center for License Plate Readers and data requests are here.  Their policy establishes a one-year retention limit on data storage unless the data will become evidence in a criminal or other law enforcement investigation.  

The ability to link license plate data to personal information (i.e. identifying the owner of a vehicle) is also regulated under the federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act.  This law was authored by Congressman Jim Moran (D- Virginia) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) and signed into law in 1994 by President Clinton. 

The ACLU's statement supporting SB699 can be found here and note that it supports the bill but indicates a preference for 30-day retention of the data or limits on the number of readers used in the state. The ACLU put out a policy last summer that you can find here and our policy (in conjunction with the new state policy) meets 8 out of 9 of their recommendations, the exception being the 1-year retention of data.

Why is retained data useful?

I have been on Council for about 3 years and during that time there have been a number of waves or hot spots of crimes like home break-ins that have occurred over many months.  Hypothetically, if there was evidence after months linking a suspect to earlier crimes, I understand how our police department's ability to ask for license plate reader information to find out if the suspect's car was in the area during the earlier crimes could be helpful in solving such cases.  There are many other scenarios associated with police efforts to solve crimes that I can think of or that our Police Chief has described, that would benefit from a similar ability to request specific data associated with active criminal investigations.  

Privacy protections

The legislation led by Senator Raskin and passed by the legislature creates safeguards and audits on the use and storage of data that simply didn't exist before, including criminal penalties for inappropriate use of the data. 

Next steps

The proposed policy has already received public testimony at one Council meeting and is scheduled for another work session this Monday night and public comment on the issue at the beginning of the meeting. 

I support the proposed policy change although I propose that we add a requirement for our police department to report back to Council on an annual basis on the number and type of their requests for data from the state Coordination Center database. 

<![CDATA[comparing cities' fund balances]]>Thu, 01 May 2014 19:19:42 GMThttp://timmale.com/news/comparing-cities-fund-balancesThe graph here shows the set of most of Maryland's larger cities, sorted in order of the percent of their General Fund (reserved and unreserved balances) their budget documents say they will have at the end of the year, compared to their revenue in 2013.  Takoma Park, for example, had an $11.2 million General Fund balance projected for the end of 2013 and revenues of $24.4 million, meaning that the balance is approximately 45% of revenue.  City's like Rockville and College Park use policy to set a target - in their cases, 15% and 25%.  This is a smart and transparent way to decide how conservative a city wants to be in holding onto revenue from one year to the next or setting it aside as reserves.  I support Takoma Park doing so.  Instead, without a very clear Council decision to do so, we are holding onto a lot more money - on average - than most big MD cities (I don't understand Bowie's budget at all....)
As I have noted below, Takoma Park also consistently ends the year with a greater General Fund balance than the Council approves - the difference has averaged $2.1 million but in some years has been over $5 million.  This means that the budget the Council and public review and votes on generally underestimates revenue and overestimates spending.  For example, when we have 4 police officer vacancies in a year, we have a lot less salary spending than we expect.  For example, last year when we had a significant debate before voting to lower taxes, we had planned to end the year with a General Fund balance of $8.9 million.  Instead, we are currently projecting a balance of $10.7 million. 

I provide this background to provide some of the context for why I support continued, slight reductions in the tax rate and in the amounts you pay in property tax. 
I believe in taxation for the purpose of providing services - good ones - and its just not clear to me that we couldn't make further small adjustments in tax rate so we aren't just holding onto this money, year after year.

I'd also note that, after reviewing Montgomery County budget documents and Takoma Park budget documents, the county's budget went up from ~$2 billion in 1998 to $ 3 billion in 2006 - a 49 percent increase.  Meanwhile Takoma Park's budget went from $10.9 to $18.2 million in that same time - a 68% increase.  And more recently - 2006-2013 - the county's budget grew by 18% while Takoma Park's grew by 34%. 

I support our strong services and advocate for expanding them and believe we can do so with a more informed, less conservative approach to maintaining fund balances year after year.