Action Annapolis Questionnaire
Alexus Viegas (D) | Ward 7
Vision and Priorities
1. Please share your campaign vision and priorities. What strengths will you bring to the job, and what past experience has prepared you for the role of Alderman?
I am running as Alderwoman because I want to make the government work for all Annapolitans. I am seeking to make quality of life, pro-environmental policies, safety, and community investment priorities for the City. I feel too often we treat these issues as mutually exclusive but the true challenge of a legislator is to make all issues a priority and to continually fight to give a voice to the voiceless.
I am a paralegal and legislative professional, hold a Master of Public Administration and Policy, and have also served as a board member for a non-profit, as a Commissioner for the Commission of Women, and as a board member for my local democratic club. I am deeply involved in the issues affecting our communities and have extensive knowledge of the law, writing legislation, best practices, project and program management, evidence based research, in addition to stakeholder outreach and coalition building.
I am a woman, a military wife, a mother, a legal professional, an advocate, a legislative specialist and a project manager - I believe that these skills and titles are strengths that will best serve the needs of the City over those of my opponents.
2. Do you support strengthening the role of the City Manager? Why or why not?
Any efforts to strengthen the role of the City Manager should parallel efforts to move towards eliminating the Mayoral position. Most cities have a Manager-Council or Mayor-Council form of government and for cities of our size, more than three quarters have a City Manager and Council without a Mayor. The cost of having both is an added fiscal stress that is not necessary.
3. Annapolis has vibrant economic opportunities. We also have a history of challenges in sustaining businesses in the City. What are your ideas in attracting and keeping businesses in Annapolis?
I have partnered with local organizations and Launch Annapolis to learn more about the challenges faced by businesses and have unequivocally pledged my support to initiatives and proposals such as a co-working space and an entrepreneurial incubator in the City of Annapolis. We can and will do more to ensure support for entrepreneurs and businesses in the City.
4. How would you focus specifically on businesses owned by African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities?
Minorities are two to three times more likely to start a business than non-minorities and minority businesses hold a large share of all small businesses in the U.S. It is critical that we support our minority-owned businesses by ensuring access to resources and simplified processes. I would also support further initiatives to reach out to Hispanic business owners in the City as I have already met with some who have had issues due to not knowing the process to opening a business in the City due to a language barrier.
5. The Market House has a history of instability. What are your plans for a long-term solution to stabilize the Market House for the next generation and make it a hub for city activities?
The future of the Market House is already being decided by the current Administration and therefore I would likely not have much of an opportunity to affect current policies on the Market House, however, the Market House needs to be a centralized place that benefits and betters the lives of those living downtown as well as those visiting downtown. This area of downtown is severely in need of a fresh grocery option year round. A Market House that is exactly that, a market, will best serve the needs and economic engine of downtown. Residents should not have to shop at CVS for groceries nor wait until the summertime to have easier access to fresh produce.
6. Residents of HACA (Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis) locations continue to experience a disproportionate amount of crime and inadequate living conditions. What four actions would you recommend to address HACA residents’ immediate safety, security, and quality of life needs?
1. Increase cultural compentency and sensitivity training for our police officers so they are best equipped to de-escalate situations and handle the specific needs of each of our communities.
2. Improve upon/cotinue community policing initiatives already being implemented (such as foot patrols, being present at all times, not simply when there is a negative reason)
3. Survey the communities to inquire about what they want/think should be improved upon in their neighborhood.
4. Create an official council of public housing residents to brainstorm and create a long-term vision and identifiable deliverables based on the feedback provided by the residents.
In order to address the concerns of the residents, we must first determine what their needs and wants are. We should make sure to not make assumptions about what our public housing residents need - the most important step to addressing the complex issues HACA properties face, is public engagement and input.
7. With federal funding eliminated for renovation and new construction of public housing, where will money come from for redevelopment of our existing public housing?
The City can assist HACA in seeking and obtaining grant monies and by creating partnerships with non-profits. The City does not have the overall authority over the management of public housing properties, that is the responsibility of HACA. However, the City relationship to HACA indicates that there the city can also assist with additional funds should the budget allow.
8. Some of the housing has been redeveloped through public-private partnerships. Is this a good model, and why or why not?
When the City does not have the money, HACA does not have the money, and grant monies are not available, than I would support this model. In a situation such as this, the City cannot simply handle properties that fall under HUD whenever HUD fails to provide the proper oversight and funding necessary to maintain and upgrade the properties. But we must ensure that the maintenance and upgrades continue regardless and public-private partnerships are a positive possible solution as long as the partnerships do not decrease public housing availability, service level, quality, or safety.
9. What is your position on privatizing of any of the city’s assets, e.g., recreational facilities, Market House, services?
With regard to recreation, I do not and will not support privatization. Recreation is absolutely necessary to the success of our communities. Whether it is a homework help program, a sports league, or an inexpensive meeting space, recreation centers in particular are critical in bringing together the community and helping to fill the gaps between other programs and services. My opinions on other aspects of City services and programs are similar to my opinions of recreational privatization. The onus is on the government to address issues faced by citizens, to meet the needs of citizens, and to maintain certain. We cannot and should not shift the responsibility from government to private for-profit organizations. We must be held accountable to our citizens.
10. What will be your approach to reduce and prevent crime?
Crime, particularly property crime, is on the rise in Annapolis. For many residents, addressing this issue is their top priority for 2018. In response, we often speak of community policing and increasing the police presence. However, I would propose that we stop thinking about reducing crime only in terms of police response. Too many of our citizens are stuck in a cycle of poverty; to address this cycle, we must ensure affordable recreation, access to affordable childcare, and connections to employment is available to those who need it.
11. The budget currently before the City Council anticipates hiring additional police and fire employees. The city would have to provide funding in subsequent budgets to support the additional employees. What is your proposal regarding the source of those funds?
Both the Fire and the Police Departments are inadequately staffed and need additional firefighters and officers immediately. I would support a reallocation in the budget to pay for the necessary additional officers with a goal of finding a long-term solution to staffing and funding issues. Above all else, our safety is paramount. I would propose instituting a fire tax and giving the power of budgeting to the Fire Department. This would provide our Fire Department with the funding it so deperatey needs and take the politics out of this aspect of public safety. I would also propose and support similar policies for the police department and will work to support grant application efforts by the Department for spending on new initiatives. And finally, but not least of all, I will work with state and county officials to ensure we are receiving our fair share to adequately cover the expenses and costs associated with being the Capitol and the County Chair. These factors increase our infrastructure and public safety system costs and we should be adequately compensated for the costs.
Budget and Taxes
12. How will you propose financing general budget needs?
The current budgetary items are funded through fees, surcharges, property taxes, state allocations, and other similar sources. I would not propose additional charges/fees on our taxpayers at this time. I will exhaust all efforts to: increase our payment in lieu of and allotment from the General Assembly, increase contributions from the County, seek grant money sources, and form nonprofit partnerships before I would propose that additional burdens fall directly on the taxpayers of our City. Our tourist economy coupled with our service as the Capitol entitles us to a greater return/share of tax dollars to support our comparatively larger economy.
13. What is your position on the current mayor’s proposed tax cut of $330,000?
Given some recent events in the city, our citizens will feel a slight decrease in their tax burdens already beginning next year. Therefore, I would not want to support decreasing tax revenues without a more extensive review of the possible effects and without a plan for addressing our serious debt issue in the City.
14. Please rank the following for budget priorities, from highest to lowest priority: Arts, Community Parks and Recreation, Education, Infrastructure, Transparency, Transportation
2. Community parks and recreation
Note: I find all of these priorities extremely important but have attempted to order them as best I could. However, I would like to ensure it is clear that, for me, these issues are not mutually exclusive and therefore should not necessarily injure the progress and political effort put forth on the other priorities.
Equal Protection under the Law
15. In February 2017, the City Council passed Ordinance 0-1-17, Non-discrimination Foreign-Born Residents Equal Protection, acknowledging that all persons are due equal protection under the law. If you had been mayor/alderman at that time, how would you have voted on this ordinance, and why? If you are an incumbent, how did you vote and why?
I would have voted for this Ordinance had I had the opportunity. I personally thanked the Aldermen and Alderwoman for their support of the Ordinance because I felt that this outcome was absolutely necessary to ensure our citizens feel safe in their own homes and don’t have a reason to fear coming forward to report crimes, report victimization, and otherwise seek assistance from the government. Further, it was an important step in ensuring our citizens are protected against profiling based on the color of their skin and this ordinance was passed in that vain and will hopefully prevent such profiling in the future.
16. What are your environmental initiatives? What will you do to address long term environmental sustainability needs and what is your plan to pay for these initiatives?
With regard to the environment, I intend to propose many initiatives from a city-wide composting program to a multi-organizational creek clean up program. The City has initiated study after study and created the comprehensive plan but often these commissioned and costly studies have produced results that are not followed-through on. I will work to put in place policies that require us to follow through on these costly evaluations and studies - if we are going to commission and pay for these steps, we should adopt and put their reports into action. Further, we should parallel programs and projects with a coordinated and extensive public outreach program which informs and engages the community which promotes buy-in or investment from community members on proposed projects and policy actions.
17. In March 2017, the City Council adopted the Forest Conservation Reforestation ordinance, known as “No Net Loss,” which requires developers to replace each acre of trees they cut down. If you had been mayor/alderman at that time, how would you have voted on this ordinance, and why?
I would have unequivocally supported this ordinance and would be working to continue the progress on this issue by ensure all trees are within the city, the same watershed, and provide for oversight mechanisms to ensure replacement trees actually survive and thrive.
18. Do you believe that additional storm water treatment initiatives /efforts are required? If so, what would you recommend and how would they be funded?
They are absolutely required. We have a WIP and requirements which must be met by 2025 for our MS4 permit under the EPA Clean Water Act. This is unavoidable and will cost us possibly more than $20 million to implement and maintain. We hired a firm to identify opportunity areas for the reduction requirements and the challenge for the incoming administration will be to figure out how we will pay for these necessary projects. The final solution will likely consist of a mixture of city tax revenue, assistance from the other levels of government, grant money, and debt in conjunction with local partnerships with groups such as the Back Creek Conservancy and Spa Creek Conservancy. However, I vow to make it a priority to find a solution that least affects the taxpayers directly through increasing taxes and fees. While this will be necessary potentially to some extent, we must have the will to seek creative and effective solutions.
19. Would you consider joining with the 246 Mayors in the US in supporting the commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement and work with them to support 21st Century a clean energy economy?
Yes, I supported the Paris Climate Agreement Resolution recently put forward by our incumbent aldermen. I would absolutely support a 21st century clean energy economy and the initiatives and policies to ensure we are doing our part to push forward this important issue.
20. The Eastport development project involves conflicts in the interpretation of the zoning code. How would you resolve this and future conflicts so that the developer and the community can rely on consistency in the approval process?
This project has been sent back to the drawing board. I will be adjusting my position on resolution of this particular case as the project develops further. To resolve issues like this in the future, upon entering office I would make it an immediate priority to begin taking steps towards commissioning a planning and zoning comprehensive review. Upon completion, I would take leadership on ensuring clarified policies and procedures for planning and zoning.
21. What is your position on requests being made by the Department of Recs and Parks for funding for the before and after-school program?
The Department of Parks and Recreation provides an invaluable service for youth by way of their operation of the before and after-school care programs. I would support additional funding to make these options more affordable and available to lower-income residents who need access to these programs the most.
22. How do you think art in public places should be regulated and financed?
I believe that art is one of the greatest expressions of our First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Art in public spaces should be regulated only to the extent that we consider the potentially negative impact of the art on individuals (i.e. harassing, threatening) and the potential purpose and contribution of the art. I would support financing availability to a certain extent through City grants.
23. Members of city boards and commissions are required to provide a signed Statement of Compliance with the Provisions of Ethics Ordinance, affirming that they understand the provisions of the city code regarding public ethics and financial disclosure. Several members of the advisory boards and city commissions resigned because they took issue with the wording of the statement. Do you support any changes to make the statement non-controversial, and if so, what changes?
If this Statement of Compliance is signed following comprehensive training on the requirements for disclosure and ethics than I would support adjusting the statement to simply serve not as an oath but as a confirmation that the information has been shared with the individual and that they understand the consequences of a violation.
24. Do you support the current Mayor-Council form of government or a Council - Manager form, and why?
I support a manager-council form of government. In the majority of cities the size of Annapolis across the U.S., the primary form of government is manager-council. It is fairly uncommon to have both a manager and mayor alongside a council. And, quite frankly, I believe the expense of having both a manager and a mayor is unnecessary and would potentially support removing the mayoral seat in Annapolis.
25. Should boards and commissions have final say on the level of detail needed for their minutes, as long as that level met all legal and code requirements?
26. Would it be useful if the Mayor were to attend at least one board or commission hearing per month?
27. Should annual reports for each board and commission be posted on the city website?
28. How would you address the lack of women and minorities on City Boards and Commissions and as department heads? If so, how would you address it?
I believe our government and the organizational components within it should be representative of the population they serve. Upon entering office, I will work with other Aldermen, Alderwomen, and the hispanic and African-American liaisons to create a public outreach plan for recruiting more women and minorities to the City Boards and Commissions. I will also work with other representatives to challenge our City to recruit more women and minorities to leadership positions in the City through targeted recruitment.