Action Annapolis Questionnaire
John Astle (D) | Mayor
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 will bring proven leadership and 35 years of experience in the Maryland General Assembly to our city government. That will start with publishing an Annapolis 2030 plan within my first six months in office that will be formulated through the inclusion of voices from all elements of our community. It will focus on a vision for what we want our city to look like in 20 years, including improvements to our education, increasing public safety, protecting our environment, increasing access to vital resources for our underserved communities, fostering responsible business development while we preserve our historic and sailing trademarks, and balancing our budget to prepare us for foreseen and unforeseen contingencies.
2. Do you support strengthening the role of the City Manager? Why or why not?
I support the current responsibilities and powers that are given to the City Manager in what is essentially a weak mayor form of government. The City Manager works for both the Mayor and the City Council and must retain the powers necessary to execute the policies articulated by the council and the initiatives of the Mayor simultaneously.
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?
Annapolis’s zoning and permitting code needs to be rewritten and simplified. Its processes need to retain the transparency and efficiency that is written in to the code, but not enforced through the current Mayor’s lack of attention. Businesses should not be scared away to other communities because they are unable to receive a consistent and timely answer from the city regarding their applications for development approval.
4. How would you focus specifically on businesses owned by African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities?
The city should have an office whose sole purpose is to guide new business owners through the application process. Under my administration, each new business applicant will be assigned a liaison to assist them in understanding the process and to serve as a point of reference for questions along the way. The primary beneficiaries of this new initiative will likely be minority business owners. This should already exist within the Chamber of Commerce, as well, and I will work with them to enhance their capabilities.
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 Market House needs to be revitalized as the heart of our waterfront area and any plan to do this must also involve a reimagining of our entire waterfront area. Our most scenic location is currently dominated by an asphalt parking lot and congested traffic. I will work to remove the parking lot and replace it with green spaces that can still support events and to route commuting and parking traffic away from Main Street.
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?
- Increase the police budget to fund more officers, enabling and requiring them to get out of their vehicles and walk the communities that they need to build more trust with.
- Subsidize living costs for our police officers to incentivize them to actually live in the communities that they’re protecting and serving.
- Use our city’s zoning powers to incentivize new developers to contribute to the communities they want to build in in meaningful, lasting ways, including the creation of public spaces designed by an organized and empowered local community.
- Mirror initiatives in Washington D.C. and other states to mandate that those who pay their rent on time in public housing receive positive reports to credit reporting agencies to improve their credit and financial opportunities.
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?
I will use my experience and relationships developed from my time in the Maryland General Assembly to leverage state and county money to assist us in reducing the economic inequities created by what is now blighted public housing.
8. Some of the housing has been redeveloped through public-private partnerships. Is this a good model, and why or why not?
Public private partnerships could offer our community significant advantages if the contracts are drawn up in ways that incentivize service delivery over profit. I will ensure proper oversight and community representation in this process to guarantee that the residents of our public housing have a leading voice in how it is redeveloped and maintained.
9. What is your position on privatizing of any of the city’s assets, e.g., recreational facilities, Market House, services?
I am not in favor of privatizing public goods (especially recreational facilities) unless it can be demonstrated that the city is incapable of managing them, as this reduces the city’s ability to ensure that they remain accessible for all economic segments of our community. The Market House is a tougher example, as the City has poorly managed it to date and there is a legitimate argument that a private retail or restaurant manager would do a better job of ensuring that it remains profitable and the draw that it should be to locals and tourists alike.
10. What will be your approach to reduce and prevent crime?
As previously mentioned, I will get the police out of their cars and patrolling on foot – the current policy is that they should be out of their cars for 45 minutes out of every 12 hour shift and this needs to change. I will also work to increase the retention of our police force by improving their benefits to make them more commensurate with the county’s. Last, and probably most importantly, I will routinely create opportunities within our underserviced communities for them to engage our police leadership and elected officials about the concerns they have for their own safety.
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?
I am very cautious about accepting state or federal money for salaried positions that we have not programmed into our budget in the long term. These things are considered operating costs and should be funded through planned and reliable revenue sources.
Budget and Taxes
12. How will you propose financing general budget needs?
General budget needs are divided into operating and capital costs. Operating costs, or the routine, reoccurring costs of paying for the yearly needs of the city should be funded through revenues. Capital costs can be funded through borrowing, but their associated interest payments should be considered operating costs and funded through revenues as well. Any strategy that moves away from this, as we have seen in recent years, is both irresponsible and reckless with our City’s financial security.
13. What is your position on the current mayor’s proposed tax cut of $330,000?The Mayor’s proposed tax cut of $330,000 (or 5 cent tax cut) was a political gimmick that wasted the City Council’s time in discussion. It is irresponsible to cut taxes while he has increased spending consistently for the past five years, underfunded our police and fire pensions from 96% to 86% for the past five years, and reduced our reserves by half in the same time period.
14. Please rank the following for budget priorities, from highest to lowest priority: Arts, Community Parks and Recreation, Education, Infrastructure, Transparency, Transportation
3) Community Parks & Recreation
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 in favor of this act, as the law and basic human rights and dignities should be blind in regards to where someone might have been born. I’ve demonstrated similar votes in the Maryland General Assembly, including the Dream Act (guaranteeing in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants).
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?
By 2050, many experts believe that we will see 2.5 feet of sea level rise, increasing our exponentially increasing nuisance flooding and 50-year storms surges to events that will regularly threaten our infrastructure and people’s lives. I will be prepared to make tough decisions with our budget to not “kick this can down the road” to the next generation after it’s too late to address these issues. I will uphold the tenants of the Paris Accord with a focus on a reduction on emissions and carbon footprints across our City government and with incentives for our residents to do the same.
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 voted in favor of this legislation, but would have wanted to amend it to ensure that sufficient space exists to replant trees in other places, which is the issue that we are dealing with now, as a result. Retaining our green habitat is vital to the health of the bay and surrounding areas and will not happen without government regulation to guarantee it.
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?
A few years ago, the state passed the “Rain Tax,” which was supposed to tax impervious surfaces and route that money towards dealing with storm water issues. We need ensure that that this money is being appropriately and proportionately routed back to Annapolis to address our near and long term concerns with climate change and sea level rise.
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?
I would join with the 246 Mayors in the US supporting the commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement the day I’m sworn in and will work with them to support the 21st Century clean energy economy.
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?As I previously mentioned, the City’s zoning code is overly complicated and needs to be simplified. I would contract with an outside group to jointly review and rewrite our zoning code with members of our City Council and appointed officials to make the process easier for developers and constituents to understand.
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?
Before and after-school programs are critical to the lives of many of our community’s youth. Providing them constructive, structured environments to learn and grow comes at little cost to the city with exponential rewards in the form of role models, enhanced education, and social interaction. I will make these programs a top priority in my new administration.
22. How do you think art in public places should be regulated and financed?
There will always be a natural tension between development, artistic expression, and Historic Preservation. The key is to provide the appropriate balance that allows us to preserve our heritage and local brand while allowing our vibrant community to thrive and express itself through many forms of art. The best way to regulate public spaces is to involve members of the community in the decision-making process and I will strive to place decisions about what constitutes appropriate art in the hands of the community. The ability to finance art in public places relies first on a responsibly balanced budget, which will be on of my top priorities.
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?
I am highly in favor complete transparency in financial disclosures for public officials, whether elected or appointed, and support any statement that requires this. There is nothing controversial about requiring elected and appointed officials to be completely forthcoming with all information about financial interests that may potentially compromise their ability to make objective decisions.
24. Do you support the current Mayor-Council form of government or a Council - Manager form, and why?
Given appropriate leadership, the current Mayor-Council form of government should be highly effective, as it provides legislative authority to the Council and executive authority to the Mayor, through the City Manager. The key is leadership that ensures that codes are enforced and processes are adhered to in a transparent and effective fashion.
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?
Yes, their meetings are generally open to the public and televised. Those concerned with more detail should attend or watch.
26. Would it be useful if the Mayor were to attend at least one board or commission hearing per month?
Yes, it is an extremely sad statement about the current administration that this question needs to be asked.
27. Should annual reports for each board and commission be posted on the city website?
Yes, this is form of transparency that should be promoted in any public administration.
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 would ensure that our application process was publicized as widely as is feasible and would look to hire and appoint a leadership team that is as representative of the demographics of the population they represent as possible. This can be challenging with the lack of women and minorities that often apply for such positions, but it is a challenge that all levels of government should strive to overcome.