Action Annapolis Questionnaire
Kurt Riegel (D)  |  Ward 2

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?

Vision:

 

•  Vitality: Annapolis succeeds best when our residents love living here, and outsiders want to visit. We must foster successful businesses, recreational amenities, attractive public spaces, a healthy environment, vitality in the arts, music and other cultural pursuits

•  Responsibility:  Nurture the financial health of Annapolis through operating efficiencies, broadened and equitable revenue sources, and sound management practices, with nondiscrimination and appropriate priority to public safety. Ensure communication between elected officials and constituents.

•  Mobility:  Business and community vitality depend on a diverse and resilient transportation system that serves all our citizens. We need disciplined attention to all components: streets, parking, public transit, safe pedestrian/bicycle sidewalks and paths.

 

Priorities:

 

•  Communication with constituents, email/social media to provide advance notice of issues & legislative agendas, analysis, preliminary indication of how I will vote together with an open invitation for input that might influence that vote. I will convene periodic Town Halls.

•  Environmental Performance in forest retention, water quality in our creeks, plus improved access to land/water recreation for all demographics.

•  Healthy Business Environment, more good retail businesses in Ward 2, find and implement best regulatory practices from other jurisdictions.

•  Augment Revenues other than Taxes, payments in lieu of taxes, fair fees, reactivate State Commission on the Capital City for multi-jurisdictional equity that reduces Annapolis dependence on taxes

•  Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Street Infrastructure. Upgrade sidewalks, bike paths, improve street maintenance.

•  Extend Poplar Trail in both directions for a safe continuous connection between the true center of Annapolis and Annapolis Towne Centre.

•  Circulator, extend and improve a free circulator to connect both Ward 1 and Ward 2 business districts.

•  Deploy More Community Policing to build trust between police and all citizens while also improving security for residents.

 

Past Experience:

 

•  Board Member, West Annapolis Civic Association

•  Vice President, West Annapolis Civic Association

•  President, Severn River Association

•  Board Member, Severn River Association

•  Chair, Annapolis Environmental Commission

•  Member, Severn River Commission

•  Adjunct Professor, Johns Hopkins University

•  Senior Federal Executive, ret. (Navy, National Science Foundation, Environmental

Protection Agency, Department of Energy)

•  Education: BA Johns Hopkins, PhD University of Maryland, PMD Harvard Business

School

•  Frequent testimony before Annapolis City Council and its Committees, Anne Arundel

County Council and its Advisory Boards

2. Do you support strengthening the role of the City Manager? Why or why not?

Yes, with respect to professional aspects of technical and government administration. And yet, clear lines of authority to elected officials must remain so that policy accountability to the electorate is maintained. Both Council/Manager and Mayor/Council/Manager forms of municipal government are viable for a city like Annapolis. One can find localities that successfully apply both, so the form chosen is less important than selecting good officials and managers. I don’t feel an urgent need for striking change in form, but am open to discussion ways to improve the quality of government by a selectively strengthening the role of the city manager.

Business

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?

Ongoing periodic review of code/regulations is needed to ensure that city constraints on business are truly necessary, effective in accomplishing their purpose, and minimally burdensome. For example, methods might include “tiger teams” comprising personnel from Annapolis and sister-cities to review each other’s operations to identify best practices for possible adoption.

 

In Ward 2, I will meet with business associations and individual businesses so always to be apprised of needs and impacts relating to business climate. One size fits all parking requirements should be reviewed and replaced, as we implement modern parking management techniques and as new services like Uber become significant.

4. How would you focus specifically on businesses owned by African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities?

First, it is crucial to know how needs and impacts of this segment of the business community are unique, and then to address them. That’s why we have advisory commissions, and I will continue my participation with the Caucus of African American Leaders, and with minority business leaders especially in Ward 2. Moreover, I will encourage individual owners to participate in business associations, to ensure their voice is added to that of other businesses in dealings with the city.


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?

To a degree, this question has been overtaken by events with the passage of new procurement rules for the next cycle of Market House operation.  I will insist on, and monitor carefully, both financial performance and community satisfaction and join with others to act should it become necessary. Experts differ on exactly what approaches work best. The city’s stance should be to encourage innovation, monitor performance carefully, keep the successes and promptly terminate the failures. Because there are legal obstacles to divestment of this property, I will not discuss that option.

Housing

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?

Continuous communication among residents, HACA, and the city is crucial in order to understand needs, and to identify problems promptly. A transition to greater reliance on community policing can be a useful adjunct to this approach, in combination with appropriate deployment and reliance on technology. Mutual trust and respect must be built with actions that enhance both the reality and a feeling of security, with attention to maintenance/repairs to make homes residents like and feel they have a stake in.


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?

This is a difficult problem for which there is no single “silver bullet” solution. The city must do the best it can in combined efforts to apply for federal funding, to influence it using our congressional delegation, and to optimize the balance among federal, private, and city resources. Appointment and employment of skilled experts in this field are crucial to quality administration of Annapolis’ public housing.


8. Some of the housing has been redeveloped through public-private partnerships. Is this a good model, and why or why not?

Some such arrangements in our public housing stock are a fait accompli and we are obliged to make the best of the capital stock as it exists. As for the future, the city must carefully examine the resources and programs available in what could be a painfully shrunk federal program.  We have no pat answers to tough questions. We have a difficult road ahead. Public housing is a core responsibility of government to its most vulnerable citizens and we must get this right. Contributions from well designed and well managed partnerships can play a useful role theoretically, but the devil is in the details and the city government must always play a key role.

Privatization

9. What is your position on privatizing of any of the city’s assets, e.g., recreational facilities, Market House, services?

Several recent privatizations of city properties have occurred, handled clumsily and giving less benefit to the city than could have been achieved.  Looking forward, I cannot conceive of an instance that would have my support. For example, the Pip Moyer Center, our parks, water access points, should be retained and operated by the city for the benefit of all its residents. These are community assets of crucial value, transcending financial value alone.  Once lost are difficult to impossible to replace.

Crime

10. What will be your approach to reduce and prevent crime?

Crime informs us of a need continuously to find opportunities for improvement.  Smart response is more effective than simple and costly reaction, like reflexively increasing personnel and spending without a deeper plan. Perspective is key, because this era is one of overall decline in many crime statistics even as are punctuated by upticks now and then. More Community Policing is needed to build trust between police and all citizens while also improving security for residents and the city. We must always try first to achieve this by redeployment of existing assets, rather than by adding more without careful thought and practical plans.


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?

Federal and state funds should be sought. Whether such additional positions are funded by Annapolis taxpayers or from other sources, hiring increases will represent a long-term addition to pension/health costs.  Such increases should always occur only after disciplined and accurate assessment of long-term need rather than short-term statistical fluctuation unrelated to statistical crime fundamentals, with a clear understanding that temporary grant support cannot be depended upon for the long term.

Budget and Taxes

12. How will you propose financing general budget needs?

The city’s menu of funding sources includes property taxes, fees for service, fines and penalties, grants, intergovernmental transfers, and payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT). All must be used wisely. My priorities include enhancement of the non-tax sources of revenues by more wisely employing tools such as the State Commission on the Capital City which exists on paper but hasn’t called a meeting for a decade.


13. What is your position on the current mayor’s proposed tax cut of $330,000?

A tiny proposed “tax cut” was purely cosmetic and political, masking the reality of an increase in taxes collected from taxpayers. What counts is the totality of revenues/expenditures.  Especially worrisome is new debt that is growing the city’s debt/revenue ratio, now at an historic high of 1.75. We are increasing borrowing during a time of economic prosperity rather than exercising fiscal restraint. Future economic downturns may necessitate new borrowing, but present conditions do not. Worse, the city is using long-term debt to finance short-term operational costs. The rule taught to every Econ 101 student is that “the term of the debt should match the lifetime of the acquired asset,” a rule we are breaking.

14. Please rank the following for budget priorities, from highest to lowest priority: Arts, Community Parks and Recreation, Education, Infrastructure, Transparency, Transportation

1. Infrastructure

2. Transportation

3. Transparency

4. Community parks and recreation

5. Transparency

6. Arts

7. Education (Complicated, don’t be misled by placement last. This is the most important item on this list but education budgeting is mainly determined by Anne Arundel County, not the city of Annapolis.)

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 supported this ordinance strongly and testified for it at the city council  hearing. Everybody, not just immigrants, benefits from this ordinance. For example, it dampens fear among immigrants that they or their family will suffer if they report crimes, a fear that makes us all less safe. I regard the two votes against it as pandering to the Trump administration. Rather than surrender threats of unlikely retaliation, possible cancellation of a few federal grants, we must resolutely defend equal protection for all our residents. For good and valid reasons, immigration policy is a federal responsibility.

Environment

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?

The largest portion of my professional and civic energies have long been directed at improving environmental quality, with senior executive appointments in the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Navy, the Department of Energy, and as head of a science facilities program at the National Science Foundation. I will bring exceptional experience to the city council respecting water quality (for example, No Net Loss of Forest, Stormwater Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), and No Discharge Zone initiatives.) Forest and natural vegetation is crucially important and I will bring both knowledge about and determination to protect these resources. My work on these issues is well known and has been influential in modifying the scale and character of two large Annapolis developments. Mine is a knowledgeable and friendly voice for efforts by Annapolis to achieve excellence in environmental quality over the long term.  Past activities in leadership positions in, and current connections to, these environmental organizations will benefit the city: Severn River Association, Annapolis Environmental Commission, Severn River Commission.

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 worked hard for this as a member of the city’s environmental commission, and personally with testimony before the city council and with civic groups.  Mine would have been an enthusiastic vote in favor. It is crucial that we preserve our greatest protector of water quality in Annapolis’ creeks and habitat for wildlife, natural vegetation and forest cover.

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?

Yes.  Mine was a voice calling out the misallocation of stormwater fund revenues to purposes having little to do with improving water quality. Efforts to achieve real improvement rather than mere maintenance must continue. Achieving TMDL targets is necessary, a mandatory challenge under present law. Funding must be sought from all available sources including federal grants, several Chesapeake Bay programs, voluntary participation by private parties, and city funds.


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.

Development

 

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?We need more discipline and clearer direction from the city council, for codes/regulations that are unambiguous. Communication of those requirements should be early and clear so that this sort of difficulty is avoided.

Child Care

 

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?

I have not seen the specifics but am generally favorable to this kind of initiative if means can be found for sound funding. Since it seems to have a direct tie to education I would turn first to Anne Arundel County as a source of funds to supplement city resources.

Public Art

 

22. How do you think art in public places should be regulated and financed?

I am an enthusiastic advocate for art in public places, to enliven our town and energize our citizen artists.  My dismay over the controversy we’ve seen over recent art projects is balanced by an optimism that this issue is now on the public radar and we have a chance to craft a better approach. I will support approaches that reduce bureaucratic barriers to displaying art on public and private buildings, particularly when such displays are time- limited and some provision is created for public input that would be helpful to artists, displayers, and the public.  There should be reasonable allocation of funds for art in public places, and private properties should not look to the city for financing.

Ethics

 

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 not primarily concerned with whether the language in the Statement of Compliance is controversial. As a citizen and, if elected as a public official, my first concerns are whether it is legal, and whether it is a helpful government policy.  In my view, amending paragraph

2.08.060 would not cure its fundamental deficiencies. That paragraph requires outright repeal. The state ethics code explicitly exempts local advisory boards and commissions from filing financial disclosure forms and neither requires nor authorizes anything but the official oath of office. No other locality has an ethics oath, and the one invented in Annapolis is unlawful and unwise. It should be repealed in its entirety.

 

First, it is unnecessary.  This oath covers a single portion of the Annapolis code. Members are already sworn in under the official oath of office covering all provisions in law at all levels of government.

 

Second, it violates the Constitution of Maryland,  Declaration of Rights Article 37:

 

“That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.”

 

The “swear and affirm” language of the offending paragraph is unlawful, as settled in case law and by the latest revision of the current official oath of office.  “Swear or affirm” is the lawful language.

 

More importantly, the Declaration of Rights bans any additional oath of office, including the Annapolis Ethics paragraph. There is one and only allowable oath of office under the Maryland Constitution. Because the present Mayor administers the ethics oath as an absolute and non-negotiable requirement for holding office as a member of an advisory board or commission, it is an oath of office.

 

No other jurisdiction in Maryland requires this kind of oath, for good reason. It applies only to bodies lacking any regulatory or financial authority and therefore serves no discernable purpose.

 

It is applied unequally, only to advisory commission volunteers.  It does not apply to other members of other commissions, employees, or elected officials.

 

It unlawfully threatens prosecution for perjury for failure to “understand,” but fails to provide objective criteria for what would constitute an acceptable level of “understanding,” or any test to determine whether those criteria have been satisfied.

 

The paragraph addresses a non-problem. There is no evidence of substantive ethical violations by members of advisory commissions that would requires action of any kind, let alone this mindlessly damaging and unlawful provision.

 

It is poor public policy. Oaths are a lazy, poor, and harmful substitute for legitimate and effective measures designed to deal with real problems. Good policy includes first validating that a real problem exists, and then providing training, testing, etc. that will cure that problem. This paragraph has needlessly generated controversy and caused removals

and resignations of citizen volunteers who have served honorably, generously wishing only to contribute their expertise to the city.

Vote Governance

 

24. Do you support the current Mayor-Council form of government or a Council - Manager form, and why?

Both Council/Manager and Mayor/Council/Manager forms of municipal government are viable for a city like Annapolis.  One can find localities that successfully apply both, so the form chosen is less important to me than selecting good officials and managers. I don’t feel an urgent need for change, even as I declare an interest in public discussion that might

lead to such a change.

Transparency

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. Past efforts by the Administration to suppress the preparation of complete and accurate Minutes by boards and commissions were not only unhelpful, they were antithetical to values of truth and transparency that are protected by responsible public officials. The best commissions ignored ham-handed administrations instructions to dumb down their Minutes to blandness, but some shamefully acquiesced. I will protect the freedom of boards and commissions fairly and completely to report their activities to the public.


26. Would it be useful if the Mayor were to attend at least one board or commission hearing per month?

Yes


27. Should annual reports for each board and commission be posted on the city website?

Yes

Diversity

 

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 oblige the city to prepare a statistical summary of relevant information, present it to each board and commission, identifying imbalances where they exist.  Boards and commissions should be invited to submit names of prospective nominees that would bring both technical excellence and help to redress those imbalances. Finally, the council should require a periodic progress report from the Mayor and make course corrections as necessary.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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