Action Annapolis Questionnaire
Mayor's Race |
Challengers Nevin Young (R), John Astle (D), and Gavin Buckley (D)
(Mayor Pantelides did not participate)
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 Mayor?
Nevin Young (R): I envision a future for the City that is inclusive of all citizens, using technology to both provide information and receive information from the citizens. We must restore public integrity among city employees and root out discrimination and favoritism, while pursuing a balanced agenda of careful growth. As an attorney, I am tasked with solving problems creatively and identifying problematic issues every day, as well as negotiating solutions to complex problems. I also have the ability to identify potential legal hazards that other candidates seem to be lacking. I think one of the primary problems with past administrations is that former mayors have wanted city employees to view them as friends rather than as advocates for the citizens.
John Astle (D): 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.
Gavin Buckley (D): I am running because as an Annapolis small business owner for 20 years and a leader for the revitalization of West Street, I have seen this city grow in some areas, but too many times we have tried a solution only for it to fail because of a lack of vision and ability to bring people together. We need new leaders who truly understand how to build a town for all our residents, and a proven record of delivering on that vision. We need leaders to be gatekeepers for our values of open and responsive government; who will lead the state in green initiatives; who will bring 21st century transit solutions that prioritize: pedestrians, bicycles, trolleys & buses, and cars in that order; and who will bring real community policing reforms.
2. Do you support strengthening the role of the City Manager? Why or why not?
Young: The ultimate authority must rest with the elected Mayor and Council. There is a risk that a City Manager will become too close to those who are supervised, and will collaborate with city employees in defending and covering up problems rather than addressing those problems to the benefit of the citizens.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: As a small business owner, I know how important a good manager is to keep for all parts of a business. However, I am in my restaurants every day, doing whatever needs done – from delivering food, taking inventory, or bussing tables – and that is the exact hands-on approach we need from our next Mayor. The most successful city leaders are deeply involved with as many aspects of the city as possible – their partnership with the city manager is critical – but residents deserve a Mayor that will carry out the vision they campaigned upon.
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?
Young: We believe that in the future, our tourism industry will benefit from mobile app and sign technology to inform people of available parking when they visit downtown, and we can do a great deal to streamline and facilitate permits and licensing.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: Retail has fundamentally changed whether we like it or not – and our city leaders must understand those changes and prepare our merchants for a world where daily needs can be filled by Amazon. Instead, we must offer residents and tourists alike what they cannot buy online: experiences and memories.
West Street has fewer vacancies than Main Street because we have created a racially and economically diverse community that celebrates culture and history through events like the First Sunday Arts Festival, Dining Under the Stars, the Christmas Lights, art installations, and more. Merchants who live, work, and raise their families right here in Annapolis have been the drivers of that progress – when you create an environment for people to care and invest, they give back.
4. How would you focus specifically on businesses owned by African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities?
Young: I believe that once we have established fairness and non-discrimination, and informed people of the availability of assistance for minority owned businesses through state programs, that we can greatly expand the participation of underrepresented groups.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: I strongly believe in mentoring programs – people from marginalized areas should be shown models for creating a business plan and securing financing. It’s difficult to be the first in your family and professional network to create a business without a model to base your experience. The city can use its economic development office to support minority-owned businesses through training programs. Also, we can think about starting by emphasizing a diversity in food, which is often the first foothold for minority business owners.
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?
Young: The market house should be rented to those with viable business proposals. If the city cannot do that, then it should either be sold or given back to the donor family. It is not a proper city function to be so hands on in running what amounts to a private business.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: The Market House is no golden ticket but it is the best location in the city and is worth fighting for. I have a proposal that will right the wrong that we do not have a trace of an oysterman, or a crabber, and instead we have given over a major community center to jelly bean counters and slushie machines. I will fight to raise the bar of our city gastronomically because tourists will go where residents go – and we must lead the way in showing off who we are as a city once again.
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?
Young: We need expanded community policing and substations in the vicinity of Newtowne and Eastport Terrace/Harbor House. We also need a revised drug policy that gives addicts the help they need, in order to reduce the demand for drugs. We can pursue a policy of job growth that attempts to connect local residents with jobs rather than bringing people from out of town to the city.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: We need a four-pronged approach to truly address the issues facing HACA residents: More job opportunities through business development and encouraging business leaders to higher local to begin the long process of breaking down the divisions between our two Annapolis’s; increase real access to jobs by emphasizing bicycles and public transit; rebuild trust between police and the communities they serve by getting officers out of their cars and out of uniform as a sports coach or another capacity - kids should not meet officers for the first time at an arrest; and build and leverage relationships between city officials and community leaders to maintain a regular dialogue that ensures the city is on top of residents’ concerns.
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?
Young: If the City prioritizes developing new housing, then it should be publicly funded. I do not think allowing private and public admixtures of investment or ownership is appropriate, due to potential for abuse, favoritism, etc.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: Renovation and maintenance are critical to showing housing communities the city cares about you – Bloomsbury Square residents tell me they are proud to call that home, and they give back to the city. Money is always the key, and grants and partnerships with non-government organizations will be critical to updating projects – but beyond that, our city budget is a reflection of our priorities. In 2017, the city took out $4 million in bonds to pay for “general roadways” – when we do not budget responsibly and take out loans for recurring maintenance, residents of HACA get left behind.
8. Some of the housing has been redeveloped through public-private partnerships. Is this a good model, and why or why not?
Young: See answer to question 7.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: It seems we’re running out of options as we see federal funding being stripped from these communities. I believe finding these public-private partnerships should be our biggest priority – I believe in safety nets and protecting those who need it. City budgets alone will not be able to address the systemic problems in some of our housing communities and we must be creative to bring more opportunity for success.
9. What is your position on privatizing of any of the city’s assets, e.g., recreational facilities, Market House, services?
Young: City recreational facilities should not be privatized, as the running of such facilities is a traditional government function, and a profit motive will not necessarily be beneficial. Market house privatization may be considered. The privatization of parking enforcement was not good for the city and might be subject to reversal.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: In general, I am opposed to the city selling its assets. When you sell property, you lose control as a city to set your own path. Of course this is a case-by-case basis and each proposal needs to be considered on its merit – but we cannot rely on privatization as a quick way to fill a budget gap or use it as an excuse for poor management.
10. What will be your approach to reduce and prevent crime?
Young: We must change out stale methods and outlooks on drug policy. We should have alternatives in place for opioid addicts and a strong community policing program. We should end the discrimination lawsuit by black officers and focus on recruiting and promoting from within for police work. We also must provide good summer job programs and recreational opportunities to city youth.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: We must tackle the problem of heroin addiction head-on – drug related problems are a primary source of conflict in our city. I will prioritize compassionate community policing that addresses marginalized communities as people, not as criminals. I am for less militarization and more humanization. Importantly, crime is most permanently chased out when there is official activity – businesses, streetlights, events, vitality – and that is the single best way to keep people safe.
Budget and Taxes
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?
Young: I do not believe the problem at present is lack of personnel. The problem is inept management and poor approach. We must support those employees from the general fund going forward, unfortunately.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: We must not let our hiring outpace the growth of our city. Each new hire impacts not only that year’s budget but our already-strained pension system as well. Our city’s bond rating is not Triple-A because our pension system is not funded at the levels we need. I am the only candidate in the race to have made a payroll – and know the commitment in financial, time, and human capital each new hire creates.
12. How will you propose financing general budget needs?
Young: Our focus should be less upon fines and permit fees, and more upon general property tax revenue.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: The largest single contributor to the city budget is property tax revenue, which is consistent with other municipalities – and most residents would be able to guess that is true every April 15th when their tax bill comes. I do not support raising property taxes and chasing more people out of the city limits – instead, we have to leverage our position as a tourism center and consider a dedicated 0.5% sales tax from the state’s fund that will fill our capital budget for projects like the Hillman Garage. As the capital, nearly 45% of our buildings are not taxed because they are government property, and without a single cent of sales tax staying in Annapolis, we are disproportionately subsidizing non-residents.
13. What is your position on the current mayor’s proposed tax cut of $330,000?
Young: It is trivial, so that he can say he cut taxes. I think most city residents realize this.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: Residents don’t deserve small moves that won’t make a real difference to their bottom line in an election year – property tax payments still went up across the city with rising home values. A slight reduction in the rate is not ultimately going to make the difference when we still have serious bills and obligations to meet. We should not think about raising the rate but we should also not give cursory reductions for political gain.
14. Please rank the following for budget priorities, from highest to lowest priority: Arts, Community Parks and Recreation, Education, Infrastructure, Transparency, Transportation
Young: If the city actually paid directly for the school system, obviously education would be first, but it does not. Therefore there is some ambiguity in how to construe this question. I would say that this is too complicated to give a simple ranked answer.
3) Community Parks & Recreation
5) 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?
Young: The language of the ordinance, so long as it does not contradict existing Federal law, is perfectly appropriate, and I would have voted for it.
Astle: 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).
Buckley: I strongly support this ordinance. As an immigrant, I know how it feels to be in a new place without the protection of home. People are vulnerable and should not be singled out on the basis of skin color, national origin, or any other criteria. Period.
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?
Young: We must be careful in terms of the development we allow, but not so unreasonable as to invite “takings” litigation. We also should insist upon the highest level of runoff and stormwater control, and make dumping in the harbor, of anything, an onerous civil offense.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: We must get away from fossil fuels and invest in public transportation – breaking people of the habit of parking on the water and emphasizing impervious surfaces along City Dock create a crisis of stormwater runoff. Our comprehensive plan holds that any development must meet our mission of creating a “green” Annapolis and working to define standards that each property must meet in pursuit of that goal. Federal transportation grants, properly utilizing the stormwater fee for real infrastructure improvements, and partnering with developers will be critical to achieving my goals.
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?
Young: I would have voted for it only if it included alternative remediation methods to be made available to those who do not possess, or are unable to acquire, unforested property sufficient to comply with the law. To do otherwise invites regulatory takings litigation.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: Forests are a critical part of any healthy city. We should model ourselves after other urban areas that integrate trees and forests into the cityscape. It is crucial for our planet and our children to protect forests. Annapolis can set a standard for developers that allow them to be proud of their contribution to the environmental health of our city. We must also balance No Net Loss with developers who are eager to comply with the law, and allowing their approved projects to proceed. The city can work with schools and individual citizens to find space for reforestation.
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?
Young: Additional stormwater management should be required for all new developments, or substantial renovations. They should be funded by the owner of the subject property.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: The stormwater fee was intended to manage polluted runoff, not to pay staff. Or support the general budget. We must protect and dedicate the money collected for stormwater management for infrastructure as the law intended. Annapolis has not begun a real, robust retrofitting of our stormwater drains. The income from the fee should be used for this purpose.
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?
Young: I have no problem stating my support for reduction of carbon emissions generally. However, much of the Paris Climate Agreement has nothing to do with the City, and to state that we are going to “enforce it” is different from stating that we support it. Many politicians have stated that they would like for Annapolis to state an intention to enforce or uphold the agreement, which is meaningless rhetoric. We should spend our time actually addressing local issues within our power.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: I was the first mayoral candidate to support the Paris climate agreement after the withdrawal. As a coastal city spending $10 million to develop a plan to deal with climate change, working to address the causes in our city is a no-brainer. We must be creative in combating climate change – encouraging public transportation, no net loss provisions – these are all important steps and we need to think big. The solar energy from the park could be used to make Annapolis more renewable and send a message that we care about setting an example.
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?
Young: I believe the present administration knew this density calculation was questionable, and did not backpedal until the community complained. If this was actually an error by planning and zoning, I would want to know why this error happened, and might impose discipline, up to and including replacement, upon those who made the error. However, the fact that an error happened does not entitle the developer to build its proposed development. They still must comply with the law. These developers had the benefit of good legal advice, and if they were not trying.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: The code is broken – it doesn’t matter what side of the fence you sit on, if you are a resident or developer you feel frustrated. When the rules are clear people will abide by them. Ambiguity and short term planning are recipes for trouble like we have in Eastport, when the city gets taken to court. We need a mayor involved in every step of the process and knowledgeable enough to anticipate the needs of residents to know where growth can survive and when it cannot, and to give developers realistic expectations for their proposals.
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?
Young: These are important programs and should be funded.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: We must work to keep our kids as kids for as long possible – after school programs are vital to keeping kids engaged in the community and building skills that lead to jobs, not to a lack of economic opportunity.
22. How do you think art in public places should be regulated and financed?
Young: There should be a volunteer panel of local artists who decide upon whose work to use, and a general budget for purchasing or commissioning suitable works.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: I think this is an issue people are pretty familiar with from me – but I believe we must balance our colonial legacy with our recent history and our present. Allowing the Historic Preservation Commission to determine what constitutes art is a dangerous precedent that I fought and still believe. Our historic district is critical to the scale and fabric of Annapolis that we all love, but I believe there is a balance between what we’ve done at Tsunami, and the rest of the district. We look to municipalities around the country that have expanded their art community through encouraging art-friendly growth.
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?
Young: I would support changing the wording to address the objections of those who resigned. I believe their complaint about the wording had substantial merit.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: [Buckley did not answer this question.]
24. Do you support the current Mayor-Council form of government or a Council - Manager form, and why?
Young: Ultimately, the Mayor should be a “councilperson at large” and a bulwark against cronyism and complacency. The elected status of the Mayor is important. I have never believed that professional bureaucrats are as responsive to the citizens as elected officials. Therefore I support the current form.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: No, the position of Mayor is critical to advocating for our residents as the only city-wide elected official. We need a full-time position to represent Annapolis’ interests to the county, state, and federal government and bring economic vitality back through Mayor-led business projects.
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?
Astle: Yes, their meetings are generally open to the public and televised. Those concerned with more detail should attend or watch.
Buckley: Yes, if the level of detail is not sufficient then the code can be changed.
26. Would it be useful if the Mayor were to attend at least one board or commission hearing per month?
Astle: Yes, it is an extremely sad statement about the current administration that this question needs to be asked.
Buckley: The Mayor should be very familiar with their boards. We have a situation where we cannot get volunteers on boards, and the Mayor’s presence would signal their worth and encourage more people to sign up. Anything we can do to encourage citizen participation because many of our board positions have not yet been filled.
27. Should annual reports for each board and commission be posted on the city website?
Astle: Yes, this is form of transparency that should be promoted in any public administration.
Buckley: Yes, transparency is an important goal and we should work toward that in all areas.
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?
Young: I would work hard to identify and appoint people from diverse backgrounds. I would focus on hiring, recruiting, and promoting locally. I believe the fascination with outside “talent”, such as the importation of Chief Pristoop from Baltimore and the importation of Mr. Gutwald from Harford County, were net negatives for the City. We have talented local people from diverse backgrounds.
Astle: 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.
Buckley: We should hire department heads and recruit board members that reflect the community they serve. We cannot determine balanced outcomes without a variety of experiences and backgrounds.