Action Annapolis Questionnaire
Ross Arnett (D) | Ward 8
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?My three priority areas are: public safety, the natural and built environment, and the fiscal health of the City. As Alderman for the last 10 years, I have had success in all three areas. I was instrumental in the recent move to community policing by the Police Department and was a member of the Mayor’s joint City/HACA effort to improve conditions in public housing. I was a sponsor and mover of the passage of the City’s Forest Conservation Act and our Watershed Improvement Plan, and I have been working on reforms to the City zoning code. I am known as the City budget hawk and have helped engineer many advancements in our city fiscal management policies. I believe my strengths that are applicable to the alderman job are: my background as a professional economist which has enabled me to develop a deep understanding of the City’s fiscal situation; my habit of doing thorough wonkish research on issues of concern to ward 8 and the City, my history of creative problem-solving, and my inclusive and regular communication and interaction with my constituents.
2. Do you support strengthening the role of the City Manager? Why or why not?
I do believe in strengthening the role of the City Manager. Elected officials do not usually come with good management skills, let alone the specific skills need to manage a public service, multiproduct municipal entity such as the City. At a minimum, I would make the City Manager the Chief Executive Officer empowered to make all day to day business decisions.
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?
First, I challenge the notion that businesses don’t thrive in Annapolis. While there is turnover downtown, spaces fill quickly and our vacancy rate is actually quite low. That said, we can and must do more to help business, especially with downtown parking. While it will be disruptive in the short-run, we need a new and bigger Hillman Garage, better wayfinding for parking and more satellite parking with circulator service to and from that parking.
4. How would you focus specifically on businesses owned by African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities?
I supported the Hispanic liaison position for the City, and happily that person is a successful business woman in the community. I also supported, in this year’s budget, the retention and funding for the small, women and minority business position within the Department of Planning and Zoning. I have worked to strengthen the City’s relationship with the Annapolis Anne Arundel Chamber of Commerce.
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 historic nature of the Market House must be protected, but I do not support the City running the businesses there. Private entrepreneurs are in the best position to be responsive to the market demand for market services within a scope of operations clearly set forth by the City.
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?
We need to recognize that public housing is part of the Annapolis community, not a federal enclave; we must continue to improve the mix of housing professionals and residents on the HACA Board;
We need to advance the joint effort between the City and the Authority to improve security in and around the housing property via community policing, camera surveillance, and information sharing;
We need to support redevelopment of the properties to improve living conditions and foster neighborhood pride.
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?
With the reductions in federal funding, public private partnerships are the only recourse for redevelopment. The City must help with incentives to encourage these efforts. A climate of cooperation and coordination between the City and Authority will encourage redevelopment.
8. Some of the housing has been redeveloped through public-private partnerships. Is this a good model, and why or why not?
The model was good, but the sharing relationship was flawed. For the two redevelopments, the developer got 51% of the control, essentially all of the control. The County has redeveloped a lot of its properties, but has retained a controlling share. This greatly reduced anxiety on the part of the residents, who fear losing housing to profit motivation.
9. What is your position on privatizing of any of the city’s assets, e.g., recreational facilities, Market House, services?
There are actually two choices here: privatization or shifting to other governmental jurisdictions. I favor neither. There is no evidence that, for example, the County can run City services more efficiently, and in any event, this merely shifts the taxing or fees from the City to the County with no real advantage to residents and a real loss of control over service delivery. As for privatization, there is still a degree of loss of control – it’s hard to fire and replace a vendor, and whatever efficiencies the private sector has, they must first overcome their need to turn a profit. With recreation specifically, the City has made a huge investment in capital building projects, well beyond what the private sector could or would pay.
10. What will be your approach to reduce and prevent crime?
Safety is the number one issue for constituents, without it the amenities the City has to offer can’t be enjoyed. So several enhancements need to be added to the reactive aspect of policing. We need to continue to increase the technology available for our officers, such as cameras, both body and stationary; we need staff to monitor real time camera output; and computer analytics to aid in detection and case solving. We are currently embarked on expanded community policing – a model that has been proven effective in many jurisdictions. On a more global level, improved education, jobs and counseling have proven to prevent crime. However, these require interaction and cooperation with higher levels of government, educational institutions and foundations.
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?
Current revenue potential does not cover the growth in public safety without new revenue sources, tax increases, or reductions of services provided elsewhere in the budget. This issue is not limited to public safety, as will be discussed below. Ultimately, elected officials will need to bring these choices to the voters we represent. My constituents seem to favor safety, clean water and removal of sewage above all other services. The views on increased taxes and fees vary from resignation to outright opposition. The latter leaves no choice but for reductions in services outside the big three services.
Budget and Taxes
12. How will you propose financing general budget needs?
I have long advocated for new revenue sources from the state, either a share of the sales taxes generated within the City or a fuller sharing of the personal income taxes collected from City residents. The City must rely on the good will of state level officials and that has yet to materialize. Failing new sources of revenue, to balance its budget, the City must either increase taxes and fees, or reduce spending. Reducing expenditures can come from new efficiencies in operations or from reductions in the level of services provided. Increases in productivity (efficiency) most often are due to switching from human capital to technologies such as robots or computers. Approximately 80% of City costs are in the form of personnel compensation, another 10% in personnel support services, light, heating and cooling, supplies, computers and their support, etc. So reduction in services means largely reductions in staff. Here things get sticky and 60% of the City staff are needed to provide public safety and public works. Public administration – finance, personnel, planning and inspections, are another 15%, leaving only transportation and parks and recreation, services that have strong support in the community. It takes five votes on the City Council to pass any of the changes suggested above, and five votes for such tough decisions usually only occur in a crisis.
13. What is your position on the current mayor’s proposed tax cut of $330,000?
I oppose this tax rate rollback. The Mayor’s Budget proposed a mere $10,000 fund balance contribution, an infinitesimal percent of the total general fund revenue. Meanwhile, the City has been eating into its fund balances to hire new police officers and to pay for routine annual capital expenses, using one-time money to pay for ongoing expenses. Even in a perfect world if the budget comes true, the $330,000 will be needed to replenish fund balance.
14. Please rank the following for budget priorities, from highest to lowest priority: Arts, Community Parks and Recreation, Education, Infrastructure, Transparency, Transportation
First of all, transparency is not a budget item and education is not part of the City budget. Of the remainder, I would rank infrastructure, transportation, parks and recreation and art in that order, with the understanding that there are strong and quite different constituencies for each of these categories.
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 am on the City Council and did vote in favor of the Ordinance to reaffirm the City’s requirement to protect all residents. Our City Charter and Code has always required this equal protection, but a restatement of support seems necessary in this time of turmoil and uncertainty.
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?
I have expanded my stance on the environment to include the natural and the built environments. On the natural environment I was a sponsor of the Forest Conservation Act and No Net Loss (of trees) regulations for the City and a sponsor of the City’s Watershed Improvement Plan (WIP). I also pushed through increased funding for these programs.
On the built environment I am very concerned about the City’s processes for planning and permitting land use projects. The City is a very desirable target for new investment and we must have transparent planning that includes residents at the very start of project development. Further we must have a process to anticipate and prioritize development and most particularly redevelopment. The cost of these priorities is in new staff and contract support dollars. Relative to other City programs the investment is relatively small, less than $250,000 per annum, but my proposals for these dollars failed to make the final budget cuts this year, one of the reasons I voted against passage of the FY18 budget.
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 was a sponsor of this legislation and voted in the majority for its passage. The City has a goal of 50% tree canopy by 2020. By my calculations we can never reach that goal without No-Net-Loss I believe that trees are an essential part of environmental health.
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?
Again, I was a sponsor of the City’s Watershed Improvement Plan and I moved a budget amendment to increase the quarterly stormwater management fee (now called restoration fee). This year’s budget action is only a partial step towards sufficient funding for storm water management so more work needs to be accomplished.
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?
Thankfully the number of Mayors supporting the Agreement has grown to over 350, and yes, I support and urge this City’s Mayor to join his colleagues across the country.
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?
I am working with the Concerned Citizens Group in Ward 8 to achieve a clear and correct interpretation of the relevant Land Use Code (Title 21.24). I have made numerous presentations to Planning and Zoning and plan to continue that activity to resolution. Assuring adherence to the City Code is one of the duties of the Mayor and council members. These activities should be separate from, and neutral to, a position on the merits of the redevelopment project. Meanwhile, many constituents support some or all of the aspects of the redevelopment proposal and their interest will be heard once the project gets before the Planning Commission.
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?
From the Council Finance Committee, I moved to add funds to support this program and those dollars made the final budget. But more needs to be done by asking the county Parks and Rec Department to roll back the new fees on parents and guardians.
22. How do you think art in public places should be regulated and financed? . Two separate but important questions. Art in public places is already regulated by the Arts In Public Places Commission (AIPPC), although the primary work of that group is to get art placed in public places. As to murals on historic buildings, the court has ruled that the City’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) has some powers in this area within the historic district. More work needs to be done to sort out first amendment rights and City regulatory powers and to make clear purview between AIPPC and HPC. In the recent tight budget times, funding for AIPPC has been low, even though there is evidence that art hs positive impacts on the quality of life and economic vitality of a city.
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?
The City ethics rules are given to us from the state and are adjudicated by the City’s Ethics Commission. I find the rules and the Commission to be working as intended and see no compelling reason for change at this point.
24. Do you support the current Mayor-Council form of government or a Council - Manager form, and why?
I find the current form of City governance to be a two-headed monster where it is often unclear who is in charge, the Mayor or the City Manager. I have long supported a move to a true Council – Manager form of government or to an Executive – Legislative form like the County. In our current hybrid system, the City Council has very limited powers, even at budget time. Some mayoral candidates are promising a more full partnership with the Council.
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?
This is an obvious short-coming for the City at this point. For the department head selection, the Council should be involved much earlier in the selection process, rather than be handed a take-it-or-leave-it choice for approval, as is the current situation. Seventy-three individuals were evaluated for the replacement Chief of Police. The Council only got the finalist to accept or reject. Even if all of the Council were not involved, there is ample opportunity to have a diverse subcommittee of Council members involved at the beginning of the process.
Selection of Board and Commission members is more problematic as there are always more vacancies than volunteers. Still as some nominations do come from Council members, more care should be taken to attain more diversity. Board and Commission members are appointed by the Mayor.