Action Annapolis Questionnaire
Ward 4 | Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson (D) and Challenger Toni Pratt (D)
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/Mayor)?
Sheila Finlayson: My primary goal is to make Annapolis one city where there is room for all people, regardless of socio economics. This includes, in no specific order:
job opportunities for women, and not just in subordinate positions
diversity so that our staff looks like the community we serve
opportunities for housing for our teachers, police officer, firefighter, nurses and other public servants (work force housing)
addressing the need for youth oriented activities that will direct our young people to do things that keep them moving in a positive direction, including jobs and recreational activities
expanding transportation to connect our residents to job opportunities
supporting redevelopment and or renovation of public housing
Toni Pratt: Toni Pratt a lifelong Annapolitan is committed to working for all people in her ward. As a fighter overcoming many adversities; her priorities are improving jobs, housing, and crime. Her involvement in grassroots issues has prepared her for this office.
2. Do you support strengthening the role of the City Manager? Why or why not?
Finlayson: Yes, I do. Originally, I opposed decreasing the role of the mayor because our model seemed to work in the past. Not so much today. Our world and our City has changed and there is a need for more professional management. Mayors come and go every four or eight years. We cannot count on the experience the person has or doesn't have. It shouldn't be on the job training every election cycle. Having a professional City manager not only makes our operation professional but there is continuity, regardless of the person who is elected.
Pratt: I do not support strengthening because the power of authority would equal and possibly be above the supervisor, the Mayor.
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?
Finlayson: First of all, I think we must appeal to the owners of the historical buildings to work with us to get and keep quality businesses in their buildings. I understand the rents are through the roof and the owners don't seem to mind having vacant store fronts. There needs to be an understanding that keeping businesses in these store fronts benefits everyone. I think working together, we can come up with some benefits to the owners and businesses that will accommodate their needs.
Pratt: The majority of businesses are geared to tourists; more attention needs to address attracting businesses that are more for the locals and all income levels.
4. How would you focus specifically on businesses owned by African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities?
Finlayson: I don't believe we give adequate support for our minority businesses. We show up for the ribbon cuttings and, short of a periodic phone call, they don't hear from us again. I believe our staff should focus not only on opening businesses but also on making sure those businesses thrive. Many of the businesses are start ups and they need a different kind of hand holding that an experience entrepreneur has. We should be there to hold all of their hands and be ready to give them whatever assistance they need.
Pratt: Similar to the federal 8A program, qualified minority businesses should be able to participate in a set aside program. A serious minority business development program should be implemented.
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?
Finlayson: Without predicting how I will respond to the current process we are in, considering four options for the Market House, I think we need to hear more from all segments of our community. The public hearing we held last week was very helpful. While we heard from one segment of the community, I would have liked to hear from all segments of our community. As a native Annapolitan, I grew up with the old Market House. I remember very well the oysters and fried chicken. That was also a time when our City Dock was a working man's harbor with a working class community surrounding it. That has drastically changed. Oyster boats and crabbing boats don't dare come into ego alley. The smell of frying chicken would be the source of constant complaints. So, nostalgia is great but can we or should we go back to the "good old days?" I think we must change for the times and we do that by finding out what those who use the market will support. We, the City, need to get our hands around what the community wants and will support.
Pratt: The cost of operating a business in the Market house is what has made it unstable. A tax credit system should be offered to locals who desire to do business there. The locals made the Market authentic for all my years.
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?
Finlayson: I would gather all of the residents in each community and have a open dialogue about crime in the community. That discussion would include recognition of the fact that some residents and/or their family and friends are known to the bad guys. I would empower them to commitment to cleaning up their community and not allowing those who are destroying it back in.
I would require that everyone do their community service and make that community service part of a beautification project.
I would actively seek a partnership and/or funding to renovate the housing units.
I would require that needed maintenance be completed in a timely and accommodating way.
Compile a community group who are dedicated to the wellbeing of others.
With the aid of residents develop a community program for success and have a name the program contest...
Community group be consistent and visible.
Identify resident-leaders involve them in personal development as an example.
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?
Finlayson: We would actively search for partners who will share in the cost of renovating/redeveloping the communities. I would however not agree to partnerships that give the majority of control to an outside entity.
Pratt: Currently there are developments that need renovation. Funding could be sought via private investors (non-real estate) who have a heart for helping the disenfranchised.
8. Some of the housing has been redeveloped through public-private partnerships. Is this a good model, and why or why not?
Finlayson: I think it will be necessary to take on partners in order to raise the necessary funds to renovate our public housing. The difference is, I would not agree to a 51-49% split with the outside entity taking the 51%. That model puts our public housing stock at risk in future years.
Pratt: I feel it’s a good model but am concerned that financial investment in the developments should not be the number one goal.
9. What is your position on privatizing of any of the city’s assets, e.g., recreational facilities, Market House, services?
Finlayson: I would not agree to privatization of our recreational facilities. As for the Market House, we have tried many different approaches to handling the management of the Market House and nothing has been successful. While I oppose privatization, we must face the fact that we do not have the skills necessary to make a successful market house. It may be time to get outside professional help and let them do what they do best.
Pratt: I believe that a very careful and thorough investigation and analysis should be performed to ascertain the financial gain of the city as to whether privatization would be viable.
10. What will be your approach to reduce and prevent crime?
Finlayson: The answer to this question is complicated and multifaceted and cannot be answered in a couple of sentences, but I will try. I have proposed a community policing model which others have now embraced. Growing up in Annapolis, police walked the beat. Everyone knew them and they knew everyone. They knew who belonged in the community and who didn't. The police were recognized as "your friend." We need to hire more officers so that we can go back to those days when the police were there to help and protect.
Two years ago, I proposed a new program called Light Up the City for Safety. That program asked residents to simply turn on their outside lights from dusk until dawn thus lighting areas that would normally be dark and foreboding. We know that more crime happens under the cover of darkness. If everyone were to turn on their outside lights, those committing the crimes would have to go elsewhere or at least think twice because someone might see them.
Just a couple of examples!
Pratt: Provide programs that address those who commit the majority of crimes before they become criminals.
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?
Finlayson: This year the cost of the new officers will be paid for with last year's surplus. In the out years, we must cover the cost within the general fund. Over time, the costs may be offset through attrition. If crime is under control, we may not need to replace officers who retire or leave for other reasons.
Pratt: Seek more federal grant programs and charitable foundations.
Budget and Taxes
12. How will you propose financing general budget needs?
Finlayson: There are three ways to generate funds: raise taxes, cut services or obtain grants. Grants are short term and dry up after a while. The last time we did a community survey, in an attempt to prioritize what services the community wants, we learned that the community is willing to pay for certain services, public safety, refuse, recreation. They really don't want anything cut.
Pratt: The question is vague but the current compilation of local, state, federal government funds would continue to be my proposed system.
13. What is your position on the current mayor’s proposed tax cut of $330,000?
Finlayson: The mayor's tax cut is a political ploy. The cuts still had to be covered in order to balance the budget, which is required by law. We would have had to take money from the rainy day fund (surplus) to cover the cost of the tax cut. Reducing our surplus put the City at risk of not being able to cover our expenses if times were to get tough again. In the past, we had to take out short term loans to cover our payroll. We don't want to be in that position again.
Pratt: With what appears to be future financial needs of the city, I do not understand the proposed tax cuts.
14. Please rank the following for budget priorities, from highest to lowest priority: Arts, Community parks and recreation, Education, Infrastructure, Transparency, Transportation
▪ Infrastructure -1
▪ Community parks and recreation-4
▪ Education- not a City budget item
To me, transparency should not be in this list. We should be transparent in everything we do and there is very little, if any, budget costs to be transparent.
§5 Community parks and 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?
Finlayson: I was one of the sponsors on this legislation.
Pratt: I would have voted in favor because I know what it is to be discriminated against.
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?
Finlayson: I currently serve on LGAC, the Local Government Advisor Committee, made up of elected officials from all of the headwater states. Our committee advises the governors and the Mayor of D.C. on Chesapeake Bay cleanup needs and best practices. We have an opportunity to visit some of the best practices around the watershed so there is end to options for initiatives. (See answer to question 18)
The City has a stormwater fee which we have had for many years. We were one of the first jurisdictions to establish a fee dedicated to stormwater management. Our current fee is not enough to maintain the cleanup that is required by 2025. This year we increased the fee by 25%. There was a proposal to increase the fee by 100% in order to come closer to the real cost.
Pratt: Excessive building especially housing developments, insufficient traffic planning and infrastructure of the downtown area. Each requires a review of current policies and revisions or new planning. I recommend a moratorium on housing development over the next four years.
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?
Finlayson: I was a co-sponsor on this legislation.
Pratt: In favor because replacing the trees are critical to saving the land in that area. Trees provide nutrients for the land and residents.
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?
Finlayson: I would do more to encourage the use of pervious surfaces on public and private properties. We have many stream restoration projects going on concurrently. I would develop programs that would education the next generations on how to sustain current initiatives and create new one.
Pratt: I believe that what is being undertaking us a robust plan to address the issue.
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?
Finlayson: Absolutely! I am a sponsor of our pending legislation.
Pratt: I would but I am running for Alderwoman.
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?
Finlayson: First of all, I believe our Planning Department needs to review the Code and get rid of the contradictions. The Code needs to be user friendly and consistent. There should not be staff discretion, as a rule. The community needs to feel there is fairness and a trust that the Code is being accurately and fairly imposed.
Pratt: A thorough non-political review needs to be conducted of the department that is responsible for zoning codes and the possibility of a separate legal entity to takeover conflicts.
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?
Finlayson: This program is important to the community. There needs to be some analysis of the cost between what the parents pay and what must be covered by the City. Last year the program was canceled because there were not enough kids signed up by the due date. Planning is necessary to hire teachers, arrange meals and the curriculum that supports the program. When the program was canceled, the parents came forward and wanted to sign up but there was not adequate time to put things in place. Hopefully, sign ups will take place in a timely fashion in the future.
Pratt: There should be a partnership that includes Rec and Parks participant paying on a sliding fee scale and the City matching funds. Grant funds should be further explored. Parents and family members should be required to participate in fundraising.
22. How do you think art in public places should be regulated and financed.
Finlayson: Public art is in important extension of our lives. The Code speaks to funding Art in Public Places by a certain percentage of the budget. I think the Council should fund art to the highest extent possible.
Pratt: It should be handled by a board primarily volunteers; limited paid staff would reduce financial burden. The Arts currently have the largest nonprofit donating base and they should be tapped.
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?
Finlayson: Our Ethics Commission works within the confines of State law. If changes are needed, and there have been changes made in the past, I trust the Commission and our law department will bring these changes to the Council.
Pratt: I agree with the language of the Ordinance as is.
24. Do you support the current Mayor-Council form of government or a Council -Manager form, and why?
Finlayson: (My answer, in part, are the same as for question #2.)
Originally, I opposed decreasing the role of the mayor because our model seemed to work in the past. Not so much today. I have seen mayors who come in with no experience and no real interest in learning and leading. It's about the pomp and circumstance. Our world and our City has changed and there is a need for more professional management. Mayors come and go every four or eight years. We cannot count on the experience the person has or doesn't have. It shouldn't be on the job training every election cycle.
Our City Council sponsors most of the significant legislation and is more engaged in the operations of our City.
Having a professional City manager not only makes our operation professional but there is continuity, regardless of the person who is elected. I think Council-Manager is now a more professional and productive model for our City. (There, I've said it! 😊)
Pratt: I support the Mayor-Council form because it directly involves the people who vote for these offices which is the foundation of our democracy. Currently I believe that the City Manager is a hired position.
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 ________ No __________
It really depends. If we are talking about legislation to which they are responding, we may need more information and greater clarity about their decisions. Transparency!
Yes ____X____ No __________
26. Would it be useful if the Mayor were to attend at least one board or commission hearing per month?
Yes X, absolutely! No __________
Yes ____X____ No __________
27. Should annual reports for each board and commission be posted on the city website?
Yes X, I believer they are already posted. No __________
Actually, a few years ago, we began requiring that the annual reports go to the appropriate standing committees to assure that reports are read by the Council.
Yes ___X_____ No __________
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?
Finlayson: I have raised the issue many times about the fact that there are no women in leadership positions in City government. The two departments, for which there were female directors, were moved under other departments and the women became subordinates. They call them managers but they are subordinate to the male directors. The mayor touts the Harbor Master who is a woman but she is subordinate to the male Director of Parks and Rec. He doesn't get it!
The mayor doesn't see the value of a woman's voice. The committee formed to cull through the applications for the police chief had no women. When the newspaper raised the issue, he put a subordinate on the committee but he had to be embarrassed into doing that. By the way, the committee for formed in the first place because I questioned what process would be used.
I will continue to propose the names of women to serve on our boards and commissions. Unfortunately, the leadership does not make appointments in a timely fashion nor appreciate recommendations.
I will also continue to seek out residents to serve.
Pratt: I would make a concerted effort to regularly publicize and engage woman and minority groups about the desire to include woman in our political entities.