Action Annapolis Questionnaire
Ward 5 | Candidates James Appel (R) and Marc Rodriguez (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?
James Appel (R):
1. I would like to see traffic issues reduced which will allow more people to move through our City which will in turn increase revenue.
2. I would like to bring efficiency to City Government. Entitlements for City employees should be converted into incentives. Reward those that improve the City’s bottom line.
3. Public safety is a big concern. I applaud the Mayor for his appointment of Major Baker and increasing the police force with more officers. That needs to continue. And as mentioned earlier, building the bonds between the police and communities will make Annapolis a safer place to live.
4. Taxes – City taxes are high. While I do not see an immediate reduction in taxes, as we increase revenue we will be able to lower the tax rate, which will hold out of pocket costs to our citizens more constant. We need to use our current resources more wisely, which I know I can do if elected to the City Council.
I bring small private sector business experience along with State and Federal agency experience and that will afford me to being a wealth of knowledge to the council. I have saved millions of dollars to each program I have run and can do the same for the City.
Rodriguez: Everyone in our City should live in safe neighborhoods. Everyone in our City should have access to a clean and green environment. And everyone in our community should have the opportunity to receive a quality education so they have the chance to reach their full potential. My campaign priorities are: increase government transparency and fiscal responsability, make our city safer, protect our enviornment, and improve quality of life. That’s why I want to use my experience in government, business and in the community to make sure everyone in our City has the opportunity to thrive.
2. Do you support strengthening the role of the City Manager? Why or why not?
Appel: Yes, a strong business oriented individual can take the politics out of the position and run the city like a business. They can also be held accountable.
Rodriguez: The role of the City Manager is very important. I support a full time, highly qualified professional City Manager who will make sure that the City operates day to day in the most efficient way possible so that residents receive the quality of services they deserve.
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?
Appel: Annapolis is in a prime location, located centrally on the East coast. It has history, charm and a variety of attractions; such as the oldest continuously operated state house and the US Naval Academy. It is also the sailing capital of the world. We need to expand on each of these attributes.
Rodriguez: Locally owned small businesses are the economic and cultural engine of Annapolis. The City needs to better support businesses in the City by streamlining the permitting process and proactively reach out to and attract businesses that will add vibrancy to Annapolis. The City’s economic development office needs to be a better strategic partner to local business organizations such as SOFO (the South Forest Drive Business Association), the Downtown Annapolis Partnership, and others.
4. How would you focus specifically on businesses owned by African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities?
Appel: I would advocate equal and fair opportunities for everyone regardless of ethnicity. Fair competition brings the best products and value to our citizens and tourists.
Rodriguez: The City’s business community should be reflective of the City’s culture. Annapolis needs a highly qualified and culturally competent minority business liaison that can be proactive about supporting women, veteran, Hispanic, and African American owned businesses and help guide them from the beginning. An example of this outreach is the recent “How to start a business” seminar I helped organize along with the County and the City’s Economic Development office focused on Hispanic entrepreneurs.
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?
Appel: The current process to receive submissions and award a 10-year lease with an option for an additional 10 years will bring stability to this Annapolis icon. The proposals need to be evaluated carefully and ensure a viable business model is presented. My business experience would help in that decision.
Rodriguez: The Market House is an Annapolis community jewel. The Market House hasn’t been profitable for the last several years - this has been masked by moving the administrative expenses and debt service costs from the Market Fund to the General Fund. The City needs a robust and transparent community input process on the Market Houses’s future. We should also look to successful models of market houses around the country, a few nearby right in Baltimore, to learn from and adapt to our local Annapolis culture.
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?
Appel: Police involvement with the community. Too often the police are shunned from neighborhoods rather than welcomed. A cooperative relationship between the police and the public housing would greatly improve the quality of life in these neighborhoods. I would also review the amount of public housing that is offered, versus state and federal grants available, and ensure adequate conditions exist given the budget constraints. Quality not quantity would be the goal here.
Rodriguez: Everyone in our City deserves to live in safe neighborhoods, have access to a clean and green environment, and have the opportunity to receive a quality education so they have the chance to reach their full potential. The City needs to have a real community policing program, properly supported and accesible community and recreational centers, stronger partnerships with non-profit organizations providing educational and athletic programs, and better modes of transportation for the community.
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?
Appel: Private – public partnerships. We need our business community to invest more in our community. The more businesses invest, the greater their revenue will be creating an upward spiral for the city.
Rodriguez: The City needs to better partner with the HACA board to make sure the available federal funds are optimized and used appropriately. The City needs to be proactive about learning from other successful jurisdictions and assisting with grants and partnering with organizations that have successfully supported community-focused redevelopment for public housing.
8. Some of the housing has been redeveloped through public-private partnerships. Is this a good model, and why or why not?
Appel: Yes, it is working.
Rodriguez: The City needs to hear directly from the community it would impact. If it is done correctly and in the best interest of the residents, then it may be a good model. Continued access to affordable housing is essential.
9. What is your position on privatizing of any of the city’s assets, e.g., recreational facilities, Market House, services?
Appel: I would review all options for services offered by the city. If the quality of service versus cost can be done more efficiently than the city, I would favor privatization. Each endeavor would need to be reviewed on a case by case basis.
Rodriguez: Over the last few years the City has been in the habit of selling off its assets. I generally disagree with the privatization of City’s assets, especially when it comes to recreational facilities that contribute to the health and culture of Annapolis. Recreational facilities should remain accessible to every resident of Annapolis, regardless of income. I would be very concerned if the City were to sell recreational facilities to profit-motivated organizations.
10. What will be your approach to reduce and prevent crime?
Appel: I am not a policeman, nor do I have police experience. I would look to hire the best and let the experts do their job. I do not claim to be good at everything, and I know what I do not know.
Rodriguez: Public safety is the core function of government. No one should ever be a victim of a crime or be made to feel unsafe. That’s why as Alderman, I will work to: Give our police department the necessary resources they need in order to keep us safe; Encourage community policing and promote police hiring practices that reflect the communities they protect; Build better relationships between police and the community by providing incentives for officers to live in the community that they serve; and Prevent crime by partnering with local nonprofits and businesses to expand access to youth programs and recreational community centers.
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?
Appel: This is where I am an expert and can bring solutions. It is not a simple answer, but my experience will allow me to increase efficiencies and better use tax dollars.
Rodriguez: It is important to support the needs of the City’s police department, as public safety is a core responsibility of government. That said, we need to prioritize expenditures, live within our means, and think strategically about budget long-term.
Budget and Taxes
12. How will you propose financing general budget needs?
Appel: Again, through efficiencies. While at NOAA I took a 30M program that was losing 1.5M annually and broke even (the mandate by law) in the very first year and ran it at that level for the nine years I was there.
Rodriguez: The City is heavily dependent on property taxes. We need to work to diversify the City’s revenue streams and reduce our unsustainable debt burdens.
13. What is your position on the current mayor’s proposed tax cut of $330,000?
Appel: I am in favor of tax cuts, as long as the budget can sustain them.
Rodriguez: The Mayor’s proposed tax cut was withdrawn from the FY17 budget that recently passed. The loss in revenue would have come out of the City’s savings, so it wasn’t a responsible proposal in the first place. In future budgets, I hope to be a leader in strategically planning the City’s approach to responsibly paying down the City’s debts in order to lessen the burden of debt service on the General Fund and more responsibly plan for potential capital projects and tax cuts.
14. Please rank the following for budget priorities, from highest to lowest priority: Arts, Community Parks and Recreation, Education, Infrastructure, Transparency, Transportation
Appel: I do not agree with this list. I would list police, fire, infrastructure community and recreation and transportation as my top 5.
Rodriguez: All of the items listed are very important and need to be properly supported in a balanced way in order for our community to thrive.
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?
Appel: This was a very poorly written bill and did not bring any additional protection to our citizens. It was a political statement against the newly elected President and I feel it was an unfortunate that the citizens of Annapolis were used as pawns.
Rodriguez: I had the privilege of leading the efforts for O-1-17. I worked on the legislation, helped garner community and stakeholder support, and successfully lobbied the City Council so that in the end the legislation had 6 co-sponsors. Ultimately, the legislation will increase public safety for all Annapolitans by strengthening the relationship between our public safety officials and all residents of Annapolis.
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?
Appel: Enforcing the conservation act and increasing public awareness. Organizations like the South River Federation and Chesapeake Bay Federation have great, low, or no cost programs that make a tremendous impact on our environment. We need to continue to work with these organizations to improve the quality of our natural resources.
Rodriguez: Protecting the environment and our greatest natural resource – the Chesapeake Bay – is essential to preserving our quality of life for generations to come. That’s why I will fight to: Protect our forests by advancing policies like the Forest Conservation Act and the no net loss of forest policy; Protect the Bay and our rivers by improving stormwater management and creating a No Discharge Zone in Annapolis waters; and Promote the use of renewable energy by connecting residents and developers with the programs and resources they need.
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?
Appel: I would have voted for it. We need to ensure the natural filters of the runoff remain intact.
Rodriguez: I will support policies to increase the City’s tree canopy – one way that we can reduce the impacts of burning fossil fuels. The Forest Conservation Act and No Net Loss legislation, two pieces of legislation I had the honor of working to pass with Alderman Littmann, are critical policies for tree conservation and our quality of life that I will work to protect and strengthen. I will also continue to encourage smart growth and anti-sprawl initiatives for development.
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?
Appel: Yes, we do need to do more to control runoff. I would look to involve our citizens through awareness programs as well as businesses with incentives to clean up their surroundings.
Rodriguez: Based on a recent study, the City needs between $20 to $25 million for projects to mitigate stormwater runoff. There is currently no money to support these critical needs. There should be a responsible increase in stormwater fees to support this critical need and I will work to redirect the current use of the City’s stormwater fees away from being used mainly for employee salaries and to supporting project-based initiatives to mitigate stormwater runoff.
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?
Appel: I agree we, as a society, need to continue to improve our impacts on the environment, but it needs to be done at the local levels. I would not favor using Annapolis City resources anywhere other than Annapolis.
Rodriguez: Yes. I had the privilege of working with Alderman Littmann to introduce the current Resolution for the City to adhere to the Paris Climate Agreement. Rising sea levels and increased severe weather incidents threaten our historic City – we need a long-term and strategic approach to reversing this trend and strengthening our clean energy economy.
20. The Eastport development project involves conflicts in the interpretation of the zoning code. How would you resolve this and future conflicts so that the developer and the community can rely on consistency in the approval process?
Appel: I would look to review the zoning codes to help reduce these conflicts but, as with any development project, the impact on short and long term liabilities for the city must be included in all decisions.
Rodriguez: The City has not done enough to sufficiently address and manage growth. We are reactive rather than proactive when new development plans come forward. We need to be more aggressive in the planning stage and provide greater clarity in what is and is not permitted. As an example, the current Mayor has reduced staffing in the Planning Office so there is little time or expertise for core and comprehensive planning, instead the staff focuses the majority of their time on permitting. The City has a habit of bringing together stakeholders, drafting smaller plans and comprehensive plans, then leaving those plans on the shelf to collect dust. Increased community engagement from the beginning of the planning process, the Forest Drive/Eastport Sector Study, and throughout the drafting of the next Comprehensive Plan is critical.
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?
Appel: As with any program, all aspects of the program need to be reviewed and prioritized. Only then can educated decisions be made.
Rodriguez: Before and after-school programs are vital for the success of our community’s families. Well managed, properly supported, and accessible programs for our youth is the smartest investment we can make for our community. When every family does better, our community will thrive.
22. How do you think art in public places should be regulated and financed?
Appel: I feel the local business should provide a majority of the funding and it needs to be regulated through the historic district.
Rodriguez: The City has an Art in Public Places Commission that reviews public art concepts to ensure that they are of the quality and nature desired for prominent public locations. If the art is in the Historic District, then there needs to be close collaboration with the HPC to review and approve the proposed art. Opportunities for public participation should be included throughout the process. I would be open to discussing the recommendations from the Art in Public Places Commission for regulation and financing.
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?
Appel: If members disagree with statements, those concerns should be brought to the council and reviewed.
Rodriguez: Transparency for elected and appointed public officials is critical. Transparency creates accountability, and it makes for good governance to know where there may be potential conflicts of interests when decisions are being made in the public interest.
24. Do you support the current Mayor-Council form of government or a Council - Manager form, and why?
Appel: The mayor – council form of government is appropriate for Annapolis. The Mayor serves as the chairman of the board and the council are the members. The City manager is the Executive Director and responsible for daily activates and must be held accountable.
Rodriguez: The City of Annapolis has a unique model where we have a full-time mayor that is a member of the Council, and we also have a full-time city manager. In other jurisdictions, a full-time Mayor carries the day to day operational responsibilities of a City Manager. I would be open to discussing options that will improve the management of the City and minimize the burden on the tax payers.
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?
Appel: I feel quality of members is critical. We need to fill our boards and commissions with the highest qualified people. While diversifying the composition is important, it should not be the only criteria.
Rodriguez: Diversity of representation and input that reflects all Annapolitans doesn’t simply just happen. The City needs to have goals and objectives to meet gender and ethnic equity in its boards, commissions and department heads, while balancing qualifications and experience.