Action Annapolis Questionnaire
Ward 7 | Candidates Rob Savidge (D) and Alexus Viegas (D)
(Candidate David Frankel (R) 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 (Alderman/Mayor)?
Rob Savidge (D): The priorities of my campaign are to continue protecting the quality of life of our residents by standing up against out of control development in our City, giving Ward 7 a voice by holding town hall meetings and communicating regularly, and to improve Ward 7 by addressing mobility and increasing public art. The strengths I bring are that I am a scientist who also has an organizing background. I have proven my commitment to standing up for the Ward over the 16 years I’ve lived here, and I have shown that I can work with others to get things done. My past experience as a scientist will help me prepare this town for Climate Change, and my experience with local government will help to navigate the local bureaucracy to make change. Over the years, I have often worked with Councilmembers to help draft legislation and to help garner support for initiatives. I am quite familiar with how to work the system from both outside and in.
Alexus Viegas (D): I am running as Alderwoman because I want to make the government work for all Annapolitans. I am seeking to make quality of life, pro-environmental policies, safety, and community investment priorities for the City. I feel too often we treat these issues as mutually exclusive but the true challenge of a legislator is to make all issues a priority and to continually fight to give a voice to the voiceless.
I am a paralegal and legislative professional, hold a Master of Public Administration and Policy, and have also served as a board member for a non-profit, as a Commissioner for the Commission of Women, and as a board member for my local democratic club. I am deeply involved in the issues affecting our communities and have extensive knowledge of the law, writing legislation, best practices, project and program management, evidence based research, in addition to stakeholder outreach and coalition building.
I am a woman, a military wife, a mother, a legal professional, an advocate, a legislative specialist and a project manager - I believe that these skills and titles are strengths that will best serve the needs of the City over those of my opponents.
2. Do you support strengthening the role of the City Manager? Why or why not?
Savidge: No, I do not. While I can support and understand the role the City Manager plays by professionally managing the City (as a government professional myself), I value accountability and grassroots democracy more. And putting too much power in the hands of an unelected government official is dangerous in that regard, since any change would require a majority on the Council. I’ve seen City Managers run wild with their own personal agendas, to the detriment of our laws, the City, and the Mayor.
Viegas: Any efforts to strengthen the role of the City Manager should parallel efforts to move towards eliminating the Mayoral position. Most cities have a Manager-Council or Mayor-Council form of government and for cities of our size, more than three quarters have a City Manager and Council without a Mayor. The cost of having both is an added fiscal stress that is not necessary.
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?
Savidge: Businesses do need more support from the City. As someone who minored in Business Management, I understand the needs of that community. I think we should continue supporting green businesses with our Environmental Stewardship Program, which I helped develop. I also think we should explore assigning a staff person the duties of being an ombudsman to that community, to hear their voices and concerns. I feel there also needs to be more creative thinking and planning on what businesses come downtown. I don’t want to see downtown, and the locals, be overridden with chain stores. And utilizing the model from West Street, of businesses working together themselves, shows how such an effort can reinvigorate and re-invent portions of our City for the betterment of all. Finally, I think we should take steps to ensure the second floors of the buildings downtown can be occupied by residents, to help support our downtown economy and vitality.
Viegas: I have partnered with local organizations and Launch Annapolis to learn more about the challenges faced by businesses and have unequivocally pledged my support to initiatives and proposals such as a co-working space and an entrepreneurial incubator in the City of Annapolis. We can and will do more to ensure support for entrepreneurs and businesses in the City.
4. How would you focus specifically on businesses owned by African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities?
Savidge: I would continue to make sure that we have an ombudsman or liaison position that works with these communities. The City used to have a dedicated employee who worked on minority small businesses. Those are the types of businesses we want downtown and elsewhere, to give our City character and make it unique and local.
Viegas: Minorities are two to three times more likely to start a business than non-minorities and minority businesses hold a large share of all small businesses in the U.S. It is critical that we support our minority-owned businesses by ensuring access to resources and simplified processes. I would also support further initiatives to reach out to Hispanic business owners in the City as I have already met with some who have had issues due to not knowing the process to opening a business in the City due to a language barrier.
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?
Savidge: I support the initiatives to make the planning around the Market House more transparent (although an election year is a bad time to do so). The residents who use and live downtown deserve a strong say in this. That said, as someone who has been here a while and worked downtown, I’d like to see the Market House be more of a traditional farmers/seafood market, that also creates more usable space for outdoor dining, a place for music and entertainment, and expanded greenspace and trees. The structure is located there to serve as an actual market, yet it’s only being utilized as a food court. We have enough restaurants downtown and need to try some other creative ideas.
Viegas: The future of the Market House is already being decided by the current Administration and therefore I would likely not have much of an opportunity to affect current policies on the Market House, however, the Market House needs to be a centralized place that benefits and betters the lives of those living downtown as well as those visiting downtown. This area of downtown is severely in need of a fresh grocery option year round. A Market House that is exactly that, a market, will best serve the needs and economic engine of downtown. Residents should not have to shop at CVS for groceries nor wait until the summertime to have easier access to fresh produce.
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?
Savidge: First of all, we need to ensure residents are safe. Fortunately, APD has signed an MOU with HACA to police their properties. However, we need to make sure APD has what they need to do the job. And we also need to talk to HACA about doing their fair share. Many large housing complexes have their own private security. I think HACA should do the same with their properties. Second, we need to make sure the residents have a voice. I would push HACA to hold town hall meetings for their residents and take other steps, such a newspaper or newsletter, to improve their communication with residents. Third, we need to make sure the City has adequate staff and training to inspect the HACA properties and that City Staff are able to take the appropriate enforcement methods to give residents the same safety we expect on private properties. Our excellent inspectors must be able to do their jobs. Fourth, I would continue fighting for a strong Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit program to prevent developers from gaining variances to that program, explore setting up a community housing land trust that will create affordable first-time homes, and expand our partnership with Habitat for Humanity. This will ensure that those who live in public housing have a way out to home ownership but can continue living in our City.
1. Increase cultural compentency and sensitivity training for our police officers so they are best equipped to de-escalate situations and handle the specific needs of each of our communities.
2. Improve upon/cotinue community policing initiatives already being implemented (such as foot patrols, being present at all times, not simply when there is a negative reason)
3. Survey the communities to inquire about what they want/think should be improved upon in their neighborhood.
4. Create an official council of public housing residents to brainstorm and create a long-term vision and identifiable deliverables based on the feedback provided by the residents.
In order to address the concerns of the residents, we must first determine what their needs and wants are. We should make sure to not make assumptions about what our public housing residents need - the most important step to addressing the complex issues HACA properties face, is public engagement and input.
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?
Savidge: We need to look at new development projects to get them to help fund our public housing. If someone wants to build a large development with expensive homes, they should pay a fee that goes towards supporting HACA. They need to help us support those most in need in our City. We also should explore more partnerships with non-profits, such as Habitat for Humanity, and explore setting up a Community Housing Trust. Furthermore, HACA should look at restructuring to see if there are any savings they can realize internally, and to re-emphasize their core mission to meet the needs of the residents.
Viegas: The City can assist HACA in seeking and obtaining grant monies and by creating partnerships with non-profits. The City does not have the overall authority over the management of public housing properties, that is the responsibility of HACA. However, the City relationship to HACA indicates that there the city can also assist with additional funds should the budget allow.
8. Some of the housing has been redeveloped through public-private partnerships. Is this a good model, and why or why not?
Savidge: I am not fond of this approach for housing. While it does lead to renovated properties of excellent quality, it seems that in practice it has resulted in the needs of the residents falling by the wayside for the sake of more profit for the private developers. This has resulted in reduced recreational areas. I’m not entirely dismissing public-private partnerships, but they must be more of a partnership with the community and residents.
Viegas: When the City does not have the money, HACA does not have the money, and grant monies are not available, than I would support this model. In a situation such as this, the City cannot simply handle properties that fall under HUD whenever HUD fails to provide the proper oversight and funding necessary to maintain and upgrade the properties. But we must ensure that the maintenance and upgrades continue regardless and public-private partnerships are a positive possible solution as long as the partnerships do not decrease public housing availability, service level, quality, or safety.
9. What is your position on privatizing of any of the city’s assets, e.g., recreational facilities, Market House, services?
Savidge: I generally oppose privatization. I feel governments should rarely sell public assets because they are much more difficult to impossible to ever get back. Furthermore, and perhaps more significantly, privatization leads to less accountability to the public. At least with public resources, the public can always have a say through the democratic process. But once areas are privatized, we lose that control over our community resources.
Viegas: With regard to recreation, I do not and will not support privatization. Recreation is absolutely necessary to the success of our communities. Whether it is a homework help program, a sports league, or an inexpensive meeting space, recreation centers in particular are critical in bringing together the community and helping to fill the gaps between other programs and services. My opinions on other aspects of City services and programs are similar to my opinions of recreational privatization. The onus is on the government to address issues faced by citizens, to meet the needs of citizens, and to maintain certain. We cannot and should not shift the responsibility from government to private for-profit organizations. We must be held accountable to our citizens.
10. What will be your approach to reduce and prevent crime?
Savidge: Crime reduction and prevention does not begin with the arrests or the actual policing. It needs to begin with the kids and the community members. To that end, we must partner with local and regional employers to provide jobs and training. This includes green jobs with our watershed organizations and other businesses working on our stormwater management program, as well as the maritime industry off of Edgewood Road. Kids need to have access to recreational opportunities, which means keeping our facilities public. The City needs to lead by example and make sure our employees and contractors are being paid a living wage. And we need to ensure the police are accountable to the public by setting up a Citizen Advisory Board to improve police-community relations. Lastly, we need to go in the direction of more community policing and get the police out of their cars as much as possible. I am glad that the new police chief is going in this direction.
Viegas: Crime, particularly property crime, is on the rise in Annapolis. For many residents, addressing this issue is their top priority for 2018. In response, we often speak of community policing and increasing the police presence. However, I would propose that we stop thinking about reducing crime only in terms of police response. Too many of our citizens are stuck in a cycle of poverty; to address this cycle, we must ensure affordable recreation, access to affordable childcare, and connections to employment is available to those who need it.
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?
Savidge: We should not be relying on grant funds, which are not guaranteed in the future. We should only hire as many employees as we can afford out of our operating budget.
Viegas: Both the Fire and the Police Departments are inadequately staffed and need additional firefighters and officers immediately. I would support a reallocation in the budget to pay for the necessary additional officers with a goal of finding a long-term solution to staffing and funding issues. Above all else, our safety is paramount. I would propose instituting a fire tax and giving the power of budgeting to the Fire Department. This would provide our Fire Department with the funding it so deperatey needs and take the politics out of this aspect of public safety. I would also propose and support similar policies for the police department and will work to support grant application efforts by the Department for spending on new initiatives. And finally, but not least of all, I will work with state and county officials to ensure we are receiving our fair share to adequately cover the expenses and costs associated with being the Capitol and the County Chair. These factors increase our infrastructure and public safety system costs and we should be adequately compensated for the costs.
BUDGET AND TAXES
12. How will you propose financing general budget needs?
Savidge: Our general budget needs should be financed through our property tax revenue and any associated fees and utilities. The Capital Budget should be funded using bonds.
Viegas: The current budgetary items are funded through fees, surcharges, property taxes, state allocations, and other similar sources. I would not propose additional charges/fees on our taxpayers at this time. I will exhaust all efforts to: increase our payment in lieu of and allotment from the General Assembly, increase contributions from the County, seek grant money sources, and form nonprofit partnerships before I would propose that additional burdens fall directly on the taxpayers of our City. Our tourist economy coupled with our service as the Capitol entitles us to a greater return/share of tax dollars to support our comparatively larger economy.
13. What is your position on the current mayor’s proposed tax cut of $330,000?
Savidge: The Mayor should not be cutting taxes when we have record bond debt, and increasing pension debt, and numerous big-money projects we have to do in the imminent future. Such projects include the Hillman garage that is literally starting to fall down, adapting downtown to sea level rise and climate change, and paying for the $20 million worth of projects and program costs by 2025 associated with our stormwater program.
Viegas: Given some recent events in the city, our citizens will feel a slight decrease in their tax burdens already beginning next year. Therefore, I would not want to support decreasing tax revenues without a more extensive review of the possible effects and without a plan for addressing our serious debt issue in the City.
14. Please rank the following for budget priorities, from highest to lowest priority:
Community parks and recreation
3.Community parks & recreation
2. Community parks and recreation
Note: I find all of these priorities extremely important but have attempted to order them as best I could. However, I would like to ensure it is clear that, for me, these issues are not mutually exclusive and therefore should not necessarily injure the progress and political effort put forth on the other priorities.
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?
Savidge: As a resident, I showed up and testified in support. As an Alderperson, I would have voted in favor. We need to make sure that our residents, that all members of our community, feel welcome. That is the kind of City I want to build for my son, and all our children. And that relationship must be built on trust between all residents and the police and public officials.
Viegas: I would have voted for this Ordinance had I had the opportunity. I personally thanked the Aldermen and Alderwoman for their support of the Ordinance because I felt that this outcome was absolutely necessary to ensure our citizens feel safe in their own homes and don’t have a reason to fear coming forward to report crimes, report victimization, and otherwise seek assistance from the government. Further, it was an important step in ensuring our citizens are protected against profiling based on the color of their skin and this ordinance was passed in that vain and will hopefully prevent such profiling in the future.
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?
Savidge: I drafted the City’s Sustainable Annapolis Community Action Plan (sustainability plan and climate action plan) when I served as the Sustainability Coordinator for the City. If implemented fully, this could, and has, reduced costs for the City due to energy efficiency savings. And it would make us a clear leader in the State for environmental, economic, social, and climate sustainability. The first focus of my campaign is to address the threat overdevelopment poses to our environmental quality by pushing for down-zoning and a temporary moratorium on large-scale projects. Secondly, I’d like to focus on our stormwater issue. Our waterways need to be cleaned up so they are swimmable and fishable all year round. To accomplish this and meet our TMDL goals, we need to overhaul our stormwater fee, increase the amount of stormwater new development treats (or a fee they pay to allow City to treat more elsewhere), and retrofit older properties. Third, my campaign focuses on adapting to climate change. We need draft a strategic plan for how we will address this existential threat to our City.
Viegas: With regard to the environment, I intend to propose many initiatives from a city-wide composting program to a multi-organizational creek clean up program. The City has initiated study after study and created the comprehensive plan but often these commissioned and costly studies have produced results that are not followed-through on. I will work to put in place policies that require us to follow through on these costly evaluations and studies - if we are going to commission and pay for these steps, we should adopt and put their reports into action. Further, we should parallel programs and projects with a coordinated and extensive public outreach program which informs and engages the community which promotes buy-in or investment from community members on proposed projects and policy actions.
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?
Savidge: I assisted in drafting this ordinance, although it was weakened by the time the vote came around. I would have still voted in favor of it, but I would have fought harder against the amendments that kept in the reforestation credit that allows developers to avoid a small portion of the reforestation. As an organizer, I helped marshal the environmental community to support this ordinance and fight against any bad amendments.
Viegas: I would have unequivocally supported this ordinance and would be working to continue the progress on this issue by ensure all trees are within the city, the same watershed, and provide for oversight mechanisms to ensure replacement trees actually survive and thrive.
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?
Savidge: Yes. We need to enact an impact fee on new development to help us pay for our infrastructure costs. And our stormwater code needs to be fully utilized and updated to ensure that new development treats more than the minimum required. There should also be an associated fee developers can pay into beyond their current base 100% treatment requirement, so that the City can use that money to retrofit properties where it’s needed most. There are a number of grandfathered, older properties that have zero stormwater management. A restructured stormwater fee will ensure we raise more funds, ensure that it’s more equitable for residents, and ensure it incentivizes retrofitting and new capacity.
Viegas: They are absolutely required. We have a WIP and requirements which must be met by 2025 for our MS4 permit under the EPA Clean Water Act. This is unavoidable and will cost us possibly more than $20 million to implement and maintain. We hired a firm to identify opportunity areas for the reduction requirements and the challenge for the incoming administration will be to figure out how we will pay for these necessary projects. The final solution will likely consist of a mixture of city tax revenue, assistance from the other levels of government, grant money, and debt in conjunction with local partnerships with groups such as the Back Creek Conservancy and Spa Creek Conservancy. However, I vow to make it a priority to find a solution that least affects the taxpayers directly through increasing taxes and fees. While this will be necessary potentially to some extent, we must have the will to seek creative and effective solutions.
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?
Savidge: Yes. I helped Alderman Littman draft the City’s resolution in support of the Paris Agreement. I drafted the City’s Climate Action Plan and started the ball rolling on our efforts to address climate change. The US Naval Academy predicts, at minimum, the most likey amount of sea level rise we will experience is 3 feet by 2100, with it potentially being more than 6 feet. We need to prepare for that, and we cannot allow backwards federal policies get in the way of that. We need to use it as an opportunity to reinvigorate and re-energize our response to climate change.
Viegas: Yes, I supported the Paris Climate Agreement Resolution recently put forward by our incumbent aldermen. I would absolutely support a 21st century clean energy economy and the initiatives and policies to ensure we are doing our part to push forward this important issue.
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?
Savidge: Code that is not clear should be interpreted to be in favor of the comprehensive plan and the public, and not towards the developer, unless that specifically helps further the goals of the Comprehensive plan. Bottom line, we need to adhere to our laws, no matter how far “down the pipeline” a development or applicant may be. Our laws may need to be reworded in certain areas to be clearer, and they certainly need to be updated to ensure compliance with our comprehensive plan, which is the peoples’ document.
Viegas: This project has been sent back to the drawing board. I will be adjusting my position on resolution of this particular case as the project develops further. To resolve issues like this in the future, upon entering office I would make it an immediate priority to begin taking steps towards commissioning a planning and zoning comprehensive review. Upon completion, I would take leadership on ensuring clarified policies and procedures for planning and zoning.
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?
Savidge: I support increased funding for these programs, and support paying associated staff a living wage. A number of parents from our public housing communities rely on these services because they can’t afford daycare. We need to stand by those in our community who need the most support.
Viegas: The Department of Parks and Recreation provides an invaluable service for youth by way of their operation of the before and after-school care programs. I would support additional funding to make these options more affordable and available to lower-income residents who need access to these programs the most.
22. How do you think art in public places should be regulated and financed.
Savidge: The Art in Public Places Commission needs to be funded so they can coordinate efforts in the City and coordinate events all across the City, but especially downtown. Arts funding should be a part of our Capital Budget, with the Commission’s funds coming out of our operating budget. Having vibrant and widespread art helps build pride in our communities, attracts tourists, and increases economic development.
Viegas: I believe that art is one of the greatest expressions of our First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Art in public spaces should be regulated only to the extent that we consider the potentially negative impact of the art on individuals (i.e. harassing, threatening) and the potential purpose and contribution of the art. I would support financing availability to a certain extent through City grants.
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?
Savidge: I do support changing this statement to be friendlier for our volunteer citizens, but also to serve the purpose of emphasizing the importance of ethics. Our volunteers should not be forced to sign a statement that is more aggressive than what the Council signs, and that intimidates them with a pledge that they completely understand our complicated code. Furthermore, we need to remove any provision that may lead to our volunteers being fined. They need to be protected by the City, not intimidated or bullied. I have seen developers, for example, bully board members with PIA request for their personal information and efforts to get them fired from their professional jobs. This is wrong, and the City needs to stand by their volunteers instead of allowing them to be attacked. Also, we need to overhaul our Ethics Code so that it protects whistle-blowers. As a whistle-blower, I can speak to this first-hand. (I blew the whistle on a case where the City as allowing developers to clear protected forest, telling staff to not communicate with its commissions, and to hide things from the public in violation of the Public Information Act)
Viegas: If this Statement of Compliance is signed following comprehensive training on the requirements for disclosure and ethics than I would support adjusting the statement to simply serve not as an oath but as a confirmation that the information has been shared with the individual and that they understand the consequences of a violation.
24. Do you support the current Mayor-Council form of government or a Council -Manager form, and why?
Savidge: I support our current system, which is somewhere in between the two. I like the democracy and accountability of a Mayor-Council form of government, and the professionalism and consistency a City Manager provides.
Viegas: I support a manager-council form of government. In the majority of cities the size of Annapolis across the U.S., the primary form of government is manager-council. It is fairly uncommon to have both a manager and mayor alongside a council. And, quite frankly, I believe the expense of having both a manager and a mayor is unnecessary and would potentially support removing the mayoral seat in Annapolis.
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?
Savidge: I would encourage residents of my ward to apply for, and actively recruit interested and qualified women and minorities to serve on, our Boards and Commissions. I would reach out to the City’s Human Relations Commission or appropriate City liaison/ombudsman to survey the composition of the commissions and City leadership to see if there is an under-represented demographic. As an Alderperson, I would not have control over appointing Directors, but I would be proactively vocal to relay any concern I may have about needing adequate representation, and I would not be hesitant to vote against an appointment if I was concerned.
Viegas: I believe our government and the organizational components within it should be representative of the population they serve. Upon entering office, I will work with other Aldermen, Alderwomen, and the hispanic and African-American liaisons to create a public outreach plan for recruiting more women and minorities to the City Boards and Commissions. I will also work with other representatives to challenge our City to recruit more women and minorities to leadership positions in the City through targeted recruitment.