November Ward 1 Newsletter

Hello Friends,

Warning: we’ve both got a lot to talk about in this update. From Celina’s great work on the Message, City Website, and Education Scholarships, to Luke’s unveiling of a proposal for improving accountability within the City government’s structure, we continue to work hard to move our City forward together.

But first off, the election is happening! Vote! Exclamation points! Here’s some voting resources. Jimmy Tarlau does a better job at staying up to date on county and state election guidance so we defer to his guidance here

Mount Rainier's Veteran's Day Celebration will be held this Saturday, November 10, 2018. This year's brunch will be held at Pott's Hall, 3405 Rhode Island Ave, Mt Rainier, MD 20712 from 10am-noon. All Veterans and their Family are welcome to attend. 

The City is also collecting donations for its annual food drive baskets for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Approximately 155 baskets were put together last year for each Thanksgiving and Christmas. If you are interested in donating, here is a list of things you can donate which you can drop off at the police station. If you want to volunteer to put the baskets together, that will take place on Monday, November 20th at the police station. Email us if interested.

Okay, onto our notes. And if you can't make it to the end of this email, come to our Ward 1 Meet-Up on Sunday, November 11th, at 10am at 37th and Newton Streets (or in City Hall if it's raining)...we can bore you with all the going-ons about town then ;)

Note from Celina…

We continue to work on improving communications between the City and the community. From translating our newsletter into Spanish, to getting back to producing the newsletter on a monthly basis, Bryan and I have become quite the team. Early on, we hit a few glitches due to a shortage of personnel at the Post Office, but things seem to be more on track recently. If you want the newsletter in PDF format, let me know and I can email it to you so you won’t have to wait for the hardcopy. Please send me an email at cbenitez@mountrainiermd.org. 

Update on Website

Currently, the vendor we selected for creating a new website is building out the site's back end. This means they are uploading content provided by Department Heads, linking with our code enforcement software, Municode, so the public can interact online with the City for code enforcement issues, and building out the site's general infrastructure. We anticipate this phase of the build-out to take us to the end of the year. At that point, we will be in a position to gain resident feedback. I know a few of you are interested in giving feedback, and very soon you will have that opportunity.  

Mount Rainier Education Scholarships

While campaigning, I noticed the lack of connection between our high school and college students here in Mount Rainier when it came to supporting their efforts for higher education. It got me thinking...in what way can we, as a City, encourage our students to seek higher education - whether it is community college, traditional four-year colleges, or a trade school. Then I had the idea to create a small scholarship for students and, during the last fiscal budget, we unanimously approved funds for a scholarship fund. I’m currently working on developing the scholarship application. We will offer various scholarships, with a minimum of $500 and a maximum of $1,000. The goal is to have the scholarship applications open for submission in the first quarter of the year. 

Visit to the Vatican

This past month, I was invited to visit the Vatican with “Romeristas” from all over the world. We came together to celebrate the canonization of the first Salvadoran Saint, “Monseñor Romero.” For those that don’t know Saint Romero, he was a humanitarian priest murdered by death squads in El Salvador in 1980 for standing up for human rights. He has become a worldwide figure representing the struggle against injustice, transcending beyond the Salvadoran community, languages, and multiple religions. President Obama, on his visit to El Salvador in March 2011, had the opportunity to visit his crypt.

It was a memorable experience for me as we also got to meet the Pope and El Salvador President Salvador Sanchez Ceren. I also had the opportunity to speak to children of TPS holders who had also traveled from various US cities to the Vatican, taking their appeal to the Pope to gain his support for their parents, which was very well accepted and supported. Approximately six Mount Rainier residents visited the Vatican. From Maryland, I was one of two elected officials who attended. Delegate Ana Sol Gutiérrez was the other, who made history in 1990 as the first Latina ever elected to office in Maryland. In Nov 2002, Ana Sol became the first Latina state legislator elected to the Maryland House of Delegates where she has served for the past 16 years. I was very humble to be a part of this historical event. 

Note from Luke…

An Agenda That is Moving Forward

The redevelopment of Memorial Park took another step forward. Leadership with the University of Maryland presented at our last Council meeting, and it looks like there is consensus between the Mayor and Council to move forward with signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for UMD landscape design graduate students to redesign Memorial Park and its adjoining streetscape for a great price. This project could help increase the chance for the new development on this block to be successful as we welcome a new restaurant, Pennyroyal Station.

If we can get a design completed by March, we will apply for the State’s Community Legacy grant program to pay for the construction. This grant can unlock the $200k+ needed for construction. It was a big push to get to this point so it’s nice to see the fruit of one’s labor. That being said, we still have a long way to go.

The Solar Party on October 18th was a great success. Special thanks to the Green Team for doing a wonderful job organizing the event. They booked solar developers, installers, and financiers to come by Joe’s and educate residents on how to make the switch to solar – either indirectly by telling Pepco you want it to purchase energy from solar farms (which is what I did with Neighborhood Sun) or, directly, through purchasing, financing, or leasing for the installation of solar panels on your roof. Thank you to Joe’s for the space!

November Agenda

I was able to take some time recently to replay the last year and a half of City politics in my head. It had its ups and downs. Some successes and some unexpected challenges. By stepping back, I tried to get perspective on why the City did not deliver in certain program areas. In doing so, I realized we could improve on our oversight and operation by instituting some practices that best fit our form of government.

For those who don’t know, our form of government is a City Manager system with oversight and policy direction from elected officials. That is, our elected officials should be acting like a Board of Directors, with our City Manager as CEO. As a result, I’ve identified two best practices from that world that could improve our City’s functioning.

The first is quarterly reporting. Our City Manager requires 30, 60, and 90-day operating plans from her Department Heads. While it’s important that she keep that internal process, we need a way to give the public a big picture of what is happening in the City. I think we can do that through concise, easy-to-read quarterly reporting from each Department on its program areas.

The second proposal is to establish consistent evaluative sessions between the Mayor/Council and City Manager. By meeting with our City Manager regularly, we can evaluate her ability to keep Department Heads delivering on their quarterly goals. This will also help us better assess her areas of strength, areas for growth, and training needs.

These proposals will serve two purposes – improve transparency between the City and the public, and improve oversight of the City Manager by elected officials. If we are supposed to operate like a Board of Directors we should act like one.

These proposals also drive home a lesson I’ve seen from my work in state, federal and, now, city government. Some of the best proposals are not pie-in-the-sky aspirational panaceas. Oftentimes, incorporating best practices into things like HR and operations make the biggest difference in improving City services. “It’s all operations, stupid,” is the worst political slogan I’ve ever heard, but I think it’s true.

With this plan, we can get some clear lines of sight throughout the organization and community. City staff will have some room to breathe. The public will get the information they need to hold elected officials accountable. And elected officials will have the structure they need to hold the City Manager accountable.

This plan will also help us solve two significant and ongoing problems – catch up to speed on our financial audits (we need to complete FY17 and FY18 audits this year), and timely deliver on economic development goals – all while keeping up to speed on other priorities.

Finally, consider this a down payment on the ability of the City to adopt a strategic vision next year. If we can accomplish just a couple of small feats like getting our finance and reporting structures in order, then we can lay the ground work for a vision of sustained good governance.

December and January Plans

In December, I will be introducing a vision for a multi-year approach to improving our parks. And in January, I will be introducing legislation establishing an Arts Commission to, well, commission works of art on public or private space that benefits the public at large. Both of these visions also build on the same theme of laying that groundwork for a more strategic vision of sustainable governing by investing in two of our greatest assets - our parks and artists.

I’ll get some updates out on these proposals soon.

Why am I getting stuff done before February?

Well, Meg and I are expected our second child, a baby boy, in February. While very exciting, it means there is a lot of nesting and legislating to get done before then!

Let's Meet

Told you that would be long! We will be hosting our next Ward 1 Meet-Up next Sunday, November 11th, at 10am at the corner of 37th and Newton Streets. We'll be talking about a developer's plan to build on a vacant lot there, our attempt to partner with the developer to improve that corner of the City, and whatever else you'd like to chat about. As always, we'll have coffee and donuts. If it rains, we'll be in City Hall.

Onwards.

Peace,

Celina and Luke

  • Luke Chesek
    published this page in Communications 2018-11-05 17:40:40 -0800

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