Dear Mount Rainier,
As my four-year term on the city council comes to an end I’ve been thinking about what it meant. What is different now because I was in those meetings? There are a lot of satisfying memories. There are regrets, too. Things left on the cutting room floor that should have been in the movie. At this particular moment I’m thinking about the city’s trajectory and my hopes for its future.
City council work is mostly trying to make informed decisions on complex issues within tight deadlines. How the county’s zoning rewrite will affect the city and what to do about it, for example. Or how to feel out the balance between obstructing good development and making sure our taxpayers don’t subsidize a bad deal.
There are moments of intense satisfaction when my ombudsman role makes someone’s life a little bit better or safer. Like when I can negotiate a rent break for a family in crisis. Or when my text message is the link between worn paint and fresh paint on the crosswalk in front of the school.
But the council’s only official responsibility is to be the legislative body in a government headed by a city manager. That’s the role that leaves the most obvious, most permanent, legacy and the one I think I was best at.
My legislative initiatives were always joint efforts with two or more colleagues and I don’t mean to slight any of them by listing a few here:
— The Urban Forest ordinance of 2014 provided the first ever protection for trees on private property in Mount Rainier. It also required the city to replace trees it cuts down and to protect public green space, and it permitted landowners to leave fallen logs in some cases to benefit the ecosystem.
— In 2015 the council passed my charter amendment reducing the residency requirement for running for city office from two years to one. In 2016 I introduced and in 2017 the council passed a charter amendment allowing “no excuse” absentee voting and establishing a rolling submission period for candidates to turn in nominating petitions (instead of being forced to turn them in during an hours-long window on a particular day). These amendments make both voting and running for office much easier.
— In 2013 the council passed my ordinance to mitigate the effects of constructing water-impervious surfaces in the city. It has raised ~$15k-$20k for maintaining our trees.
— I pushed to create an economic development director position during work on the FY13-14 budget resolution. As a result, for the first time since Fred Sissine was mayor the city has a coherent strategy and a regional economic development presence.
— I also successfully pushed to create an independent code enforcement department with a highly-qualified director and its own support staffer. Now our code officers are certified and are working their way through years of backlog while developing a strategy and becoming more customer-friendly.
— This year I recruited, restructured, and reconstituted the Recreation Committee with the goal of creating and funding a plan to provide recreation events, activities and programs for the youth, the elderly, and everyone in between for the first time in several years.
— One of my greatest honors was drafting and introducing a resolution naming the Mount Rainier Television studio after Graciela Carbonell, who passed away in January 2014 after more than 27 years working for the city.
— And this year I achieved my long term goal of passing a charter amendment allowing Mount Rainier residents to vote for mayor and city council regardless of their immigration status. Although I looked into this possibility at the beginning of my term it took the national election to amplify our city’s activist spirit and make it politically feasible. And it took the impending end of my term for me to realize it was now or never.
I attempted other initiatives too. Some of them aren’t politically feasible yet, and others were victims of more urgent problems.
My biggest regret is that after two community forums the city has made no policy adjustments to identify or reduce implicit racial bias in law enforcement, to emphasize community policing, or shift enforcement priorities to shut off the school to prison pipeline.
For example, early in my term I proposed to my colleagues that marijuana arrests in Mount Rainier (and everywhere) were not appropriate given the racial bias in enforcement (especially in this metro area), the nationwide legalization trend, and the potentially severe impact on young arrestees (including disqualification for financial aid at school). Unfortunately marijuana arrests in Mount Rainier continued up until the statewide decriminalization.
My next biggest regret is the state of Mount Rainier’s infrastructure. I did my best over several years to press for a capital improvement plan and rally votes for more streets funding. While I was successful in putting some seed money for a comprehensive plan into the budget, there are no fruits yet. But, the public works department has made great advances in organization recently so there is hope.
Here are a few more things I have attempted or pushed over the last four years. I would love to see the council take up these issues again:
— Divesting from banks that preyed on vulnerable people during the subprime mortgage crisis and that continue to illegally exploit/harass homeowners. This problem is especially bad in our market.
— Implementing property tax reductions in the few categories allowed under state law.
— Pursuing a raised intersection at 34th and Bunker Hill to improve walkability and pedestrian safety.
— Expanding the commercial tax base by extending city limits.
— Establishing a regional art competition with an attractive prize – associated with Mount Rainier Day.
— Creating a region-appropriate economic development incentives package, with preferential status for the entrepreneurs who have already gambled on Mount Rainier.
— Setting a city-wide sanctuary city policy.
— Productive engagement with MNCPPC regarding their properties in our city, especially the planned women’s memorial on Chillum Road next to PG Pool.
— Establishing a joint committee to work on issues of mutual concern with Brentwood.
— Building a relationship with Washington, D.C., especially Ward 5. Because we have not been in communication with them we’ve had more trouble than necessary with issues like putting a stoplight at Bunker Hill and Eastern.
While on the council I also worked on long-term projects including liaising with the State Highway Administration on their MD-500 (Queens Chapel Rd.) streetscape project, and with the County Dept. of the Environment on their Allison Street Levee Project and the Arundel Road Green Street. I liaised with the Mount Rainier Business Association and the Tree Commission too.
I also served on the legislative committee of the Maryland Municipal League., was elected to the board of the Prince George’s County Municipal Association (PGCMA), and chaired the PGCMA legislative committee.
Without exception I have seen my colleagues on the council care about both the people of Mount Rainier and the city as an entity. They have all made efforts to overcome differences and work as a team. In fact I would put our teamwork during the last four years up against any other council around here (sorry, Bladensburg!). So I thank them all: Mayor Malinda Miles, Jimmy Tarlau, Brent Bolin, Ivy Thompson, Jacqlyn Riposo, Bryan Knedler, Shivali Shah, and Tracy Loh.
Thank you to all the city staff I’ve worked with, too. I can’t list everyone because I will definitely forget someone, but Janis Lomax was like a grandmother to me, RIP.
Whatever the future holds for me, I feel genuinely honored to have been involved in this community at such an intimate level and trusted by so many to make decisions as their representative.