Joint Endorsement for Jesse for Mayor
By Councilmembers Shah and Brown
April 30, 2017
Mount Rainier’s government is in the midst of its most important transformation in more than a generation. In the past year, we have begun the process of professionalizing City Hall. This transformation will have a substantial impact on the quality of city services that our tax dollars support. We need leadership that will support change, not stand in its way. As City Council members, we have seen up close how both Mayor Miles and Councilman Christopherson have reacted to, either in opposition or support of, the reform of our government. We are endorsing Jesse Christopherson for Mayor because we have seen him to be supportive of change. He is in favor of professionalizing government, ending cronyism, and taking a new, more progressive direction in city government.
This process has included putting in place badly needed reforms, such as creating job descriptions, not letting YEARS (3 to 5 years in many cases) go by when performance evaluations for staff are conducted, holding employees accountable for their time and performance, and ensuring there is no cronyism in city contracting. Also, this includes starting a process in which we are listening to our city staff and residents better and getting their perspectives on best practices as we change how we conduct business. Getting the most out of our city’s tax dollars is not only our right, it’s necessary in order to take our city forward.
Jesse Christopherson has been part of this wave of reforms, and we believe he is the right person to continue them forward as Mayor. Our city manager has been getting training for existing staff at a level they have not experienced before, including requiring certifications for key government positions.
- Why should citizens demand better performance from City Hall? Prior to hiring our new city manager, there are numerous examples of how the city government has not performed up to standards.
- Why has the Mount Rainier Business Association been paying an outside contractor to clean the business areas for several years when in the past we have been able to keep that clean (and do much more) with the same amount of staff?
- Why have residents had to mow city grass because Public Works just wasn’t getting to it before it became a jungle?
- Why did Hyattsville and Brookland get a Busboys and Poets and we did not? They were interested at one point. Why has nothing similar come our way?
- Why was the last neutral organizational assessment of our city staff done by a third party professional not done since 1999- when typically they are done about every 10-12 years? (Tracy and I led the effort to get an organizational assessment done in 2016, with Jesse’s support. You can see it HERE.)
- Why did it / does it take numerous calls and emails to get a response from your city staff? Why do we even need councilmembers to champion a city function as minor as getting a tree cut on city property in front of your house?
We can do much better than this, and the status quo as it now exists will not allow us to move in the direction of change we need to in order to provide you better service.
We very much appreciate the effort that Malinda Miles has put in the last 12 years as mayor, and by serving the council as a whole for 20 years. In a time where we had a weak and ineffective city government, she has stepped up numerous times to be responsive to constituent needs which she has done with grace and a cheerful smile. She has inspired others to be the best neighbors they can be to each other. For that and much more, we are grateful.
However, the time has come for the council, and the Mayor in particular, to learn to adapt to a new era—an era in which we strongly need to conform to the model of government that is already established in the Mount Rainier charter. Our system of government is a “Council-Manager” system. Colloquially, it is called “Strong Manager / Weak Mayor” or “Figurehead Mayor” model of government. This is typical in many small municipalities such as ours, including in most of Maryland municipalities. The idea is that the city is too small to have full-time elected leaders, so the city hires a professional trained in public administration to run the day-to-day tasks of city administration. The part-time and volunteer City Council (mayor and councilmembers) are in charge of setting policy for the city, not executing it.
Despite what you may have heard, this is not a black/white issue, or a gender issue, or a new timer/old timer issue. We are both persons of color who have keenly felt our “otherness” in these United States, one male and the other female. Councilmember Shah has lived here 12 years and Councilmember Brown has lived here for more than 30 years. We share between us a WIDE range of perspectives. One thing we share in common is that we are both attorneys who are used to analyzing situations and proposing solutions that are objective and sound.
This is a management issue—plain and simple. We are behind the times on sound, effective, and scientific management. Consequently, your tax dollars are being wasted by inefficiencies and ineffective systems and processes. In many respects, the council too stands some responsibility for allowing the management of the city to be taken off the tracks of the “Strong Manager/Weak Mayor” system that is in our charter. The result has been harmful to the management and administration of this city, and the effective and efficient use of your tax dollars.
Jesse knows how to listen to his colleagues. He is capable of hearing a different way of doing things, including from colleagues. He can even support and cheerlead the ideas of others. He has empathy for those with a range of problems.
For example, Jesse recognizes that people on fixed incomes and low incomes are particularly affected by the State of Maryland’s increase on housing assessment. To respond to that, Jesse is proposing a 3 cent (per $100 of assessed value) decrease in property tax in this year’s budget.
Another example, Jesse recognizes that there are those of us who are vulnerable to evictions, foreclosures, domestic violence, house fires, and a range of other social ills. To respond to that, Jesse has proposed a social worker position in the government which will help the most helpless citizens access resources. Up until now, it has solely been on the mayor and councilmembers—a task for which we are neither trained, nor qualified to do justice to the gravity of problems our residents face.
These are just two examples, though there are more. You can see his other proposals HERE.
We both deeply appreciate the years of service that Malinda Miles has given to the city. Many of the things she has been doing are things she or others can continue to do whether mayor or not. We hope, for example, mayor or not, that the much needed baskets she helps the churches organize at holiday time will continue. Or the much beloved and popular Halloween party she holds at her house. Both of these things are done without the support of city funds and are great traditions for our city.
We feel Jesse will be better able to adapt to the new City Hall, one that is professionally run and operated. His term on the Council has demonstrated a strong commitment to overseeing the city without inappropriately interfering with city administration. He understands that our best path forward is to let the government continue to professionalize and become more directly responsive to its citizens. As it should be.
We do not arrive at this position lightly. There are many serious issues now brewing within the city government which need serious and immediate professional attention. The future effective, efficient, and professional management of this city is at stake. We realize you have no visibility into these issues. For some of these issues, there should be more visibility and we are working on it. For other issues, we are not at liberty to discuss openly. But suffice it to say there are serious issues that need to be resolved quickly. Jesse understands this and is doing his part to resolve the issues rather than standing in the way of a resolution.
We are a city government and there is only so much over which we have control. The mayor has even less control than that (e.g. only one vote out 5 councilmembers, no veto power). You will not be able to solve the social problems endemic in every community by your vote this election. But there ARE other strategies to address those issues in our community. We are lucky to live in a wonderful community in which open dialogue can take place and we should leverage that in the future more effectively. (See Shivali's upcoming Word from the Ward issue on that topic. Email her to subscribe).
Let’s focus on the things over which we can affect change by this election. We are concerned that Mayor Miles will continue to resist the new reforms, and that it is in the best interests of the City to have a change in leadership to support professionalization, and the efficient and effective use of your tax dollars. Former City Councilmember Tracy Loh who—though newer to our city—is an urban planner by profession sees the need for a change to move forward (See Loh endorsement for Christopherson). As do many of Jesse’s other council colleagues, current and former. (See Christopherson website for more endorsements and info)
We endorse Jesse Christopherson for Mayor. We are happy to discuss with anyone more about the content of this endorsement—either now as you make your choice or after the election.
Shivali Shah, Esq.
Council Member for Ward 2
Resident for 12 years
Devon Anthony Brown, Esq.
Council Member for Ward 1
Former Council Member for Ward 1, 2000-2003
Resident for more than 30 years
READ MORE from the business owners and community leaders endorsing Jesse.