Monday, January 7, 2013

A Correction re: River’s Edge and Alleged “Power Grabs”

By Terry E. Cohen, Council President

Happy New Year to all! I hope your holiday season was joyful, safe and restorative. The Salisbury City Council resumes its schedule today with numerous items at a work session starting at 4:30 p.m.

With a new year under way, it is time to take up again the task of setting the record straight due to erroneous information published by The Daily Times, specifically an article and an editorial the newspaper ran on Dec. 2, 2012. Other corrections appear on this site below this post, and more will come as time permits.

In its front-page article, The Daily Times attributes an accusation made by the Mayor against three members of the Council, citing one of the examples of an alleged “power grab” by them as “directly negotiating a deal with an affordable housing developer.” This is a reference to the River’s Edge housing project on Fitzwater Street.

The Daily Times reporter Jeremy Cox goes on to state the following as fact:

In response to the majority’s rejection of a traditional subsidized housing project on the Fitzwater Street site, a developer returned this fall with a Cohen-negotiated plan for an artists community.


While I appreciate the credit for “negotiating” a better outcome for the project as an artist-preference community - which provides an economic generator to the City, a compatible enhancement for Downtown, a partnership with the Epilepsy Association and a beneficial bridge of opportunity for the adjoining neighborhood – I can’t take any more credit than finding the new proposal intriguing enough to schedule on the Council agenda for discussion. Also, two members of Council and the Mayor had already supported the traditional affordable housing proposal, and the two other members who had dissented previously also found the new proposal to be worthy of discussion.

The revised River’s Edge project, which scored the highest of all 19 applications submitted to the State for Federal tax credits, was successful first due to the initiative taken by Brian Lopez, executive vice president of the development firm, who recognized legitimate concerns existed. He reached out first, individually, to the three Council members who felt the original proposal did not leverage the prime riverfront real estate for the best interest of the City.

His first contact was to Council Vice President Campbell, likely because she is known nationally for her work in affordable housing. Mr. Lopez, who met with Mrs. Campbell and Councilman Tim Spies, informed me that she advanced the concept of an artists’ residence. Mr. Lopez, excited by the idea, took that ball and really ran with it. This is a demonstration of how Mrs. Campbell’s expertise and national exposure to successful projects throughout the country is an asset to the City.

The exchange was a conversation, not a negotiation, between a developer and two members of Council, who also toured the Downtown area with Mr. Lopez, including showing off the beautiful Art Institute & Gallery there. No decision to accept the proposal was made outside the public work session (I know my mind wasn’t made up until I heard Mr. Lopez’s presentation), and no one or two members of Council can make any binding commitments for the City.

The Mayor’s complaint that such interaction between the independently elected representatives of the people to obtain information on a legislative measure constitutes a “power grab” is without validity. (I’ve even confirmed with the City Attorney that Council members have a right – and often a duty – to reach out for information in this manner.) The Mayor has frequently condemned the same three members, most specifically Council leadership, for doing their jobs in this manner, but inconsistently has rebuked the same members at times for not having conversations he deemed they should have had.

The decision of support for the revised River’s Edge proposal was unanimous for Council, and the Mayor signed off on it, so what is his complaint? That three members of council held off on a lesser idea, kept an open mind and voted for a better outcome for our City? That the developer gave up density and potentially higher profits for a plan that will better serve the city and its Downtown, as well as the nearby neighborhood? Or that any individual council member – who cannot make any commitment for the city alone – took time to speak with someone without the mayor’s unnecessary permission in order to perform his/her legislative duty?

I’ll let you be the judge of whether this constitutes a “power grab,” or whether it’s merely good governance in the performance of one’s duty, in keeping with a balance of power between legislative and executive branches.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dec. 10 Legislative Meeting Debunks Daily Times' Claims

By Terry E. Cohen, Council President

Before posting again in direct response to the Daily Times December 2 edition, I wanted to note a few things from last Monday night's legislative meeting (Dec. 10). While this post started out as just an update, it certainly provided more evidence to debunk the Daily Times' published claims -- its own and that of others -- that select members of Council are uncooperative with the Mayor.

Number of Council Meetings

First, during opening announcements, I thanked your current Council for their dedication and diligence, having held 181 meetings since the post-election Reorganization Meeting in April 2011. The correct number of Council meetings during this period is actually 173, which lowers the monthly average from over 9 per month based on the first 15 months to 8.2 per month calculated through the end of 2012. I mention that average because Council typically schedules 4 sessions a month - 2 work sessions and 2 legislative sessions for regular business, which is 25% more meetings than was previously the norm for regularly scheduled meetings and 50% more than just a few years ago.

As I noted in my brief comments, your Council has handled a number of long-term issues, such as the Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) litigation, Enterprise Zone designation and the councilmanic election redistricting/reapportionment - the first was a once in a lifetime endeavor, and the next two are done once every 10 years. While the Council had differences with the Mayor and among members on the elections issue (which was ultimately decided on the basis of data, not politics, while achieving the goal of "proportional representation"), the Mayor and the Council had a unified front on the WWTP and the Enterprise Zone.

This contributes to the body of evidence debunking the Daily Times' promoted myth that a majority of the Council set out to give the Mayor an "uphill legislative battle." (More on that subject in another post later.)

Council Commended by Auditor

Pam Baker, the chief contact person with the City's auditing firm of Barbacane, Thornnton and Company, LLP, presented the final audit to the Council, the Mayor and the public at the meeting. Monday, Dec. 3, Ms. Baker reviewed the draft of the audit with the Council at its work session, enabling members to get clarifications of a few problems identified, the way numbers were represented, etc. This is the earliest the City has seen its audit numbers in years -- something Council Vice President Debbie Campbell has pushed for ever since she was first elected in 2005 -- and the value to the City of a timely audit was emphasized by Ms. Baker.

Ms. Baker also commended the Council for taking an hour-and-a-half of its time to review the audit with her, saying few of her clients take that level of time and interest. She noted the value of the audit to the budgeting process we undertake each year.

Garbage Ordinance Removed from Agenda at Request of Mayor and Administration

The Council amended its legislative agenda at the Monday night meeting to remove the Garbage Ordinance in accommodation of the request from the Mayor and Administration so they can resolve an administrative issue. This is not an unusual circumstance. The public record clearly shows that agendas have been changed, often at the last minute, and special legislative meetings have been scheduled by Council -- numerous times -- to accommodate the Mayor and the Administration.

Further, the Garbage Ordinance was moved forward at the Council's March 5, 2012, work session, with the Council giving its suggestions and go-ahead for Public Works and the City Attorney's office to work out the necessary language.

This again demonstrates that constant accusations published and supported by the Daily Times that the Council - or its leadership, or select members -- is chronically holding up the work of the City as a form of opposition to the Mayor are untrue.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

More Posts to Come...

By Terry E. Cohen, Council President

Other posts responding to statements of concern from the Daily Times on Dec. 2 will be forthcoming, but again I ask readers' patience since I have to do this as time permits, given regular work, council work and, of course, attention to family. Thanks for understanding.

If you haven't read the three posts on the subject already, you will see them below. Keep checking back when you can. Your interest is appreciated.

Monday, December 10, 2012

When Numbers Are Used to Distort the Truth

By Terry E. Cohen, Council President

Early in its article last Sunday (December 2), the Daily Times repeated an assertion by the Mayor that “21 major policy proposals” were being blocked by a majority of the Council. The newspaper offers its readers little to no information about whether that assertion is correct or what that “21” means. The article references a few of the issues, but again with little to no meaningful discussion about what the differences of opinions are or whether all of the proposals should move forward. (Some of the issues referenced by the paper will be addressed later on this site.)

A meaningful discussion for the public would have entailed putting the “21” in context, asking questions such as:

• What is the full list of “21”?
• Does it include issues like the aggressive dog ordinance (as mentioned in the article), which were not delayed by Council, but instead were delayed six times at the request of the City Administrator?
• Of the hundreds of items Administration has advanced to Council (most of which Council has advanced for a vote), could any have been sent to a back burner so Council and City Attorney time could have been devoted to issues on the list of “21”? For example, the Mayor and Administration advanced an ordinance to regulate portable storage devices (e.g., brand names “Cubes” and “PODS”). Upon discussion, the Council and the City Attorney learned this had only had 3 or 4 complaints in recent years.
• Should the numerous issues on which the Council supported the Mayor (e.g., Wicomico River environmental improvements, Tenants’ Rights Addendum) or got to “yes” (e.g., Onley-Bateman intersection, River’s Edge project, firefighters SAFER grant) have taken a back seat to the issues on this list of “21”?
• Are some of the issues really “stalled” or “blocked,” or are they actually multi-step processes?
• Are some of the “21” issues those with highly complex implications that require extensive legal research to avoid costly court battles for the City?
• Is the time frame expected for turnaround by Council realistic given the workload of competing priorities? For example, issues like the state-mandated Ethics Ordinance or the Wastewater Treatment Plant could not be set aside.

These questions come back to a discussion of priorities, or as one legislative advisory service said, “Organizations cannot do everything at once.” In November, I extended an invitation to the Mayor to join the Council in December for a discussion of priorities for the remainder of the fiscal year (i.e., through June 30), but he declined.

Taking stock mid-year of where we are and where we want to be is a good way to ensure our time, resources and taxpayer money are devoted to the highest priorities. Let’s not waste City Attorney time and money, staff resources or Council deliberation time again on a portable storage ordinance when we have matters of greater importance to consider.

By simply tossing the “21” out there, the Daily Times gave the impression that all “21” are worthy of moving forward, which may not be the case. Does the list contain initiatives the Mayor is advancing that could undermine years of building a “growth pays for growth” discipline into our policies, inviting a return to a form of developer reimbursements that have not served the taxpayers well?

As you can see, context is vital when tossing numbers around. The Daily Times can claim journalistic innocence by saying it was merely quoting the Mayor. However, it built a so-called “news” story around such claims. This was not a time-sensitive topic. The newspaper could have delivered a well-balanced piece by waiting the few days for when I offered to meet and discuss it.

That might have resulted in real questions and answers the public would have found meaningful, which the Daily Times does not appear to find as juicy a story to tell. That’s truly unfortunate because the real story is newsworthy and, when the public is fully informed, people participate at a level that is really beneficial to producing good government.

Dec. 9 Op-ed as Sent to Daily Times

By Terry E. Cohen, Council President

At the request of some readers, the opinion/editorial (op-ed) I sent to the Daily Times appears below.

Progress doesn’t come from ultimatums

Last Sunday, the Daily Times devoted an extensive amount of space, words and pictures on its front page, news and opinion pages about disputes in Salisbury city government. There were, unfortunately, numerous inaccuracies and misleading statements.

For example, the aggressive dog ordinance isn’t delayed because of council. I scheduled it six times for discussion since July as requested by the administration. Each time the city administrator asked that it be postponed. My space to respond is very limited on a monthly basis by the newspaper, so I will have to refer readers to www.OnYourSideSBY.blogspot.com for a fuller correction of the record.

Today, I’d like to talk about one step for reducing conflict.

The Annapolis chief financial officer who spoke at a Maryland Municipal League (MML) conference a couple of years ago discussed 5-year budgeting. His audience was a mix of municipal legislators, mayors and administrative staff members, but his wise advice was directed to the mayors and staff:

“Get early buy-in from your councils.”

Good advice. It is the council that makes policy, so it’s good business to get these decision-makers on board early to move a goal forward, rather than surprising them with an ultimatum at the end of the process. This is true whether it’s a mayor-council form of government or a city manager-council form of government.

I have been asking the administration for an early buy-in process since I was first elected in 2007. Voters expressed their dissatisfaction with the council functioning as a rubber stamp.

Grants are a perfect opportunity to apply the early buy-in principle – not the small, “reimbursement” grants (such as police overtime), but those that involve city assets (such as real estate) or a large commitment of resources in the future, whether required as a “match” or not.

For the grant that added four new police officers to our force, the federal government required the legislative body’s approval for applying. This ensured that the budget makers were aware of, understood and prepared to meet the grant’s financial and resource obligations.

The result? Salisbury applied as a unified government, prepared for future obligations. The city got four new officers – and everyone was spared the current dramas.

The recent grant for additional firefighters did not have an early buy-in process, resulting in unnecessary drama. Even when grant-making agencies don’t require proof of application submission approval from the legislative body, they often expect that the council is informed and concerns are already addressed. After all, the city government – which by charter means the mayor and the council – is making application, not just the mayor’s office.

The council did not vote down the grant for additional firefighters as the Daily Times erroneously reported. The grant was not moved forward for a vote due to the lack of information in a short window for consideration.

The technical difference is important. If the council had voted to accept the grant right away, the taxpayers could have been on the hook each year for the $400,000 benefits mistake in the grant application that Council Vice President Debbie Campbell’s questions uncovered. Some want to label that “micro-managing,” but there is nothing “micro” about $400,000.

Early “buy-in” also promotes a good reputation and relationship with higher government agencies because the city government is applying with a unified voice. No council should be politically cornered to approve a grant for which they have insufficient information or sincerely feel the terms of a grant aren’t in the best interest of our city. Don’t place these valuable relationships or the city’s reputation at risk in the first place and they won’t be.

Progress does not come from ultimatums. Ultimatums create political drama and divisiveness, which drains time, money, resources and emotions. An early buy-in process is common to success in business and government, identifying and solving problems in a timely and effective manner.

Terry Cohen is president of the Salisbury City Council.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Thank You...And More to Come

By Terry E. Cohen, Council President

Thank you for stopping by to read today. More will follow tomorrow and as time permits, so please check back for more information.

Media Misinformation Harms the Public

The first few paragraphs of last week’s front page Daily Times article advances a position in a way that is better suited to an opinion page than a news story. The newspaper is already on record from its op-ed pages in July as agreeing with the Mayor’s frequent misleading assertions about the City Council. Numerous other op-eds and news articles indicate the newspaper’s bias.

The first issue that should be questioned is whether or not the City should be run based on the Mayor’s priorities alone. Our government is set up by Charter with the Council as the policymakers, just as it is in municipalities of various forms of government across the nation. The Mayor can recommend policy, but it is the Council – five people also elected by the voters – who actually make it.

Once that policy is made, it is the Mayor’s responsibility to direct staff to see that it is faithfully executed. The Daily Times has – for years – contributed to and supported the myth that the City Council’s role is to sit quietly as a rubber stamp for Mayor-advanced initiatives. It even went so far as to declare passage of a budget as “arguably the only" responsibility of the Council.

This type of misinformation to the public about how government works is not healthy for our City. As an illustration of how the government should work and how your current Council is making an effort to work with the Mayor, one need only look at the Onley-Bateman intersection debate.

For whatever reason, the previous Council leadership found it easier to stop at “no” on this issue, while the current Council worked hard to get to “yes.” Initially, the current Council was repeatedly berated by the Daily Times. However, through hard work, your Council not only got to “yes” on the intersection, its position resulted in improved public safety, a substantial savings to the taxpayer, a design incorporating bike lanes and a quality partnership between the City and Salisbury University.

During the process, the newspaper generated a lot of unproductive, adversarial discussion. This detracted from the public’s understanding of what officials needed to consider and generated a lot of unnecessary public upset.

In a recent editorial, the Daily Times said that media focus on scandals like General Petraeus and Paula Broadwell was due to the media simply giving the public what it wants. People tell me that they don’t want the political pot-stirring the Daily Times dishes out. I hope the public will join me in encouraging the Daily Times to be a positive asset for our community by focusing on the real news of an issue instead of feelings and politics.

"On Your Side" Resumes

By Terry E. Cohen, Council President

The substantial work load of the Salisbury City Council over the last year suspended our work on this site. In addition to tending to the real business of the City, time and energy have been drawn away to deal with media circuses and unnecessary complications to getting work done. Nonetheless, we were still able to work on and move forward with numerous issues, from the Wastewater Treatment Plant, election redistricting and reapportionment, the Onley-Bateman intersection and the River's Edge project to a host of others.

However, it has become clear the posts need to resume. In today's Daily Times, I have an op-ed appearing in answer to last Sunday's (December 2) article and op-ed concerning policy disagreements within our City government. Instead of focusing on the substance of the differing viewpoints, the newspaper again focused on emotions and personalities.

As I note in my op-ed, there were too many misleading statements and inaccuracies to address in the limited space the newspaper allows me once a month - in one day alone, the Daily Times was able to devote at 2.5 times as much word count to the discussion as I'm allowed for a month.

Therefore, stay tuned today and throughout the week for corrections of the record and discussion of the issues based on their merits.

Thank you for reading and, as always, feel free to contact us with your questions, comments, concerns and ideas.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Charter Amendment - FAQ's





"CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE"

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Safe Streets Audio to Come

On January 27, 2011, the Salisbury City Council discussed Mayor Jim Ireton's "Safe Streets Neighborhood Legislative Package" on the official public record for the first time.

The audio will be available soon under this site's Audio Files section in the column at the right of the page. However, the upload tool vendor is having technical difficulties. When that problem is fixed, the audio will become available here.

We apologize for the inconvenience. The audio is also available on CD-ROM from the city clerk's office for a cost of $5 to cover administrative time and supplies.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Second Anti-Crime Public Dialogue Oct. 12

A second public dialogue meeting on the Salisbury Safe Streets anti-crime legislation package is set for Tuesday, October 12, 6:30 p.m., in the training room of Fire Station 16 Headquarters on Cypress Street, Salisbury City Council Members Debbie Campbell and Terry Cohen announced today.

After a packed-house public meeting on the proposals was held September 15 in council chambers downtown, the two officials chose a site with more seating capacity and accessibility to the Westside, with a different week night to accommodate additional members of the public.

“In the wake of this week’s shooting spree, it is vital that we keep public engagement moving forward on these and related issues,” Cohen said. “Some of this legislation disappeared four years ago, and our police officers are furloughed while lesser priorities are funded. The public has a key role in overcoming these impasses.”

“Our previous meeting showed that Salisbury can have a productive dialogue about tough issues,” Campbell stated. “We received input and questions from a variety of stakeholders, so this meeting on October 12 will give us an opportunity to address those matters and allow others to weigh in when they couldn’t due to the size of the crowd.”

As reported in the Daily Times, local landlords dominated the first meeting. A show of hands among the landlords, tenants, homeowners and students in attendance indicated that landlords as a whole opposed the package in its entirety, while most city residents either supported the entire package or supported it in part.

Campbell and Cohen said they would soon release details of the format for this meeting to ensure that the process takes a forward direction and the public benefits from accurate information. In the meantime, they again encouraged the public to read the actual text of the anti-crime proposals, which address one segment of crime reduction through better housing practices and property management.

The legislation can be found under the link “Neighborhood Legislation Pkg” on the city website homepage at left, www.ci.salisbury.md.us, and on the website the two council members share, www.OnYourSideSBY.blogspot.com. Hard copies can be obtained by calling the city clerk’s office at 410-548-3140.

A three-hour audio recording of the first public dialogue meeting is available for free download or online listening from Campbell and Cohen’s website, or on CD from the city clerk’s office for $5, which covers the office’s cost of production. For additional questions or comments, contact Debbie Cambpell, 410-860-0893 and debbiescampbell@comcast.net, or Terry Cohen, 410-845-0296 and Terry@TerryCohen.com.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

2010 Safe Streets Neighborhood Legislative Act

By Terry E. Cohen

On Monday, August 2, 2010, Mayor Jim Ireton released a package of legislation as part of the Maryland Safe Streets Program crime initiative, a partnership with the State of Maryland in which Salisbury became the second city (Annapolis being the first) to become a Maryland Safe Streets City.

My op-ed on the subject appears in today's Daily Times to inform the public about the history of this program and clarify my involvement. Later this week, I will repost that op-ed.

For now, I think it is most important that citizens have access to the actual proposals themselves. In the coming weeks, posts will be made here to clarify the process, correct misconceptions of the public and media, and stimulate productive debate.

Six items are new. The seventh is actually existing code that the mayor intends to "re-activate" through administrative enforcement. You can click the links in this post to view the documents now or download them for later reference. Note: the ordinance names may vary slightly in different media. Descriptive names are used here.

- Repeated Calls for Service
- Crime-free Lease Addendum
- Tenants' Rights
- Equitable Relief from Prostitution
- Amend BZA Procedures
- Amortization of Nonconforming Uses
- Periodic Area Search (current code to be "re-activated")

For those who checked this site earlier, thank you for your patience while we resolved uploader problems.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Important Information About Council Audio Files

By Terry E. Cohen

Some of the most important discussion Salisbury's city council has on any given issue takes place at its work sessions, which are not televised on public access cable channel PAC14 or streamed over the Internet at PAC14.org's website, as are the Monday night legislative sessions. Council Member Campbell and I have suggested to council that work sessions be taped for later broadcast so that the public would have a better understanding of issues, some of which do not make it to the legislative agendas. We did not receive support from any other council member.

In the spirit of compromise and increased transparency, we then suggested that the audio from council sessions be placed on the City website, which is why the audio of each current Monday legislative session is now on the site (thanks to City Clerk Brenda Colegrove and Assistant City Clerk Kim Nichols). However, only the one current legislative session is posted at a time.

After a public input session we held in 2007, we suggested that work session audios also be posted on the City's website. We did not received support from any other council member.

Therefore, when we started this site, we decided that, for the public's information and convenience, it would have links to the audio of these sessions, maintaining a history for as long as space permitted.

The 2010 audio files from May, June, July and August to date have been posted now. As time permits, we will post the previous sessions for 2010.

You can look in the right column of this page, scrolling down to find the link to the session you want. Depending on your own computer's settings, a simple click on a link will allow you to save the file to your computer for later listening and/or allow you to listen to the session of choice immediately with your computer's media playing software.

With the limitations local media have in covering issues, we hope these files will be useful to our citizens when they want to understand more fully what is taking place. With the number of additional work sessions being held, mostly scheduled during City office hours when it is difficult for the majority of the public to attend, we feel this affords the public an opportunity that they may not have had otherwise, at least not without inconvenience or cost to obtain a CD from the city clerk's office.

Please let us know if you have any questions about the information you hear. Thank you for taking time to stay abreast of issues in Salisbury that affect you.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Last Comprehensive Plan Meeting, Thurs., May 13, 6 p.m.

COMMUNITY INFORMATION SESSION
2010 Draft City of Salisbury Comprehensive Plan


The City of Salisbury will host a community information session on Thursday, May 13, 2010, starting at 6:00 P.M. in the training center of the Salisbury Fire Headquarters – Station 16, 325 Cypress Street, Salisbury, Maryland.

Over the past 22-months the City has conducted over thirty meetings open to the public to receive feedback about the various elements included in the Draft Plan. As part of the plan adoption process, State agencies had the opportunity to review the Draft Plan. The State review comments received to date are very positive and encouraging. Additionally as part of the plan adoption process, the Salisbury Planning Commission and the City Council have recently held Public Hearings to receive comments from the public. Both hearings had positive outcomes, with appropriate clarification included.

The Mayor and City Council encourage all members of the public with final questions and comments to join staff at this upcoming meeting to learn more about the final draft Plan. Prior to the meeting, we recommend reviewing the latest version of the final draft Plan, which is located on the City of Salisbury website at
http://www.ci.salisbury.md.us/SalisburyComprehensivePlan/tabid/621/Default.aspx.

Copies of the draft Plan are also available to the public in the following locations:
• City of Salisbury, City Clerk’s Office, Government Office Building, Room 305;
• Salisbury – Wicomico County Department of Planning, Zoning & Community Development, Government Office Building, Room 203; and
• The Wicomico Public Library, 122 South Division Street, Salisbury, Maryland.

Public input is an integral component of any comprehensive planning process.

If you are unable to attend the community information session or would like to schedule an individual meeting to learn more about the Draft 2010 City of Salisbury Comprehensive Plan, contact Keith D. Hall, Long-Range/Transportation Planner, Salisbury – Wicomico County Department of Planning, Zoning & Community Development at (410) 548-4860 or via e-mail Khall@wicomicocounty.org.

# # #

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dump Truck Is Matter of Public Trust

Statement of Terry E. Cohen, Salisbury City Councilmember
Feb. 22, 2010
“The Public Trust”
Updated Feb. 24, 2010

Last Thursday (Feb. 18) in council work session, council and administration discussed the budget amendment needed for the acquisition of a 3-ton dump truck. The question was asked of me what it would take to move the amendment forward.

As of Dec. 21, 2009, I had been willing to move the budget amendments forward. That changed when I learned the truck had or may have been ordered without a budget amendment to legally appropriate the money, despite my having raised the issue the day after the award of bids and before the truck was ordered.

At the Feb. 18 work session, I was personally attacked for insisting that parties responsible be held accountable in some way because I think the City Charter and State Law are both clear about not making contracts for which the money is not appropriated. When I said I felt this had been a violation of the public trust, the response was laughter from a member of the council majority saying, “What public trust?”

To some, this may be a technicality or about one dump truck. It's really about the law and the public trust
.

Some say it's just an honest mistake, but the question was raised before the truck was ordered and should have been resolved before the order was placed. A mistake had been made with a second truck as an accounting matter, but this truck is about more than an accounting matter. Expediency is not an excuse. “The ends justify the means” is not part of the sections of law I cite.

This is another instance in a pattern of moving forward without appropriate action being taken first. Without accountability, the pattern will continue, and the checks and balances legally in place to protect the public's money will fail when we most need them to work.

A chronology. the two sections of law and the contract signature page follow or are attached.

Oct. 26, 2009Council approves award of bid for dump truck. (An award of bid designates who the contract goes to. It does not authorize a purchase. An appropriation authorizes a purchase.)

Oct. 27, 2009
Councilmember Cohen sends email to City Administrator John Pick, copied to Mayor Ireton and Director of Internal Services Pam Oland. (“Last night Pam said the S-3 vote was required because the purchase was not budgeted. Do we not, then, need a budget amendment? I realize the lease is already appropriated money, but the money was appropriated for another purpose....Thanks for looking into these questions and whether we need to make a budget amendment promptly....”)

Oct. 27, 2009 – Purchase order is cut.

Oct. 28, 2009 – Contract Agreement date.

Oct. 28 – Nov. 4, 2009 – Contract signatures obtained.

Nov. 6, 2009Executed contract and purchase order provided to vendor.

Nov. 16, 2009Email from Pick to Cohen that the budget needed to be amended two ways: 1. to accommodate new accounting rules and 2. to move appropriation from Sanitation division to Streets division. (First amendment was to have been presented at Nov. 30, 2009, work session, which was canceled.)

Dec. 21, 2009
Budget amendment to adjust for accounting change discussed and consensus reached to move forward. However, no mention was made that the trucks were already ordered by those present who had signed the contract.

Jan. 11, 2010 – Budget amendment to adjust for accounting change brought for legislative vote. Cohen asked when the truck was ordered. Oland responded that she did not have the date on hand. Cohen asked if both trucks were ordered together. Oland responded she did not know. Councilmember Debbie Campbell asked, regardless of the date, if the truck had been ordered. Oland replied she did not have the answer to that question. No one present who had signed the contract mentioned that the trucks had already been ordered.

Feb. 12, 2010
– Date of Invoice to City.

Feb. 16, 2010 – Date of Actual Delivery to City (received)

Feb. 17, 2010 – Vehicle Tagged

Maryland Annotated Code Article 31, Section 3.
§ 3. Contracts not authorized by appropriation prohibited. An officer or agent of any county, township or municipal corporation who is charged or entrusted with the construction, improvement or keeping in repair of any building or work of any kind, or with the management or providing for any public institution, shall not make any contract binding or purporting to bind the county, township or municipal corporation to pay any sum of money not previously appropriated for the purpose for which such contract is made, and remaining unexpended, and applicable to such purpose, such officer or agent who wilfully or knowingly makes or participates in making a contract without such appropriation or authority, shall be personally liable thereon, and the county, township or municipal corporation in whose name or behalf the same was made shall be not liable thereon.

§ SC7-29. Overexpenditure forbidden.

No office, department or agency shall during any budget year expend or contract to expend
any money or incur any liability or enter into any contract which by its terms involves the expenditure of money, for any purpose, in excess of the amounts appropriated for that general classification of expenditure pursuant to this Charter. Any contract, verbal or written, made in violation of this Charter shall be null and void. Any officer or employee of the city who shall violate this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction thereof shall cease to hold his office or employment. Nothing in this section, however, shall prevent the making of contracts or the spending of money for capital improvements to be financed in whole or in part by the issuance of bonds or the making of contracts of lease or for services for a period exceeding the budget year in which such contract is made, when such contract is permitted by law.
[1959 Code, sec. 365. ch. 534, sec. 84] [Renumbered 1-11-99 by Res. No. 629]

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Fuller Discussion on “The Bricks” – Part 3

Due to illness and travel, posting of the remainder of this series was delayed. We apologize for any inconvenience.

(Editorial Note: Debbie Campbell works for a financial network that funds affordable housing of various economic models throughout the country. Terry Cohen’s prior legislative advocacy efforts included programs focused on increasing economic self-sufficiency of women, families and lower income individuals.)

Below this post are the first two installments that chronicled the timeline of events concerning “The Bricks,” a property in the Church Street area accepted by the city as a donation. A number of citizens have expressed concern that $1.8 million dollars of state money may be spent on less than 10 units of affordable rental housing units and question whether governments should be landlords. Others are concerned about putting more rentals into a neighborhood already distressed by a serious lack of homeownership and job opportunity.

In our efforts to promote meaningful discussion on these issues, rehabilitation of the Bricks has moved forward without what we believe to be the requisite oversight and transparency by elected representatives that citizens expect and deserve. The timeline picks up after the October 6, 2008, work session where consensus was not taken on how to move forward with the Bricks.

October 7, 2008 – Daily Times article reports on October 6, 2008, work session (“Bricks to become temp housing”), erroneously stating that “The City Council agreed that they want to see ‘The Bricks’ turned into temporary housing to prepare low-income renters for homeownership.” No consensus was taken by Council President Smith to that effect, and one council member actually expressed concern about “incubators” (housing intended to prepare residents for the next step in self-sufficient housing).

December 17, 2008 – City administrator emails copies of proposed Bricks RFP and Lease Agreement to council with a request for comments by December 30. (NOTE: The request to supply this information to council was where the October 6, 2008, work session ended, not with a consensus to move the RFP forward. For differing reasons, neither of us had seen the email with the documents. If we had, we would have supplied comments or at least responded that we had none. Either way, it was our belief that Council President Smith would bring the RFP and lease for discussion and consensus prior to any official action, since council had not acted as a body on it yet.

Post December 17, 2008 – We heard nothing for months, but given the long lapses of information to council on the Bricks previously, this did not seem all that unusual. However, come summer, the silence did seem odd and inquiries resumed.

June 12, 2009 – Campbell emails Mayor Ireton and asks for a status report on the Bricks because an update on the Bricks is scheduled for a CSAFE neighborhood meeting. No response was received.

June 25, 2009 - Campbell emails Mayor Ireton again for an update on the Bricks. Mayor Ireton responds he will check with City Administrator John Pick and have him follow up.

August 4, 2009 – Assistant City Administrator LorĂ© Chambers sends email to Council President Smith and Vice President Comegys about mapping revitalization plans for Church, including the Bricks, advising that Homes for America, Inc. is “proceeding with environmental assessment.” Mayor Ireton and City Administrator John Pick are copied on email. Mayor Ireton adds to email and asks that the email thread be copied to council.

August 4, 2009 – Chambers forwards email to three remaining council members, with copies to the mayor and Pick. Campbell sends a “Reply All” email to Chambers requesting that an update on the Bricks be put on a work session agenda. (Smith and Comegys accidentally not included on this email because they were not on recipient list of one sent by Chambers.) Chambers emails reply only to Campbell that she will ask Pick to get the update on an upcoming work session agenda.

August 8, 2009 – Chambers makes update presentation on the Bricks at CSAFE neighborhood meeting.

Post August 8, 2009 – The Bricks does not come to a work session agenda. The next council hears about the Bricks, a request comes in September 25, 2009, to place a resolution on the September 28, 2009, legislative session agenda as an “emergency item” to allow Homes for America to submit a grant application to the state on behalf of the City for funding predevelopment costs on rehabilitating the Bricks.

As you can see from this installment, the summer of 2009 was the first real indication for council as a whole that something was moving with the Bricks and that it was Mayor Ireton who started the information sharing after he received Councilwoman Campbell’s inquiries.

In our next post on the Bricks, we’ll start with the September 25, 2009, request to add the Bricks as an “emergency item.” This was when we learned what had transpired while council as a body received no updates.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Fuller Discussion on “The Bricks” – Part 2

(Editorial Note: Debbie Campbell works for a financial network that funds affordable housing of various economic models throughout the country. Terry Cohen’s prior legislative advocacy efforts included programs focused on increasing economic self-sufficiency of women, families and lower income individuals.)

In our previous post (below) on “The Bricks,” the Church Street area property that the City accepted as a donation, we started a timeline of what was considered in making that acceptance. Although we are both strong supporters of affordable housing, we had a variety of concerns about what was proposed by the Tilghman administration.

This is a building in need of serious rehabilitation in a neighborhood desperately in need of the stability that comes from home ownership and business. What would be its most beneficial use and using what public-private model? What would be the best use of taxpayer dollars and should any be involved? How could we limit or eliminate liability for the City?

In this installment, our timeline picks up in October 2008:

October 6, 2008 – Daily Times pre-work session article

October 6, 2008 – Work session on how to move forward with the Bricks.

Assistant City Administrator Loré Chambers did the presentation and informed us she met with Homes for America, Inc., in May of 2008 for ideas on what to do with the building. (Homes for America, Inc., is a non-profit developer of affordable housing, which has done other projects in Salisbury.)

Mrs. Chambers presented three options to council:
1. Turnkey project turned over to a developer
2. Long-term lease for a company to manage
3. Combination of one and two, similar to Mitchell Landing (the only city-owned affordable housing complex, 24 units started as new construction about 20 years ago).

She covered specifics about the condition of the building and said that the administration wanted council to approve Option 3. (NOTE: Council took no action.)

Homes for America, Inc., provided cost estimates in the range of $1.8 million. Mrs. Chambers said that a representative from the Department of Housing and Community Development had visited the site and felt it was a $2 million project. The building would have to be reconfigured in order to accommodate about 10 units.

The council still had not reached consensus about how to proceed or what the best and highest use of the property would be.

While it was good to learn the costs and ideas associated with the concept the administration was pushing, it drove the focus away from a richer discussion about options for the Bricks. Instead of considering possibilities such as a mixed use of residential and commercial, government use rolling over into private sale, selling outright to a for-profit enterprise or non-profit, etc., the discussion centered around a long-term, city-owned affordable housing complex with a price tag of $1.8 million as if it were an actual proposal.

Although we raised important issues about liability and other logistical considerations, Council President Smith asked Mrs. Chambers if the matter was time-sensitive. Mrs. Chambers said “no” but that the administration wanted to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP).

Campbell said it would be helpful to see the RFP and lease being proposed.

Council President Smith typically takes a straw vote poll to establish if consensus was reached to take a next interim step or to move something forward.

That did not happen.

Smith closed by asking the administration to get the documents back to council and said, “That’ll push it right along.”

In our next post, we’ll pick up the timeline from this point since October 6, 2008 was the last time council met to discuss the Bricks until council learned in late September 2009 that a contract to move ahead with development of “The Bricks” and two change orders had been signed by Mrs. Smith in her capacity as council president.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Fuller Discussion on “The Bricks” – Part 1

(Editorial Note: Debbie Campbell works for a financial network that funds affordable housing of various economic models throughout the country. Terry Cohen’s prior legislative advocacy efforts included programs focused on increasing economic self-sufficiency of women, families and lower income individuals.)

As noted in today’s Daily Times, we are presenting a full discussion on “The Bricks” since Op-Eds have been limited to 500 words. The discussion is multi-faceted, so we were only able to touch on a few highlights in the newspaper space allowed.

Our first post on “The Bricks,” a property located at 502 E. Isabella St. (intersection with Church Street) provides some earlier background and timeline information to help citizens understand the discussions about what to do with the property and the context for later events. Because the information is extensive, additional posts will follow either today, tomorrow, or both, to make for more digestible reading.

Both of us are committed to stimulating sustainable affordable housing efforts, as demonstrated in many council discussions, such as ensuring affordable housing needs are addressed in annexation agreements. Like growth, however, how and where affordable housing is developed is critical to its success.

For example, we asked questions about zoning standards in November 2007. The issue of parking for nine apartment units still has not been properly vetted.

Prior to November 2007 – Various discussions, including administration talks with then-property owner Gee Dunsten about property donation and Cathedral of Love about making the building affordable housing (discussions as noted by then-Mayor Tilghman at November 26, 2007 legislative meeting).

November 5, 2007 – Council discusses donation of the Bricks at its work session. General discussion about City’s role in ownership, working with developers and/or non-profit agencies, and zoning questions, including setbacks and parking.

November 26, 2007 – Council unanimously passes Resolution 1598 as amended. The amendment, moved by Campbell and seconded by Cohen, stated that the City “will endeavor to partner with a housing nonprofit for renovation, management and ownership."

The amendment, which opened up options for the City to put the Bricks into an ownership opportunity for a private entity, passed with votes of support from Campbell, Cohen and Smith. Campbell and Cohen raised possibilities of working with Salisbury Neighborhood Housing (SNHS) and/or Habitat for Humanity, either to create an “incubator” for home ownership in the Church Street area or placing it in their ownership for rental or ownership opportunities. (Editorial note: ownership opportunities would include, for example, owner-occupied condo units, with or without commercial space on the first floor.)

Shields and Comegys abstained from voting for the amendment. Shields raised concerns about SNHS, and Comegys said council was there to accept a donation, not discuss what was planned for the building.

April 11, 2008 – Appraisal puts value of the Bricks, now in City ownership, at $227,000.

October 6, 2008 – The Daily Times publishes pre-council work session article, stating that then-Mayor Tilghman said the building could serve as transitional homes for first-time homebuyers who might later move into Habitat for Humanity homes.

(Note: In an email dated September 29, 2009, Assistant City Administrator stated that Habitat does not have an active role in the project. Therefore, it is speculated that individuals from the project might be eligible for home ownership through Habitat or SNHS, but there is no current plan in place nor does there appear to be any meaningful discussions yet held for encouraging that to happen.)

In our next post, we’ll start with the October 6, 2008, work session discussion. Please feel free to call us or email us with any questions using the links and contact information on the right side of this web page.

"The Bricks" Information Coming at Noon

In coordination with our Op-Ed in today's Daily Times, we will be posting more information about the Church Street area property known as "The Bricks" at noon today. We apologize for any inconvenience this causes early morning readers.

Thank you for your patience.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Debbie Campbell's Full Comment to the Daily Times

"Against my objections and the caution of countless citizens, the council majority has been determined to borrow and spend for years. They did so with little regard for the burden being placed on the average taxpayer. As an example, millions of dollars in developer reimbursements (subsidies) were paid for with borrowed money - adding the additional expense of interest.

"Meaningful operating cuts that will result in long-term savings need to be
made. At the same time we must maintain our infrastructure and provide
core services at the most efficient level possible. We need to create a 5-year budget forecast to use as a road map and live within our means as a community.

"As the economy rebounds we need to pay down debt and rebuild the financial
strength of the city."

Special Trash Pickup Sept 14 thru Sept 18

This week, on your regular trash pickup day, the city will collect large
items that would normally require paying an additional fee, such as
furniture and the like. No appliances, automotive stuff or construction
waste. To take advantage of this twice yearly offer, Salisbury Public Works
must be notified of your request. Just call (410) 548-3170 and leave a
message before your trash pickup day comes to get on the list. Put your
stuff on the curb the night before and breathe a sigh of relief as it leaves
your life the next morning.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Debbie Campbell Press Conference



Debbie Campbell held a press conference Thursday, September 10, 2009 in the lobby at the Government Office building.

Debbie Campbell on Bill Reddish Show

Debbie Campbell is interviewed by WICO Morning Show host, Bill Reddish. Hear the interview in it's entirety. Click Here

Thursday, September 10, 2009

COUNCILWOMAN DEBBIE CAMPBELL RESPONDS TO POLITICAL ATTACKS

SALISBURY, MD – Salisbury City Councilwoman Debbie Campbell held a press conference this afternoon to respond to the baseless, manufactured, charges lobbed at her by political detractors:

“In an attempt to put some of this foolishness to rest, I am here today to answer questions regarding this matter. I have decided to stand up for myself and refute the false accusations and half-truths that the Daily Times feels are worthy of multiple front page stories. I am confident that my answers will allow the public to gain a better understanding of the lengths to which some groups will go to avoid honest, civil debate AND to prevent meaningful change for Salisbury and her citizens.”

Campbell responded to false allegations that she was in possession of a surveillance by categorically stating:

“I do not have this surveillance tape in my possession. I have never seen this tape. I do not even know that such a tape exists.”

Campbell attributed these malicious and fabricated attacks to a desire to intimidate her and put a stop to positive change for Salisbury and her citizens:

“Are we getting close enough to substantive, positive change in Salisbury that those who oppose reform have nothing left but to resort to these types of attacks?”

Today, Laura D'Alessandro of the Daily Times contacted Campbell and accused her of lying and criminal conduct. Campbell responded to the allegation:

“According to her (D'Alessandro), Mark Tyler of the Salisbury Police Department claims to have handed over the tape to me. Let me be perfectly clear about this. Mark Tyler never gave me any tape at any time whatsoever. I have not seen the April 3, 2009 memo in which Capt. Tyler allegedly makes the statement, though my attorney has requested a copy from the reporter. Because I have not seen the memo, or heard Capt. Tyler make such a statement, I can only hope that the reporter is mistaken, or has misinterpreted the memo, because it would have very, very serious implications if a member of the police department misrepresented the truth concerning an investigation or official police matter.”

Campbell, serving her second term as a Salisbury council member and representing District 2, was reelected by a 2 – to – 1 margin this past spring. During her tenure on council she has been a relentless advocate for her constituents, particularly in the areas of crime, neighborhood blight, lower taxes, and financial accountability.

To view a copy of Campbell’s prepared remarks as well as the supporting documents, Click Here

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cohen on Reddish Monday Aug 17



Terry Cohen will be a guest on The Morning Show with Bill Reddish on WICO 1320 AM at 8:10. Many topics will be covered.