BY PAULA MINAERT — At the initiative of Mayor Marc Tartaro, the Hyattsville City Council (with staff input) is developing a list of priorities for the near future. Tartaro said he thinks it’s the most important task facing the council. “Until we start working through what we have to do, we’re playing catch up.”
Councilmember Nicole Hinds Mofor (Ward 5) sees the list as a good idea. “I think we’re in the process of shortening the list to make it achievable. Having a list, it gives us goals to achieve. That way we’re not doing everything that comes across our desk.”
While the list is being finalized, here are some major projects the council soon will be tackling.
Hiring a human resources manager
Several council members put this item at the top of their to-do lists. Last month’s HL&T detailed some city staffing problems, particularly high staff turnover and vacancies in senior positions. This has led to the council spending a great deal of time in the last few months dealing with personnel issues in closed session.
“Vacancies on the staff are hindering our ability to do the stuff we want to do,” said councilmember Shani Warner (Ward 2). “We have limited resources and spend lot of time putting out fires and handling time-sensitive issues or issues of losing grant money if we don’t act. Other priorities keep getting pushed off the agenda. It’s a problem.”
An HR manager has been in the budget for years but never acted upon, according to Council President Matt McKnight (Ward 3).
“A lot of things made it be put off. We really need to do it,” he said.
Councilmember Paula Perry (Ward 4) said that when a city staff gets to a certain size, an HR person is needed. “[You need someone] in place who understands benefits and evaluations and also to make sure policies are being followed. At the same time staff needs to have someone they can go to who can be objective.”
Former councilmember Bill Tierney is assisting with the hiring process.
Three city street projects have been in the works for years.
The Crittenden Street/40th Place project is intended to improve drainage, realign the roadway and add or widen sidewalks. The effort was slowed by problems in the county’s replacement of an ancient, crumbling storm drain that runs underneath Crittenden Street. Its contractor, C&N Associates, began work in December 2010 but seven months of failed inspections ensued and in July, 71 houses were without water for two days.
On July 14, the contractor was replaced by NZI Construction, a city contractor. City spokesperson Abby Sandel says the engineering firm, BAI, has submitted drawings in accordance with the project schedule.
“The next step is a discussion at executive committee on September 21,” she said.
Another project targets Banner and Buchanan streets and 43rd and 44th avenues and involves installing sidewalks, roadway realignment and base repair as needed. A third will undertake drainage and road improvements in University Hills.
McKnight said, “In University Hills, we need to take care of doing a new bond for it. But the engineering work was more complicated than we thought. So we’ll reappropriate funds for existing projects and hold off on Hills work until all engineering work is done.”
On August 22, the council assigned responsibility for overseeing these projects to Julia McTague in the city clerk’s office. Tartaro said he expects presentations on those projects in September or October.
In July, Hess Construction and Engineering presented an assessment of the five buildings owned by the city: the administration building on Gallatin Street, 3505 Hamilton Street (former BB&T building), the Department of Public Works Operations Center, the Arcade Building and the recreation center at Magruder Park.
The report found that the city has a current and short-term space deficit of 21,600 square feet, based on the needs of the various city departments.
“[This is] just to maintain existing programming,” said Community Development Manager Jim Chandler. “It doesn’t include our future space needs.”
Hess presented two options to meet the city’s needs. The first would move the city offices to 3505 Hamilton Street and the police department would take over the entire current municipal building. The second would move the police to 3505 Hamilton Street and the administration stay in its current building. The public meeting space now in that building would move to the Arcade building.
It’s up to the council to accept one of these two options or come up with a different scenario, Chandler said.
Tartaro said the assessment was done with staff input but not council input. “[It] projected a certain staffing level. I’ve asked the treasurer to figure out what it would cost to have that staff level. Now we have to ask, can we afford that? The other piece is a needs assessment: what kinds of services are we projecting in the future and at what cost? The assumptions that we need x number of people and space may be valid but [perhaps] we can’t afford it.”
The city is required by law to go through a redistricting process after each U.S. census.
Perry said she puts redistricting second on the to-do list, after hiring an HR manager. Tartaro said that redistricting doesn’t have to be done for a year and the council is on schedule with the process.
This was a major issue for McKnight. “The holdup now is that the county is going to place their cameras on county roads within the city. State law says the city has first say but the county can put cameras on our roads. They don’t have to get our approval.”
He said the city council and Hyattsville Police Chief Doug Holland both went on record opposing county cameras in the city and the council has passed legislation that would allow the city to install speed cameras.
He added, “But we haven’t made a decision as to whether we want the cameras. We need to look at the information, hold public meetings, and discuss it. Hopefully within the next couple of months we’ll decide.”
Warner said, “Some council members may not support installing cameras but it seems we will have them, especially because the county has listed two or three places in the city [to put them]. Chief Holland asked that they be removed from the list but they weren’t.
She called for more public involvement in the process.