BY PAULA MINAERT — Based on recommendations from Human Resources Director Chris Vermillion, the Hyattsville City Council has moved to fill two core city positions from within.
At its July 23 meeting, the council voted to promote Abby Sandel to director of the newly created Department of Community Services. Sandel had been the city communications manager and, since July 2011, acting head of Recreation and the Arts. It also promoted Chris Giunta, acting director of Code Enforcement since November 2009, to head that division.
It didn’t happen without controversy, however. The motion to promote Giunta passed unanimously, but the one concerning the community-services director met with opposition from several councilmembers.
“I think [the position] should be an outside hire,” said Paula Perry (Ward 4). She said residents in her ward aren’t satisfied with this proposed promotion, adding that most of the recreational programming in the city takes place on the east side and not in West Hyattsville or University Hills.
“There used to be movie nights in West Hyattsville, but not anymore. We have a park; it could be done.”
Similarly, Tim Hunt (Ward 3) said that no programs or events took place in University Hills this summer, unlike in past years.
But Shani Warner (Ward 2) said that Sandel has done “a wonderful job” of programming in recreation and the arts and praised her for “stepping up to the plate” in running that department when its director, Steve Yeskulsky, left after less than a year.
Councilmembers Matt McKnight (Ward 3) and David Hiles (Ward 2) agreed with Warner, and Candace Hollingsworth (Ward 1) said both promotions were an opportunity to foster the talents of current employees.
On a procedural matter, Ruth Ann Frazier (Ward 5) pointed out that the motion to promote shouldn’t have come before the council without a position description or salary information She had asked for both, she said. “We know nothing. How can we make an educated decision on nothing?”
After more discussion, the motion did pass. Ward 1 councilmember Nicole Hinds Mofor joined Hunt and Frazier in voting against it. Perry left the meeting before the vote, an action she said later was made in protest.
The promotions are part of a general restructuring of city departments. Code Enforcement has been renamed the Division of Code Compliance. Another change will put parking enforcement, currently under the aegis of the police department, in this new division. It will function under the Department of Community and Economic Development, headed by Jim Chandler.
The staffing changes are based partly on recommendations made in a 2009 city management and efficiency study and partly on a reorganization plan Sandel submitted in January .
The new Department of Community Services will bring together various functions currently performed by different city offices. As director, Sandel will oversee cable operations, communications, recreation and the arts, senior services, special events and volunteer services.
The description of this department in the 2013 budget book states that “Community Services” is a term used by similar jurisdictions to describe a broad range of services focused on quality of life issues.
These shifts stem from a couple of factors. One is the city’s stated desire to move away from a focus on punitive measures in code enforcement and toward what it calls a community partnership model. The other factor is the city’s recognition of the importance of parking services as a tool to support community revitalization.
Mayor Marc Tartaro said of the changes, “It makes sense to do it this way. Other [municipalities] have done this. [It’s] best practices and not something new.”