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College Park Considers Increasing Compensation for Mayor and Council Members

Currently, the Mayor and Council do not receive yearly salaries for the time they spend. They receive stipends. The compensation for the Mayor is $10,500 per year. Council members receive compensation in the amount of $7,000 per year.

City’s Human Resources staff reviewed public data from nearby cities and municipalities with similar population sizes and budgets.

Based on the comparison data, it is the staff’s professional opinion that a change in salary is warranted at this time.

From the City Manager’s perspective, elected officials in College Park should be compensated more comparably to Bowie, Gaithersburg, and Tacoma Park, given the dynamics of the City being home to the University of Maryland and the economic engine of Prince George’s County.

During the research, Staff discovered many municipalities had a Compensation Review Committee comprising residents to recommend elected officials’ salaries. The committees surveyed their city’s websites to seek public input and used this data to determine their recommendation on compensation for the Mayor and Council.

Someone seeks office mainly to perform a civic duty and to support their community. However, financial compensation was always a lower-ranking criterion for running for office. The Mayor and Councilmembers work many hours, sometimes averaging hours that equal a full-time job conducting city business and political and public engagement.

At next week’s meeting, the City Council will discuss Mayor and Council’s yearly compensation.

Getting City Information to Non-English Speaking Residents

At next week’s City Council meeting, the Council will discuss the expansion of Community Outreach in Non-English Languages and opportunities to expand our language accessibility further.

Below is a list of current and expanded methods for accessing City information for residents who are non-English speakers.

1. City’s website features a Google translate widget in the bottom right corner that allows for automatic translation in more than 100 languages. As we have reduced the number of pdfs on our site by adding content to the pages themselves, much of our content can be translated automatically to increase accessibility. Most, if not all, browsers (including mobile) now feature native/automatic language translation of websites and HTML pages when the browser detects content in a language that is not the primary language assigned by the user and computer. For instance, if a user is a native Spanish speaker and has their browser/computer/mobile device set to the Spanish language when they visit our website, the browser will automatically ask the user if they would like it translated into Spanish or just automatically translate it. If on a desktop, users can also right-click on the page and click “Translate to…” to change the language or the translation icon in the URL bar. On mobile, users need to tap on the Aa icon and click on “Translate to…” if their mobile device has multiple languages set or the page is in another language. Another effective way to do the translation is by navigating to this website at https://accuratecommunication.com/.

2. In the summer of 2019, the City switched its Municipal Scene from a pdf (non-translatable document) to a digital magazine HTML5 format that would allow for automatic language translation, scalable text and reader capability. The Municipal Scene is published on the first business day of each month. Due to its timely nature, a digital method of translation was preferred so as not to delay the publication and because of its wider language and accessibility reach. Staff is working on adding a note to the monthly newsletter informing residents how the content can be translated. Visit davrontranslations.com for your translation needs.

3. The Weekly Bulletin and other e-newsletters will automatically translate in email and browser applications (like websites) or by right-clicking and selecting translate. Staff is working the College Park Here and Now to enable its insert “The College Park Post” to be automatically translated/scaled/e-reader accessible. As part of our upcoming agreement with the newspaper, the City’s insert will be posted to their site (unchanged and un-edited) like their other content in HTML to allow for in-browser translation. Once this feature is ready, the City will add a note to its section informing residents how to translate the insert.

The City’s Resident Guide has historically been translated into Spanish, and a Spanish language version is available on our website to read or to print. Notice of the Spanish version is also in the booklet, and in the newest edition, one of the feature articles informs residents how to translate City publications. Other City publications like Living in College Park have also been translated and printed in Spanish for distribution.

The City hosted a Spanish-focused event, Salsa Night, at the July Friday Night Live event. Event notices for College Park Day have been in Spanish, including a Spanish language flyer that will be distributed to local schools and through the Hispanic Parent Support Group (which is managed by the City’s Department of Youth, Family and Senior Services). When available, the Hispanic Parent Support Group has had a presence at City events. Staff is looking at increasing event notices in Spanish for wider access.

Staff has been using the Language Line service for phone calls; the service provides interpreters to assist callers and City staff in real time. It is also used in the field by Code and Parking Enforcement Officers and Contract Police when immediate interpretation is needed. Since January, this service has been used 32 times, predominately for Spanish. Councilmembers may use the Language Line service for phone calls and request an interpreter for a Community meeting.

Residents may request an interpreter or captioning service for City Council and advisory board meetings through the City Clerk’s Office. Three days’ advance notice is requested to allow for accommodation. When the City provides written material to the residents of Attick Towers, it is provided in English and Korean.

In the last two Municipal Elections, all election-related material provided by the City was translated into Spanish.

Major public communications, such as modified exhaust system signs, are now being provided in English and Spanish.

[City of College Park]

The New City Council to be Sworn In Today

At tonight’s Council meeting, the 2021-2023 Mayor and Council will be inaugurated at the new City Hall.
The meeting will begin with an invocation by Rev. Dr. Carrington Carter, Embry A.M.E. Church. There is a brief meeting with the current Council and comments by outgoing Council members before the 2019-2021 Council meets for the last time.
The Mayor and the 2021-2023 Council will be sworn in, and the Mayor will appoint the Mayor Pro Tem. There will be remarks from the incoming Council members and an address from the Mayor.
PRESENTATION from Mayor Wojahn to Outgoing Councilmembers Robert Day and Monroe Dennis
REMARKS from Councilmembers Robert Day and Monroe Dennis
ADJOURN the 2019 – 2021 Mayor and Council
SWEARING-IN OF MAYOR-ELECT PATRICK L. WOJAHN: The Honorable Chief Deputy Gerry Mobley of the Circuit Court, Prince George’s County, Maryland, will swear in Mayor-Elect, Mr. Wojahn.
SWEARING-IN OF THE 2021 – 2023 CITY COUNCIL: Mayor Patrick L. Wojahn will swear in members of the new City Council.

New Sunnyside Playground May Be Ready by Next Spring

The Odessa Playground will include a combo swing for adults and children to swing together facing each other [Photo credit: Gameplay.com]

Sunnyside residents have asked for a play area with play area markings for children in their neighborhood so that the families don’t have to cross Rhode Island Avenue to reach the closest playground to them. A parcel of land at the east end of Odessa road was donated to the City in 1999 with the intent the space be used for recreational purposes.

A community meeting was convened to obtain input for the project. Greenman–Pedersen, Inc., was awarded a contract to design and engineer the new playground. The City issued an RFP to advertise for the construction of the new playground project. After reviewing the bids, the Staff is recommending awarding the construction contract to E & R Services Inc. of Lanham, Maryland in the amount of $265,142.

Components of the new playground include an access path and playground pieces for people of various ages. They include:
(a) an ADA compliant asphalt access path from the end of Odessa Road to the playground. Hire an asphalt contractor if you need help building an asphalt walkway in your property, click the link to learn more.
(b) a combo swing for adults and children to swing together facing each other,
(c) a modern-themed climbing structure and a custom soft play design,
(d) three separate height turning bars, and
(e) a nature-inspired rock log, all installed on a long-wearing rubberized surface.

Other amenities include 2 benches, litter receptacles, a stormwater management micro-Bioretention facility and a structure with plantings and a screen planting using native plants. The Council will consider approving the playground construction at tomorrow’s meeting.

Some of the play equipment will be manufactured by PlayWorld’s Unity Connect Collection line of products.

The City Council is expected to award the contract at tomorrow’s Council meeting. Once the project team gets the approval, the plan is to schedule with the contractor an agreeable timeline to start and issue a Notice to Proceed soon after the discussion. Staff estimates the contract time take until spring/ summer time frame to complete, weather permitting.

City Continues to Advocate for Seniors Program, NCP Community Center, Improvements to Hollywood Park, and More..

At tonight’s meeting, the City Council will discuss the budget priorities of the Prince George’s County Planning Board of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC).

The M-NCPPC is currently soliciting comments on the Commission’s proposed FY22 budget for planning, parks, and recreation in Prince George’s County. The Commission will hold a virtual budget forum on Tuesday, October 19, 2021, at 7 pm to receive comments on the upcoming budget.

For the current M-NCPPC budget, the City made the requests below. (a) a new bike/pedestrian bridge and trail connection from the Paint Branch Park to the trail system on the west side of the river (b) Trail lighting in high traffic parts of the trail system, particularly the Paint Branch Trail north of MD 193 (c) $250,000 (from FY20 budget) Feasibility Study for a community facility in north College Park (d) Improvements to Hollywood Park including reconfigured playing fields and a drinking fountain. ( e ) Continued funding ($50,000) for senior services by the City’s Department of Youth, Family, and Senior Services MNCPPC staff have done some preliminary work on the north College Park feasibility study but has not yet contracted with a consultant. The other requests were not included in the M-NCPPC capital budget or funded in other parts of the budget.

Staff recommends that Council again request funding for a new bike/pedestrian bridge and trail connection from the Paint Branch Park to the trail system on the west side of the river; the continued funding for senior services, and improvements to Hollywood Park.

Staff also recommends that the College Park City- University Partnership submit comments to M-NCPPC supporting these projects and that we reach out to our County representatives to obtain their support. The Council may wish to request that M-NCPPC include capital funding in the budget for a community facility in the north College Park area and consider a partnership in which the City could also contribute funds.

College Park Receives State’s Assisstance for Several Projects

At the last week’s City Council meeting, City’s lobbyist told us that, City received a range of funding from the 90-day MD State’s legislative session

These investments include:
$8.9 million for the continued reconstruction of U.S. Route One and $6.1 million for modernization and expansion of MD Route 175 in Odenton.
$800,000 to improve the Trolley Trail and the bike paths under Route One and the CSX Tracks in College Park.
$48.8 million more for local schools in Prince George’s and $11.4 million for Anne Arundel.
$2 million to renovate the Attick Towers senior apartments in College Park.
$250,000 for Meals on Wheels, which delivers prepared food to seniors in Beltsville, Adelphi, College Park and other communities in Northern Prince George’s County.
$2.5 million for the City of Laurel to build transitional housing for homeless people in the Prince George’s, Anne Arundel and Howard County areas of Laurel.

Council to Get an Update on Tree Cutting Project around the College Park Airport

A requirement for the Airport’s continued operation is the maintenance of trees in the flight path of the landing strip. Tree work is required to maintain the height of the trees at both ends of the runway for safe landings and take-offs for the aircraft.

Representatives from M-NCPPC presented information to the City Council on February 4, 2020, about the planned tree work and again on May 19, 2020, to review the work in progress. The scheduled tree work near the Airport is near, if not, complete.

Representatives from M-NCPPC, which operates the airport,  will present information about the completed tree work and the next steps of the project.\ at this week’s worksession.

Extending Council Term May be on this November Ballot Again

At next week’s worksession, the Council will discuss placing this issue of extending Council term from 2 to 4 years on the 2021 ballot and developing a voter education plan.

In early 2018 Mayor and Council adopted priorities that included consideration of a Charter amendment creating four-year staggered terms, transitioning four district seats to four at-large seats, and mid-term redistricting. Subsequently, Council decided to move forward only with the exploration of four-year staggered terms.

In November 2018 Council created a Charter Review Commission to evaluate the pros and cons of lengthening the term for the office of Mayor and Councilmembers to four years; to solicit resident input and conduct other research as deemed appropriate by the Commission, and prepare an information report that discusses the benefits and concerns associated with changing the length of the elected terms. The final report of the Charter Review Commission was submitted to the Mayor and Council on May 31, 2019, and is posted on the City’s website.

In July 2019 the Mayor and Council discussed the report and decided to place advisory questions on the ballot for the November 5, 2019 election. In August 2019 the Mayor and Council approved the advisory ballot questions with respect to whether voters support 1) two- or four-year terms for Mayor and Council and 2) staggered or concurrent terms for Council in the case of four-year terms. 1,027 voters supported 2 Year Term whereas 935 voters supported 4 Year Term. I personally felt that keeping the Council term to the current 2 years was the right thing to do.

[City of College Park]

GreenPlay Report Adopted, without Comments from Council

At last night’s City Council meeting, the Council adopted the GreenPlay report “as-is”.
An amendment motion (by Kabir, Mackie) was made to accept the report with 3 comments was defeated by 2-4. Kabir, Mackie supported the amendment, whereas Kennedy, Rigg, Day, and Dennis opposed it. Then the Council voted to support the main motion (by Rigg-Kennedy) – “Accept the report As-Is”. It passed 4-2.  Kabir, Mackie voted in opposition. Councilmember Mitchell couldn’t join last night’s meeting due to a death in her family.

Personally, I felt very strongly to add 3 comments from the Council side, to address some deficiencies in the report and make it look more complete. Please see the comments I asked the Council to include here.

One particular deficiency I felt in the report was the lack of data used during the study period, as I noted in my comment #1. For example, the report could have provided a stronger and more accurate recommendation on future indoor facilities and programming needs by including facilities usage data. Specifically, College Park Community Center is the only community center within the city boundary, and GreenPlay should have collected the data of the usage and programming at this center over a period of its operation from the M-NCPPC, and use it in the study.

I commend GreenPlay for working on the study and coming up with recommendations to enhance the future recreational needs of our residents and seniors. We should also thank them for making some important edits to the latest version of the report to address some issues we discussed at our October 13 meeting.

However, it’s important to note that City used about $50,000 of taxpayers’ money on the report and, as a steward of that money, I felt that GreenPlay neglected to collect and use some very important data (in comment #1), and include other important information I noted in my comments #2 and 3.

Council to Weigh in on Supreme Court Case Fulton vs. Philadelphia

U.S. Supreme Court building Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

At next Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the College Park City Council will consider taking a position on the Supreme Court case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia.

The case, which will be heard by the Court in the fall, concerns whether Philadelphia is required to continue to contract with a private, faith-based foster care agency, Catholic Social Services (CSS) that refuses to work with same-sex couples, despite the city’s nondiscrimination policies.

The Supreme Court decided to take the case to hear in February this year. Earlier, lower courts ruled in favor of city leaders, so Catholic Social Services appealed to the Supreme Court.

Sharonell Fulton (pictured below), a foster parent in Philadelphia, joined in a lawsuit challenging the city of Philadelphia for barring Catholic Social Services of the Philadelphia Archdiocese from placing children in foster families. The Catholic Social Services (CSS) has been operating in Philadelphia since 1797.

Sharonell Fulton, a foster parent in Philadelphia, is pictured with a young woman and children in a May 23, 2018, photo.

If approved by the City Council, College Park will participate in an amicus brief to be submitted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors to the Supreme Court. An amicus brief is a legal document that can be filed in a court case by people who are not litigants in the case but have an interest in the case or subject matter. In addition, those who are looking to notarize their documents may consider visiting the nearest notary public in your area.

More details about the case and the amicus brief itself can be found in the City of New York’s primer on the brief here. The primer also includes a request for information that can help demonstrate the impact of potential rulings, including examples of services provided by a jurisdiction.

This case could ultimately impact the ability of local governments to enforce nondiscrimination policies when working with contractors on a wide range of city services.

Supreme Court justices will consider whether the government violates the First Amendment by conditioning a religious agency’s ability to participate in the foster care system on taking actions and making statements that directly contradict the agency’s religious beliefs, among 2 other questions.

Several groups have recently taken positions on both sides of the case. While groups such as the City of New York are filing a brief in support of the City of Philadelphia,  34 friend-of-the-court briefsdozens of diverse religious groups76 Members of Congress16 states, have sided with CSS and have asked the Supreme Court to protect faith-based agencies.

According to the critics, the City of Philadelphia has terminated its contract with the CSS even though no same-sex couple has ever approached CSS for an endorsement. Furthermore, they argue that if asked, the CSS would meet the adoption needs of a same-sex couple by referring to one of 29 other agencies, including several with expertise in serving LGBTQ families.

[Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of mine alone and are not necessarily those of City of College Park, or any other organization that I’m officially affiliated]

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