Archived entries for Town government

A little HUBRIS + A lot of HURRY = ‘Historic’ HUMILIATION

First, it is with regret that I read last week about the resignation of Mr. Bob McIntosh from the Berlin Historic District Commission.  His long and dedicated citizen volunteer, service plus his caring expertise will be sorely missed.

To begin, what arose from simple property maintenance need has created a most confusing situation.  Reading reports this weekend in the local tabloids I came away wanting to record my own thoughts.  My story goes something like this…

The Atlantic Hotel, the beloved landmark property located in the heart of Berlin MD’s Historic District, was found to need a window upgrade.  Apparently, the old, single pane, wood sashes of yore weren’t getting the job done – certainly understandable.  An upgrade to a more energy-efficient window system was deemed advisable.  Sadly, this is where the problems began…an owner representative contacted a local contractor of long standing.  Together it was decided that vinyl replacements would be both inexpensive and efficient…and soon, without benefit of obtaining a Town of Berlin building permit, 16 windows were replaced, unfortunately, without notification to the Berlin Historic District Commission as required under the Town Code…<http://www.ecode360.com/?custId=BE0619&guid=12485850&j=23>.

Was this lack of notification to the Town a little hubris or ignorance of the Town Code – I guess we’ll never really know?

Nevertheless, after installation of those now infamous sixteen windows, and being cited (caught) by the Town’s Code Enforcement officials, the Hotel’s representative deemed it advisable to come before the Town’s Historic District Commission and the case was presented on Wednesday, December 1st.

That evening, finding myself present that at this ‘packed house’, most newsworthy event, I didn’t have long to wonder the identity of the strange woman seated beside me.  After lengthy testimony by Mr. Larry Wigeon reciting that vinyl windows were the most affordable and efficient way for the Hotel to affect a solution and the representing attorney, Mr. Hugh Cropper, pleading forgiveness of the oversight. The mystery woman woman then got up and identified herself as Ms. Elizabeth Beckley, a representative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Eastern Shore Field Director of ‘Preservation Maryland’.  Indeed!  She quickly proceeded to refute Mr. Wigeon’s conclusions, saying that historically accurate, wood framed, sash replacement windows were available and in fact, were equal to or greater than vinyl in R value (energy efficiency) and equal to or lesser than vinyl in cost!  She ended her testimony by offering to supply a list of various local contractors who would be happy to submit a window estimate to the Hotel.  Further testimony from Staff caused even more consternation. Yikes!

A couple of glances up to look at the faces of the Historic Commission Board members; Chairman Bob McIntosh, Mary Rose and Kit Matthews (Betty Hammond having temporarily stepped down due to possible conflict of interest and Mary Moore being absent) told me that this issue was indeed causing confusion and concern.  To rule against long time friends, neighbors and town investors in order to enforce the Code was difficult.  After a couple of false starts it was voted that the Hotel was in violation and the sixteen vinyl windows would possibly have to be removed, to be replaced with wood…and with a to-be-determined fine levied for the violation.

The next hearing of the now ‘Atlantic window deal’ was when a notice circulated stating that the Hotel had filed an appeal and the ‘window deal’ would come before the Berlin Zoning Appeals Board on Wednesday, December 14th.

A further later installment to this regrettable story came about last week when Mayor Gee Williams, hastily decided to defy Berlin Town Code and allow the Hotel’s vinyl windows to remain and forgive any fines.  Again, understandable, practical – but perhaps not wise or even legal!  Certainly not setting an example of ‘leadership by example’ – the old ‘do as I say not as I do’!

We’re up to current with this story…and the Town’s in a fine pickle!  The never to be discounted, ‘Berlin grape-vine’ is wondering if what Gee has done is legal…I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about that.  Certainly our Town Code Enforcement has been effectively neutered – with a, ‘if they can do it, why not me?’ defiant attitude echoing from most everyone.  Also, innuendos abound as to the basis for Mayor William’s actions…again, we’ll never know!

Finally, by his summary action has Gee placed Berlin in further jeopardy with the various Historic Preservation groups – the ones that support with future grants and tax breaks?

In conclusion…my thoughts are that having no real industry except tourism, to speak of in Berlin, – our capital is in our ‘Historic-ness’ and to put this ‘…ness’ in jeopardy is perhaps more than a little bit of hubris plus a lot of hurry which equals much unwanted ‘Historic HUMILIATION’, within our fine little town of Berlin MD.

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Upside Down…Let’s join together to right this!

Having just returned from a Thanksgiving visit with family at a small, beach town in North Carolina; some of the things witnessed there have set me to thinking more ‘right-side up!

On Friday after Thanksgiving, the weather changed; a cool, wet front had rapidly moved through.  No more fishing, pool, beach or boating – no visiting the skate park! This change subsequently caused four adults to confront head-on, four, active, healthy children between the ages of 7 and 12!  It became a more than YIKES moment!  The feast leftovers had been inhaled, Scrabble, Candyland and other board (or should that be spelled ‘bored’?) games had been quickly exhausted and although WII and accompanying electronic gadgets littered the floor, it was apparent that some form of physical diversion, namely exercise, was needed – quickly!  Not far from panic, my son remembered the Town’s sponsored Rec Center. Then, a quick call to Grammy and Mike (who had wisely retreated to a nearby condo), “Meet us behind the old Season’s Restaurant in 15 minutes.”  Done!

In short order, from various directions, we all pulled into a sizable, already partially filled, parking lot.   The Carolina Beach Recreation Center building looked very similar in size and appearance to Berlin’s own Tyson Plant on Rt. 346.  Upon entering, we were greeted by a pleasant man behind a counter to the right.  Beyond him one could see a vast office/storage area containing cubbyholes filled with ‘stuff’ to borrow…related to every type of indoor sports activity!  Our small ‘team’ had brought their own ‘stuff’, and so after signing in, we quickly moved into a huge room  – a double/quadruple basketball court… anyway it had six baskets!  The floor was not wood but some sort of waffled tile and there were pull-down bleachers all around.  The young boys rapidly found their ‘goal basket’ and the girls went off in search of something more interesting.   For more than three hours, the kids moved from basketball court to the ping-pong /foosball game room, on to the weights/exercise facilities, past the video game room and to the racquetball court where they had the most fun taking turns against the ‘old’ folks – Mike finally crying, ‘Senior Abuse’!   During our indoor journey we saw many rooms, even a second floor where an area had been fitted out for dance lessons.  Classrooms and meeting rooms were everywhere…lists and flyers announcing current and upcoming community oriented activities posted on bulletin boards throughout.  Have I mentioned that on this Black Friday the center was filled with people – young and old?  The annual cost for a resident family…$80.00!!! Not much when you figure the benefit.

Later, during Saturday’s long drive home I couldn’t shake the thought that something like this indoor recreation facility is sorely needed in Berlin!  We cite the need for outdoor parks filled with trees and other environmentally correct, native flora – we spend time and money to beautify our Town’s landscape.

I think we need to do more to improve our ‘peoples-scape’ – to fill the real need for healthy, communal, indoor activities consisting of active, indoor recreation and offering ongoing adult education.  At least equal focus on ‘do’ and ‘look’!

If there’s an underlying point to this story it’s that instead of increasing Berlin’s Police presence to deter criminal activity it might be time to do some ‘right-side’ thinking – by offering attractive, guided, yet ‘fun’ and safe activities for all ages in order to possibly effect the same result?  It’s been done before!

Our Town has suitable vacant land – we even have land with suitable structures – we have the need – now we need a plan… and the money…perhaps a joint venture with Worcester County?

If you’d like to see what one small town (very similar to Berlin) can do…dare to take a look at this page (click on the link below).  Scroll down to see all that’s offered!  There’s even a copy of the Master Parks Plan – Final Draft, showing how another small town went from discerning the need, through execution and on to fulfillment in a few short years.

Carolina Beach Recreation Center – http://www.carolinabeach.org/site_new/pages/parks_rec.html

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QUID PRO QUO… Now it’s YOUR turn!

It’s been almost a week since the mid-term elections here in the U.S.  We’ve done our part.

WE VOTED!

For months we’ve watched, listened and studied an almost endless stream of candidate posturings – opinions with few facts – noise without action.  We’ve answered your annoying ro-bo calls, received your large, colorful postcards/blue letters, shaken your hands and suffered through a barrage of politically motivated TV and radio commercials…we’ve even had our visual ‘landscape littered’ with your signs!  Short of living underwater there’s been no way to avoid you…you spent a whole lot of money to court us – at least a coupla’ billion!  You said you wanted a job.

We got it…WE VOTED!

The losers of this election are packing up, heading home.  The few ‘un-decided’ candidates, remain hoping!

For those of you that won…I think you‘ve learned (if you care to look), that we no longer care about your hairstyle or lack of one; the color of your skin or shoes; designer of your clothes.  And, ironically we no longer seem to care much about your party labels!

We’re now a nation of tired folks who only want one more action from you, to

“STOP TALKING and DO YOUR JOB!”

If you are working – doing your JOB, they’ll be no time to perfect a tan, participate in the endless ‘2012’ dialogue on the FOX news, ‘do’ lunch with lobbyists or really do little else other than seriously create, study and vote on the needed legislation set before you.

REASONED LEGISLATION for US!

Quid Pro Quo

Note:  YOUR  ‘JOB PERFORMANCE (including attendance record) report card’ will be handed out again on November 2nd, 2012!

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Summer’s Summary

It was hot!  The summer of 2010 broke temperature and rainfall records here on Delmarva; too hot, too little.  Yet, despite the unusual weather patterns, most of us here in Berlin MD seem to muddle along.

The ‘West Street Girls’ (our two remaining hens after an late spring attack by feral cats) continued to lay beautiful, large eggs throughout and taught me that chickens do play in water.  While fiddling with the hose one day looking for ways to help them through the hottest part of the day, I made a little mud puddle in the lawn.  Juliet and April jumped right in, cackling and splashing.  Since then, if that puddle is dry, one or the other comes to the back door protesting loudly, reminding us to ‘fill the pool’.  They’ve surely become our pets, with ‘tangible benefits’!  Apparently others in the area are interested…we’ve had visitors, several of whom, after meeting our hens, have begun their own flock of backyard birds.  No matter, I remain in awe of nature.

And, hats off to our area farmers!  Getting to know these hard-working folks further through my Berlin Farmers Market facebook marketing efforts, my appreciation continues to deepen.  Despite difficult growing conditions all season long, these growers continue to offer (Wednesdays & Fridays 10-3) the best in fresh and local.  Fall crop varieties; crispy greens and squashes (including the ubiquitous pumpkins) are coming in – right on time.  Our plant guy, Paul, promises a good supply of pretty, fall pansies too!

Finally, under the heading of a “… Believe It or Not” moment; it can’t be late summer in an even-numbered year without the biennial noise of the political campaign; not only noise but also the growing crop of visual campaign – landscape litter.  It’s almost as if strategic property placement and the number of signs has become its own commodity!  Nevertheless, my hope for these ‘hopefuls’ is that there are enough good deeds behind the candidates’ names; people really don’t vote for signs!  Tomorrow is the Primary and November 2nd is the General Election.  After that time, the signs disappear, but those deeds, past and present (which are fairly good indicators of future performance), remain!

Vote!

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The aftermath…

Sitting here thinking in the aftermath of last night’s Mayor and Council meeting where the Town of Berlin MD added about $1 million dollars of land purchase debt to it’s already stretched budget.  And, while still personally concerned with the details of financing this effort,  I’ve learned a few additional things:

  • That hope trumps reason for many
  • The future of Berlin’s youth is important to most

The ‘hope’ lesson was gleaned from the several who spoke in favor of the purchase ignoring the sad fact of adding debt which will prolong, if not eventually increase, the need for income derived from the Town’s levied property taxes upon Berliner’s.  An answer to ‘reason’ was apparent when our Mayor Williams stressed our dependence upon ‘slots’ money to erect a future Community Center and Police Station.  That kind of anticipatory financing is again called ‘hope’ – however, judging from the final vote…perhaps we all could use a short course in fiscal responsibility as well?

The ‘future’ of Berlin’s youth is important to many, if not all…several folks (discounting unnecessary testimony from a few politicians) testified of a nearly life-long wait for a local, crime-free gathering place for children.  Somehow, I’ve always believed that school provided necessary socialization and that after school and weekend hours offered unstructured playtime: pursuit of outdoor activities and quality opportunities to spend with family.  Berlin already boasts of some well-appointed, well-maintained parks thanks to an active Berlin Maryland Parks Commission.

Guess I’m not with the times.  I had to make do with creating my own recreational pastimes; often playing with friends outdoors – hopscotch, hide & seek and sandlot ball were favorites.

Nevertheless, we are getting our land (along with the debt)…and we’ll ‘hope’ for funds to erect the proposed, very much-desired, buildings.

‘Magical Thinking’ vs. Critical – Route 113 Land Purchase Ordinance

Reading the online version of today’s Daily Times only reinforces my beliefs – that the proposed Ordinance to purchase six acres of land for $828K plus simple interest of 5% for five years (cost to nearly $1 million) is somewhat ludicrous – and only increases the burden of DEBT, current and future, to the taxpaying citizens of Berlin MD.

“Another public hearing is scheduled on plans to spend up to $828,000 to purchase about 6 acres of land at the intersection of Route 113 and Bay Street. The town would buy the land in anticipation of using it as the future site of a new police station and a community center, in separate buildings.  Mayor Gee Williams said the time is right to buy the land. Spending money to construct the buildings, he said, would likely wait until Berlin began receiving its share of tax revenues from legalized gambling at Ocean Downs, in 2011 or later. “We sincerely believe that money will be coming from our share of the slots revenues,” Williams said. “We’ve got years to let that accumulate.”
If a new police headquarters was built, Williams said, the current police building on William Street would likely see service as a substation. “We’d still have a police presence downtown,” Williams said.”

Further critical thought leads me to question – we have DEBT for the land…we have DEBT for the buildings to yet be erected and then additional DEBT for staffing, maintenance of all? (Eventually someone will have to pay staff salaries to mow the lawns, trim the bushes and change the light bulbs.)

Didn’t our Town already scramble to make budget cuts this year (good job all)? Aren’t we in a local building slump…perhaps longer and worse than anticipated? Certainly revenues are falling short…again, worse than anticipated?

We can’t change the world economy…but we can certainly reorder ours by deliberately decreasing any unnecessary, additional responsibilities; two Police Stations for a town the size of Berlin, a new community center when fewer dollars could rehabilitate a facility resting on land already owned?

It’s fine to be optimistic, to indulge in ‘magical thinking’ but please don’t do it with my dollars!

Public Hearing and final vote on this issue – Tonight, Town Hall at 7 pm.

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Town Ordinance 2010-07…certainly worth another look (and post)!

The more I consider (and hear from others), the proposed Town Ordinance 2010-07 coming up for Public Hearing and FINAL VOTE on Monday evening, the more reasons present themselves in the averse column!

I hate unmanageable debt and do my personal best to remain solvent – as I’m sure do most in this town.   Why then are our elected officials so anxious to increase our communal debt?

If, in fact our Town is in such NEED of a new Police facility and Community Center why then have not all options been considered and presented to the folks who will pay – especially those options that would cost us (taxpayers) so much less?

This particular Ordinance proposes that we pay $828,530 dollars for new lands upon which these so-called NEEDS are to be erected.  With the 5% simple interest over 5 years this comes to around $1,000,000.  That’s a whole lot of money = debt – to be paid from future taxpayer contributions!

OUR TOWN ALREADY OWNS CONSIDERABLE UNDEVELOPED LANDS – debt free! What about the old Raynes Sand and Gravel property, already owned by the Town, along Rt. 346?  Or, how about the 14 Town-owned acres, re-discovered during the BEC sale debacle, on Schoolfield Street located on the East side of Town.  A quick look on a tax map shows these properties and others that could be used, as well as even other, perhaps more suitable undeveloped for sale properties at considerably less cost!

Even a simple redesign of the property upon which currently rests the Berlin Electric Company generation plant, could house a generous Police office with parking for our Town vehicles.

Good grief!  This whole idea is worth another (more careful) look before we leap into debt!

I say, let’s stop grumbling, muttering and sighing…phone or email your Town Council District Representative now and/or be present on Monday evening – August 23rd, 7 pm, Town Hall!

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IMnsHO…

In texting language IMHO stands for ‘in my humble opinion’, however, I find my opinion on the already much talked about ‘land purchase’ not so humble – more incensed perhaps.
My recent awareness of this proposed ‘Town’ land acquisition began on Thursday, August 6th when I received a copy, via email, of the upcoming agenda of the regular Berlin Mayor and Council meeting for August 9th, 2010. Scanning quickly, my attention settled on #6 –

“Introduction of Ordinance 2010-07An ordinance to authorize and empower the Mayor and Council to purchase real property to be used to house a new police station and a community center and to issue and sell general obligation installation bonds not to exceed $828,530.00. Public hearing to be held on August 23, 2010.”

First thoughts, “WHAT? WHERE? Wow, that’s a lot of money for six acres of undeveloped land! Where’s it going to come from? Perhaps I shouldn’t have paid my property taxes early?” (Further initial reactions not publishable!)
“OK, what to do – first, to find out where this land is located”…prompted a quick email to my 2nd District Councilwoman – Lisa Hall. She replied, “Philips – Rt. 50”.   “That couldn’t be right…if it’s the old Philips Farm, its on Rt. 113 and Bay Street extended.” A correction confirming this location quickly followed.
More tumbled thoughts followed – “wasn’t this land already slated for a medical office facility?“– I had attended the hearings where the Baltimore developer had promised to save a couple of ‘important’ trees during the construction process. Hmm, guess that fell through – tight economy and all.
“Why do we suddenly need a new, Berlin police station?”  Also, recollected a Town meeting some time back where our Chief, Arnold Dowling said we didn’t need the additional space. Now, suddenly we need a considerably larger facility for our still small, population of 3,947 folks? Has crime increased to this extent? This then would mean a larger chunk for Police from our already stretched Annual Budget…? A larger Police presence means more policemen present! Increased taxes?
Then came consideration of a new ‘Community Center’…what’s this about? We already have a multi-purpose community center of sorts…on Flower Street. Again, recollect that during past Mayor Tom Cardinale’s term, there was a push to rehab this facility – for community activities and as a possible site for an Arts & Entertainment Center…lotta’ push but apparently little action – probably due to little money from grants. New street surface, sidewalks and curbing are in place though. Still, if even a portion of the dollars now slated (to be borrowed) for the new land purchase could be funneled to a Flower Street multi-purpose facility rehab there could be a more effective overall Town integration of the East and West sides of Berlin. I’m for that!
Still trying to be fair, I weigh the importance of location. It’s a good corner; it’s an entrance of sorts to the Berlin downtown populated areas. Often, even being  familiar with Berlin’s ‘map’, when driving up from the south, I am oftimes surprised coming upon the traffic light! It’s a busy but poorly marked intersection – which needs some sort of transitional structure showing activity – perhaps a ‘Burger King’?

There could be only one solution to all this thinking; to be present at the scheduled meeting.
(I had missed a few recently; mostly due to weariness. We have a new puppy that awakens between 2 and 3 am; a nighttime ritual of – let’s ‘pee and play’ until 6 am! At six months of age she’s showing no signs of giving up this habit. At 12 months, I will help her!)
Back to the meeting – items #’s 1 through 5 go quickly, then Mayor Williams begins to speak…he talks particularly of the financing; simple interest payment only of 5% for five years, bond issues, delayed payment schedule, and so on. There was even an artful rendition of the planned layout (with buildings) for all to see.

However, my thinking keeps going back to the fact that we’ll (the Town) be in DEBT, further DEBT – for land – without even a brick placed! WHY? Is this commitment action based on need or want?
What will this proposed DEBT do to our property taxes in the future – five years down the road?
If this ordinance is passed, we’ll have committed to an already further unaffordable (for many of us) future IMnsHO!

Since the meeting, I’ve had a couple of people (who weren’t present that evening) ask me about this ‘purchase’…my response to those who are concerned; come to the Public Hearing on this subject on August 23rd! The meeting begins at 7 pm and will be held at Town Hall. Make your feelings known where it counts – and give YOUR humble opinions!

…Let me count the ways”

I think the poem goes…”How do I love thee – let me count the ways” – or something like that.  Last evening at the regular meeting of the Berlin Maryland Town Council, the newest object of my affection was served alongside the usual, often dry, but necessary, rhetoric.

Upon entering the nearly full, Town Hall Council Chamber, I was handed a container of the new “Official Berlin MD Dessert”.   And, shortly thereafter, we listened to a lovely presentation about the now former, famed, Berlin area, Harrison Orchards by Sandra Dewey (nee Harrison). Continuing, amid the ‘clatter’ of busy utensils, our Mayor, Gee Williams and the Council members unanimously decreed that the ‘Peach Dumpling’ would become our Town’s official dessert – beautifully baked, flakey, tender pastry filled with flavorful peaches topped with a dollop of flavored whipped cream!  What fun and how delicious!

For now though – we’ll have to wait a bit for a second (and third….) helping. Still busy with remodeling within the Main Street location formerly known as “The Pink Box”, the new bakery is not yet open to the public.  Soon, I hope – be assured, it’s worth the wait.  This offering has me waxing poetic!

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ALL eight syllables for Berlin – let’s finish the job!

In-for-ma-tion Tech-nol-o-gy  – eight syllables which really mean information transmission for the people of our town.

During the past year a reasonable number of our tax dollars have gone toward a major upgrade of our Town’s communication equipment – the ‘hardware’ that allows computations, data storage and plain old communication to take place within and without the various Berlin governmental departments. The ‘within’ portion of the work is done; the ‘without’ is incomplete – we remain having a poor face for our Town’s website.  Take a look…  Compared with surrounding Towns throughout Delmarva, Berlin’s website is confusing and dull; giving the casual visitor no sense of what Berlin MD really has to offer; certainly showing no sense of pride.  Actually though, contained in our Town Government website is a wealth of valuable, up to date information – it’s the ‘face’, the lipstick if you will, that needs to be fixed.  One year ago our Mayor & Council budgeted for this final step – for the IT (those eight syllables again) Committee folks to move forward by reviewing the info and selecting a web design firm to complete this face.  One year – it’s time to finish the job!

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