Editorial: Mayor Pantelides’ 8-month slide

| August 14, 2014
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Pantelides

Annapolis Mayor, Michael J. Pantelides

November 2013 was likely a fluke.  While it can be argued that Annapolis is a firmly Democrat leaning town and former Mayor Cohen simply ran a poor campaign, one cannot overlook what has transpired, or not transpired, since Mayor Michael Pantelides took the reins of the City of Annapolis in December.

In the purest terms, Pantelides won the election by promising all things to all people–a neophyte’s mistake. He had a vulnerable opponent who drew a primary challenger. And there was a privately funded civic group, Save Annapolis, that essentially funded Cohen’s opponent and contributed heavily to the Pantelides campaign. Interestingly enough, the group seems to have disappeared; they were probably more interested in saving the interests of a particular business entity than anything else.  He played it smart and kowtowed to the Democrat challenger’s supporters and won the election by 59 votes.  But now, nearly a year into his first term, Pantelides has has demonstrated little leadership, and has little to nothing to show as a legislator.

Promises made, promises kept?

Of the campaign promises made, only one has been kept, sort of–he lowered the parking rates; but then bumped them back up. Water and trash rate rollbacks? Didn’t happen!

Carl Snowden out from HACA? During out online debate he stated that he would appoint a new person.

https://twitter.com/VotePantelides/statuses/387719443687538688

He has appointed a new person, Sandra Chapman, but the City Council has stalled that effort for a few months and Snowden, with more political experience, out politicked the young Mayor by having a seat on the Board created for him which was out of the reach of Pantelides. The Capital was critical of Snowden for the way he lambasted Pantelides during a City Council meeting; however, in Snowden’s defense, the Mayor is very inaccessible to everyone and Snowden did point that out. The Mayor has had an online Twitter discussion last week and holds monthly “open door” meetings where people can speak to him for 10 minutes at a time–and that’s about it.

When he was campaigning, Pantelides said he would “stop” the Crystal Spring development (again,  pandering to a segment that was easily swayed). Now, his position has changed a bit–he says the project was too large as originally submitted. Now Crystal Spring has revised their plans and the Mayor has been relatively silent on any new opinions other than asking for public input.

Who is steering the ship?

oscarWhile AFSCME is the union representing many City employees, it might as well be SAG-AFTRA because there is a large number of actors who are managing the City with no real end in sight.

City Attorney

Mayor Pantelides nominated Tim Murnane as the City Attorney. The Council fought him from the first day questioning his capabilities. Murnane was a polarizing fixture in City Hall, and by all counts seriously overstepped his authority when he attempted to intervene with the arrest of the Mayor’s cousin on attempted murder charges. Eventually, when it became apparent that the City Council was not going to confirm Murnane, he stepped down with a nice severance package for his six months of work in addition to his salary.  Today, we still have an acting City Attorney.

City Manager

Pantelides fired City Manager Mike Mallinoff. Of course Mallinoff was on the chopping block when Cohen lost the election, but Pantelides fired him without thinking it through. The City was in the midst of putting together his first budget and Mallinoff would have been a critical voice in the process.  Instead, Pantelides submitted an unbalanced budget and kicked it over to the Council to work out. Mallinoff’s Assistant, Virginia Burke was made Acting City Manager and a month later she abruptly quit. Pantelides named Brian Woodward, the Director of Parks and Recreation the next Acting City Manager and after 4 months he abruptly quit citing health concerns. Now, he has appointed David Jarrell, the Director of  Public Works to be the Acting City Manager. Pantelides has refused to engage in a national search for a City Manager despite advice and direction from the City Council. To be truthful, at this point, a national search is likely a waste of money. What truly qualified professional would consider working for an administration that has had 4 City Managers in less than a year?  The sign on the front of the building no longer says “City Hall,”  it simply reads “This Way To Dysfunction.” Today, we still have an Acting City Manager; but we also learned that Pantelides is reportedly nominating another candidate for City Manager when the Council returns from their break in September. With candidates participating in interviews only this week and next, hopefully he will have a good candidate that will be able to be confirmed and that the Council will act on the merits of the candidate and not out of adversity with the Mayor.

Planning and Zoning

Pantelides  fired allowed Planning and Zoning Director, Jon Arason, the opportunity to resign. Many felt this was a short sighted move on the part of the new Mayor. Arason was mostly a-political and a 29 year employee of the City having worked with Republicans and Democrats. The City was in a planning turmoil with the Save Annapolis people opposing any changes to City Dock, the redevelopment of the Fawcett property, the Crystal Spring development, Stevens Hardware and several other controversial projects. Arason had a pulse on that, and now it is left to Dr. Sally Nash, the Acting Director of Planning and Zoning. Nash’s term as Acting Director is coming to an end–City code gives her six months. But Pantelides has another problem. No one wants this job.  A candidate was identified (finally) and when offered the position, he turned it down. When the 2nd choice was offered the position, he had already accepted another job offer. The 3rd choice also turned down the City’s offer. So now, the Mayor finds himself back at square one trying to find a Director for this critical position.  The question is will the Council push the code and require Nash to be replaced creating further turmoil in the department?

Transportation

Pantelides also fired allowed Transportation Director, Richard Newell the opportunity to resign.  Under Newell, a substandard transportation system was quickly brought up to more than adequate. Granted, it was losing money as most transit systems do; but like Planning and Zoning it the department was at a critical juncture with the future of the Circulator in limbo and the possibility of joining a regional transit solution. Had the latter happened, Newell would have been out of a job in any event. But the catalyst was when the Mayor asked a family friend to step in and advise the Director on acquiring bus shelters. Newell was publicly critical of the Mayor and ultimately, the then-acting City Manager was instructed by the then-acting City Attorney to secure his resignation. Today, we still have an Acting Director of Transportation.

Parks & Recreation

2014-08-11 06.36.36By all accounts, Brian Woodward was doing an incredible job with Parks and Recreation.  The Pip Moyer Recreation Center was a profit center and was making money. The facilities were maintained and the programs robust. Woodward was one of the people I suggested that Pantelides retaine when he was sweeping City Hall. Woodward was tapped to be the Acting City Manager and the Harbormaster was grounded and sent to Hilltop Lane as the Acting Director for Parks & Recreation.  Now that Woodward has resigned the Acting City Manager’s job, he also resigned the Director position and is leaving the City of Annapolis.  The Harbormaster, according to several employees, has not kept up the standard of Woodward and there is considerable dissension in the ranks. The City has ceased offering birthday parties which were a revenue source and just last week announced that the popular Ballocity would be closed indefinitely at the Pip Moyer Rec Center. Finally, yesterday, we heard that the City is looking at closing the center one full day to save money. If the City keeps taking away the incentives to join and support the rec center, it will become another Fawcetts. It appears that the City is looking to cover the budget from the Parks & Recreation department. Nevertheless, the Parks & Recreation is currently being managed by and Acting Director.

Harbormaster

And with the busiest time of the year for the Harbormaster upon us, Mayor Pantelides shifts the leadership into the recreation center. Certainly the fees are being collected, boats are coming and going, and sewage is now (finally) being pumped out; but the department (along with the others) deserves a permanent leader. Today the Harbormaster’s Office is being run by an Acting Harbormaster.

Police Department

Michael Pristoop

Annapolis Police Chief, Michael Pristoop

The Police Department is one of the few departments that has retained qualified leadership. Chief Pristoop has done an admirable job of reducing crime in the City overall. OK, so there was that little hiccup over the marijuana deaths in Colorado; but all in all, Pristoop has been a respected and effective leader for the City. But, we hear that this position might be vulnerable. When Pristoop came in under the Safe Streets Program he had the backing of Governor Martin O’Malley.  Part of the expectation for him to come to Annapolis was that once he cleared his pension from Baltimore City, he would be able to join the City’s pension retroactively. The Baltimore pension cleared and now he will join the City plan. The sticking point is that the City must now retroactively contribute to his pension from his hire date in 2008. The City Council had enacted legislation to accommodate this last year, but it was not acted upon by former Mayor Cohen and despite the Council’s approval, Pantelides has not yet acted on this matter.  If this is not funded and the City reneges on the understanding, it would come as no surprise if Pristoop would look elsewhere. Could we see Chief Pristoop on a short list to lead Anne Arundel County after the elections in November?

So, what is the problem with everyone working for Annapolis? It used to be that people clamored to work for the City. Free parking. Pensions. Great work hours. Fair pay. But now, what gives?  With the Mayor’s lack of any managerial experience, difficult personnel decisions are being put off. The issues will not solve themselves and if the Mayor is uncomfortable with hiring and firing people, he really has no business being the CEO of a City.

Kitchen Cabinet

While any new administration is entitled and expected to bring on their own people (and they should), Pantelides has so far been unable to attract anyone to any of the key positions and has been shuffling the deck chairs and hoping for the best. However, he does have his “Kitchen Cabinet” which includes his father, development lobbyist John Pantelides; former City Administrator Bob Agee who was largely responsible for the decade-long closure of the Market House under the Moyer administration; and City landowner Ted Siomporas.  While the elder Pantelides significant involvement in City business was documented in Elisha Sauer’s article in The Capital; the relationship between the Mayor and family friend Ted Siomporas is more interesting.  Siomporas was connected with the bidders of the failed energy park under the Moyer administration and worked with Agee closely to move that project along. He has recently been retained by Mayor Pantelides to lead the resurrection of the plan.  Siomporas was also the unpaid consultant that injected himself into Transportation Department’s negotiations for the new bus shelters. Siomporas also owns a tract of land where the former Whiskey night club once stood. At one point, he wanted to sell the land to the City allowing them to realign Chinquapin Round Road and Admiral Drive as they cross West Street; but now it looks like he is looking to bring in a Taco Bell with near 24-7 operation. It will be interesting to see if the permitting waters are as rough for Siomporas as they are for every other business that opens in the City.

Watch Your Step

The Democrats are up in arms. What is “supposed” to be a blue city, now has a red tint. You can expect criticism of the Mayor on nearly every move from the Annapolis Democratic Action Group run by former Central Committeeman Chuck Weikel. And with a group like this frothing at the mouth to regain this office and the County Council and Executive, the Mayor can ill  afford too many missteps-and there have been several, both in and out of City Hall.

Re-Election?

So, can Mike Pantelides be re-elected to a second term in 2017? It is very doubtful unless there is a strong, swift and decided shift in the way he chooses to run the City.  With all due respect to the actors, most of them are not qualified for their current positions. Annapolis is the Capital of Maryland and deserves (and should demand) qualified leadership from our appointees, hires, and elected officials.

While Pantelides seems to be embracing his victory and the national spotlight that is accompanying it, I am not sure that a 59 vote win with 3,934 votes cast is a clear mandate or a roadmap to Government House or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

ThanksSo far, it seems that Pantelides has no grasp of the job and he has limited credibility with stakeholders inside and out of City Hall. He has yet to develop any relationships that can get him support for anything he wants or needs to do. He tried passing a love note to Alderman Arnett once, but that didn’t work out too well.   And with his well-known hesitancy to engage or inform the  City Council, the Mayor will find it difficult to affect any meaningful change during his term. While the Council’s composition offers the ability to oppose his every breath, they have (surprisingly) been more than willing to work with the Mayor; but find it difficult when they are kept in the dark. And to  further complicate his shot at a potential second term, at least two members of the Council will be mounting a challenge to the Mayor in the next election.

The Mayor needs to make a move. The clock is ticking. 3,934 people offered him their support at the polls; one has to wonder how they feel now.

Blackwall Hitch

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Category: Editorial, OPINION

About the Author ()

John is the publisher and editor of Eye On Annapolis. As a resident and business owner in Anne Arundel County for more than 15 years, he realized that there was something missing in terms of community news--and Eye On Annapolis was born in late spring 2009. John's background is in the travel industry as a business owner, industry speaker, and travel writer. In terms of blogging and social media, he cut his teeth with MSNBC.com.

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