A Conversation With Roger

Q: You have lots you want the City to accomplish. Why do you think you are the right person to lead right now?

Roger: The past year has deepened the collective sense of urgency about tackling long-standing problems. I’m a problem-solver by nature. I like to bring people together around a shared vision. I can see the good in everyone I meet. I can imagine solutions that harmonize interests that may seem to be in opposition at first.  Beyond that, I know Takoma Park really well and have immersed myself in understanding the details of how our local government works. I’m a practical progressive, and I love the potential that we have to set a positive example for many other towns in America.

Q: How is our City falling short of its potential?

Roger: I love what Takoma Park represents, but I worry that we’re losing our soul — becoming more of a brand than an actual progressive leader.  Over the past five years, the City has outlined broad strategies for climate response, affordable housing, economic development, and racial equity.  But these strategies are still mainly lists of desires rather than specific plans.  And the City hasn’t yet demonstrated the resolve to apply these commitments to our ongoing work, including at the proposed Takoma Junction development. 

Q: What are your concerns about how the current Council operates?

Roger: The Council’s meetings are run in ways that make it hard for Councilmembers to dialogue publicly or to respond to concerns and questions raised by residents. The City Council keeps on choosing to increase taxes, allowing projects to get too expensive, and squeezing long-time residents out.  The current City Manager guards information closely and makes it difficult or impossible for residents and Councilmembers to find out how monies are being spent and whether the benefits are being distributed fairly. A key first task for the new Council will be hiring her replacement. 

Q: What’s the big picture for you on where Takoma Park is going?

Roger: We’re stuck in some areas and moving far too slowly in others to address the urgent issues coming at us. It’s tempting for those of us with means to close our eyes to the bigger challenges, but if we do this, there won’t be any real Takoma Park left for future generations to live in.  We need to save this unique and special place.  

Q: What’s your thinking on the climate emergency?

Roger: Really — this is an emergency!  Right now, we have big climate “words” without strong climate action. Part of our Takoma Park story is the way we came together with D.C. neighborhoods to stop a freeway from destroying thousands of homes. Climate devastation is much worse than any freeway. We can’t hide from this any longer. We’ve agreed we’re in a climate emergency and have broadly committed to becoming fossil-fuel free. So far, though, the City’s outline of a strategic plan consists of a set of requirements that are mainly focused on building modifications and that place very high costs squarely on the backs of property owners. This will force out some residents on fixed and limited incomes while also raising rents for tenants.

Q: How would you lead differently on climate issues?

Roger: We can do much better with a plan that allows energy and efficiency improvements to pay for themselves and with incentives for local food production, alternative modes of transportation, tree planting, carbon sequestration, and a variety of small-scale energy production technologies. We have the collective imagination and know-how to do great things together.

Q: What do you intend to do to advance racial equity?

Roger: Of all places in our metropolitan area, Takoma Park ought to be the community that shows how to reverse patterns of social and residential segregation caused by systemic racism. No place in town should feel like a “white space.” Right now, in the City’s big strategic plans, such as for housing, the only reference to racial equity is that strategies should be “examined through a racial equity lens.” Instead, we need to actually measure our progress toward racial justice.

Q: You’re white. How can you lead on racial equity?

Roger: As a white male who grew up in a very segregated D.C. and was taught to be simply kind and “color-blind,” it’s been a long journey to understand in my soul that white people themselves must make it their life’s work to reject privilege and dismantle racism. Nothing changes if whites, who hold inordinate power, simply say the right things. They must do the right things. My learning continues, and I strive to be responsive to criticism, always seeking to get past my own ignorance. In my life, I want to do all I can to dismantle, not reproduce, the systemic racial injustice that this country was built upon. So I’m committed to being anti-racist in everything I do as a candidate and as Mayor.

Q: You say we’re not making enough progress. Why do you think this is the case?

Roger: For big initiatives, the City puts a lot of time and energy into processes that seem to seek public input but actually avoid constructive conflict and dialogue. Then, because the tough questions aren’t addressed, the details in the “plans” don’t get filled in. I think that if we are willing to engage in constructive conflict, we can trust ourselves more to figure out the right ways forward for Takoma Park. Whether it’s our climate response, the Library design, sidewalk projects, parking allocation, or traffic and safety studies, we constantly turn to high-paid consultants to come up with reports and “solutions.” And then we find out that those solutions are unresponsive to our local context, lack common sense, or simply fail to address the big questions.

Q: So you think we can get past division?

Roger: Yes, absolutely! With leadership setting a different tone, it won’t be hard. We have a deep reservoir of goodwill here in Takoma Park that is waiting to reassert itself. The anger, sarcasm, and personal attacks that sometimes seem to dominate our civic discussions are symptomatic not so much of meanness but of feelings of frustration and powerlessness to be heard. Trust can be rebuilt! Our government can begin by resolving not to sideline the opinions and recommendations of residents (who are so often the real experts). Then, concentrate the collaborative problem-solving energy on paying attention to details, rather than overlooking obvious pitfalls and problems. Listen to people, pay attention to the details, and we will get results that bring us together again.

Q: Are you advocating for longer planning processes?

Roger: No! I’m saying that a smart process on the front end sets the stage for continuous forward progress and faster results. It means that we break the habit of incurring rising costs on deferred projects. And by setting clear targets and timelines early on, we maintain a sense of direction and have measurable progress to celebrate sooner.

Q: What are your basic views on development?

Roger: “Development” means anything done with the land or for the people with the goal of improved quality of life.

Right now, my favorite local “developers” are the people who are planting shade trees, tending gardens, installing on-site energy and efficiency improvements, and supporting fun, healthy, and educational activities for kids. Our City’s best “developments” in recent years (some of which I’ve advocated for) have been playgrounds, stream restoration, stormwater catchments, and sidewalks (especially when they repurpose space between the existing street curbs).

My least favorite local developers have been the partnership team involving the City and NDC at Takoma Junction. Residents have put forward beautiful ideas for developing the City-owned lot there so it can be a multipurpose, flexible space that meets the area’s business and transit needs and brings people together. (Think: better quality of life!) Instead, seven years on, the City keeps taking a passive role in its partnership with NDC. The City keeps expecting a private developer to meet our public needs. Each new iteration of the developer’s design moves farther out of alignment with our priorities for supporting racial equity, climate, economic development, urban forest, transportation, safety, affordability, and the Coop, which embodies the cooperative, inclusive community that Takoma Park aspires to be. At the Junction, and with respect to all development, large and small, I want to facilitate changes that improve our quality of life for everyone.

Q: You’ve questioned City spending. Are you a true progressive?

Roger: Being progressive is about being sustainable, and that includes being fiscally sustainable. I’ve seen many small communities around the U.S. and in other countries that are making strong progressive improvements not simply while staying in a budget, but because they are staying in a budget. By exercising good stewardship over fiscal resources, they free up the funds to make innovative and beautiful things happen. Sustainability is about paying attention to the details — ask any organic gardener you know!

Q: Is the budget really worth talking about as a campaign issue?

Roger: When I earned a masters in public administration, I realized that budgets can seem boring until you recognize that they are the way a community puts its priorities into action. It’s not so much about the money as it is about the choices. 

After years of promises that the City would move to a more understandable budget format that focuses on goals and outcomes, we as residents are still stuck with a document that most find very hard to understand. Very often, even the Council is left simply having to trust the City Manager’s assurances that every position and every dollar is necessary. I’ve spent many hours analyzing the City budget with ad hoc groups of residents, including people who do budgeting for a living. Quite often, we are unable to get answers to basic, crucial questions — such as why City personnel costs keep rising above the rate of inflation. This is unconscionable, and it’s a sign that our City really isn’t clear in its priorities. It’s clear evidence that our City staff are not getting the clear direction and oversight that they need and deserve to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.

As Mayor I would insist that the Council assert its authority and insist on getting high quality, accurate, clear budget information from the City Manager. With this information in hand, I would facilitate the Council to make prudent decisions, spend money purposefully, and follow up to see that the City Manager and staff are meeting strategic objectives.

Q: How would you lead to solve problems and get results?

Roger: Our main goals as a community can complement each other: in making this a place where it’s easier and more affordable to “live local,” we can build real relationships across racial and economic difference, empower new young entrepreneurs, and greatly reduce our ecological footprint. To get there, we need a mayor who can facilitate (not dominate) the Council in its job of getting input, setting policy, and providing strong oversight and direction for city operations. 

As mayor, I would change the way our Council does its work, so that it truly responds to residents and their expertise, sets reasonable, measurable objectives, and figures out how to use limited resources to achieve the changes we seek.  This is not so much a technical challenge as it is one of building authentic, caring relationships.  I’m not interested in grand gestures, but in meaningful actions — even the simple things like saving a crosswalk or planting a shade tree — that make a difference for people’s lives. These small solutions have a cumulative effect that builds trust and drives us forward.

Q: What results would you like the City Council to focus on over the next two years?

Roger: My ten priorities are on the front page of this website. Here are some details to help people envision what I think we can accomplish together: 

Grow our urban forest via stewardship incentives more than punitive approaches.

Establish services and infrastructure to make it easy to live car-free in greater Takoma. 

Incentivize the creation of affordable homes and high-quality rental units.

Help property owners finance green upgrades up-front in a painless manner.

Support the arts — we need art to bring us together and imagine a better future.

Generate new green careers that build wealth for Black residents and other residents of color.

Insist that current and emerging development projects do no harm and advance our objectives:

  • Near Purple Line stations at the Crossroads and Long Branch
  • At Takoma Junction
  • On the Montgomery College campus
  • Along New Hampshire Avenue
  • Within the former Washington Adventist Hospital site
  • In vacant or underused properties such as the John Nevins Andrews School campus

Reimagine public safety, with a police service that:

  • Is no bigger than it needs to be;
  • Avoids carrying or using weapons as much as possible;
  • Spends a minimal amount of time in patrol vehicles;
  • Protects, respects, and makes getting to know residents a priority;
  • Never intimidates or harasses.
  • Works in concert with City and County mental health and social service teams.

Hire a new City Manager who:

  • Is committed to transparency;
  • Can manage an outcomes-based budget;
  • Uses real metrics to advance racial equity goals; 
  • Insists that staff respond to residents so Councilmembers focus on core responsibilities;
  • Respects our staff, charter, ordinances, culture, and customs.

Reorient the Council’s meetings and workflow in order to:

  • Welcome and respond to residents’ input.
  • Disagree positively and deliberate openly.  
  • Use public visioning up-front to guide big initiatives and projects.  No more surprises!
  • Make the hard choices that distinguish needs from wants.
  • Relate program costs to the outcomes we seek. (Stop running a deficit budget.)

Q: Why should residents vote for you? 

Roger: People around the world – along with the planet itself — are demanding that we transition from systems that exploit people and nature to systems that are sustainable. This is the hardest thing humanity has ever had to do. And Takoma Park is no exception.  When we find ourselves having to “spin” the facts to claim progress but know deep down that our claims are trivial or hollow, this is a sign that we haven’t yet let go of our conditioned ways of relating to each other, doing business, and solving problems. 

The transition to sustainability has to happen first at the local level. It has to involve deep listening, distinguishing needs from wants, fresh eyes for what is beautiful, firm rejection of efforts to reproduce the status quo, and loving attention to the details. We have to get ourselves unstuck. Those who know me believe strongly that I have the knowledge and interpersonal skills to help our Council, government, and community embrace these new mindsets, move beyond division, and rediscover the joy and fun of collaborative problem solving.

Q: It’s “just” a local election. Why bother voting? 

Roger: National elections get lots of attention, but local elections arguably matter more for our future. Endorsements from officials with high visibility tend to go to the incumbents, but your vote and voice matter much more. Remember that all Takoma Park residents 16 years of age or older that are registered to vote with the State of Maryland or with the City may vote in City elections. I ask for your vote — by mail, or in person on November 3rd. Let’s bring our community together and achieve the progress we need.

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