The City of Westminster’s mayor and Common Council met Monday, July 23, to address the Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory, vote on the purchase of police vehicles and a bid to pave city streets and to review blueprints for the new city offices.
The Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory, or MAGIC, is a largely city-sponsored program geared toward growing companies and creating technologies locally to further benefit from the now halfway complete Westminster fiber network.
Amy Rupp, executive director of MAGIC, presented to the council a fiscal year 2018 fourth quarter update on the nonprofit’s activity. Westminster allocated $80,000 in grants to MAGIC in its FY18 budget.
The organization, which aims to create a thriving technological, innovative and entrepreneurial environment in Westminster, hosted and participated in various events over the last three months, Rupp told the council. She also provided status updates on the various grants for which MAGIC has applied.
Its application for a Stulman Foundation grant worth $360,000 was declined. The applications for three other grants ranging from $50,000 to $1.2 million are still “in process,” Rupp said.
MAGIC, which launched in October 2016, hosted an Arduino boot camp, an ambassador workshop, an ethical hackathon and furthered its healthy smart home technology deployment, among other initiatives.
“The idea is bringing all kinds of data together to improve lives of those in smart homes,” Rupp said.
After reviewing the presentation, council members debated whether the program should expand the metrics it uses to track progress.
“We need to have a conversation about how we follow up on” MAGIC’s outreach efforts, Councilman Gregory Pecoraro told Rupp. “Because it’s one thing to sort of hand somebody something at an event, they may call you, they may not.”
The city’s future economic development is, to an extent, tied to the MAGIC’s success. As such, Councilman Benjamin Yingling said he would like to add metrics associated with tracking economic growth.
“The mission of MAGIC is to develop the potential of the fiber network,” said Council President Robert Wack. “MAGIC’s mandate is not economic development for the city.”
Wack, who also serves as the president of MAGIC’s board, said the fiber network — and programs tailored to best utilize it — is not the only economic development effort in Westminster and that it shouldn’t be held to account for the city’s broader economic growth.
“I just would like to see some sort of those numbers that show ... how are you going to measure your success in penetrating the existing business space,” Yingling said, noting that MAGIC has done a good job fostering entrepreneurial and talent development realms.
Wack called for a vote on whether to approve the proposed FY19 grant agreement with MAGIC. The agreement is worth $80,000.
The council approved the agreement, 3-1, with Yingling in opposition. Councilman Tony Chiavacci was absent from the meeting.
The council also voted to approve the purchase of six new police vehicles. It had previously budgeted $193,800 for new law enforcement cars.
The Westminster Police Department will purchase five Ford Police Interceptor all wheel drive SUVs and one Ford Interceptor all wheel drive sedan for a total of $172,492 — about $29,000 per SUV and $25,000 for the sedan. All of the SUVs will be marked, while the sedan will have an untouched exterior.
The department makes the purchases by piggybacking the state’s bid for police vehicles. Maryland buys police interceptors en masse, which reduces the cost per car. This year it accepted a bid from Delaware company Hertrich Fleet Services Inc.
Westminster’s council also voted to accept the city’s Department of Public Works’ suggestion to accept a street milling and paving bid. The council approved the more than $1.3 million bid of C.J. Miller LLC, a Hampstead-based excavating and paving company. The city had allocated almost $1.6 million for road repair and repaving in its FY19 budget.
“[C.J. Miller] has actually never lost this contract since its inception about 20 years ago, ” said Jeffrey Glass, director of public works. “Their project always turns out to be very good.”
Also before the council was the concept layout for the city’s new administrative office. Westminster’s administrative office will move to 45 W. Main St., a property the city purchased recently.
The office, currently located at 56 W. Main, will move some 150 feet down the road once Gant Brunnett Architects finishes renovating the three-story building once occupied by BB&T Bank.
City Administrator Barbara Matthews said that early conceptual plans called for the demolition of four bank vaults. She said it has since been determined that demolishing each vault would cost about $40,000.
“In working with architects we have tried to, where appropriate, to actually leave some of the vaults in place and just use those as storage,” Matthews said.
The basement of the recently acquired bank has a large space that Matthews suggested could be used for seminars — or, if council approved, for future council meetings.
“I think it’s a great idea to move our chambers there,” Mayor Joe Dominick said.
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Directing his colleagues’ attention to the layout of the meeting room, Dominick said, “all of our directors don’t fit in places where the directors belong, we have to shuffle people around. … We have a project that people have to turn their necks around 120 degrees to see in some spots.”
“At some point I’d like to move to video recording of meetings and be more transparent,” Dominick continued, “And I looked into that. We can’t do that in this room without a cameraman because of the angles … or like six cameras and somebody controlling where they’re shooting from.”
Wack, who was first elected to the council in 2003, had reservations about moving.
“As we can see tonight,” Wack said, pointing to the meager audience, “the public is hardly breaking down the doors to attend our meetings.”
No citizens spoke during the public comment segment.
“I don’t think we overthrow 150 years of history to meet the needs of a handful of meetings per year,” Wack said.
Dominick contested Wack’s math, clarifying that 56 W. Main has not been City Hall for 150 years. Wack conceded that City Hall had been there for 60 years, drawing laughs from his council colleagues.