Year 1: Five markers of the Buckley administration in Annapolis

Danielle Ohl
Contact Reporterdohl@capgaznews.com

As Mayor Gavin Buckley’s first year comes to a close, it’s time to take a look back at a year of successes, failures and bike lanes — OK, just one bike lane, really.

Buckley ran on creating One Annapolis — a refrain he’s repeated throughout the year to launch a boards and commissions reboot, summer camps for kids, new services for immigrant and low-income communities, protests, marches, parades and more.

There have been unexpected developments, such as the shooting the killed five Capital Gazette staff members on June 28. Buckley, even though the violence occurred just outside the city, unified the city afterward by including survivors in the July 4th parade and organizing a concert to benefit the survivors' fund.

But Buckley has also divided Annapolis. Residents excoriated his 8.9 cent tax increase and downtown businesses rallied together against his Main Street bike lane pilot.

In a year of ups and downs, here are a few of the highlights.

Taxes go up

The mayor’s first budget cycle was turbulent from the beginning. The city began the process without a permanent city manager or finance director, as the former retired and the latter, Bruce Miller, abruptly left during the proceedings.

With interim appointees in both vacant slots, Buckley quickly nabbed Teresa Sutherland, the former Anne Arundel County auditor, to fill the city manager slot. In Sutherland, Buckley gained a top deputy with significant financial experience.

Sutherland combed through the city finances, discovering a number of inefficient practices she said did not reflect the reality of the cities finances. Budgeted attrition, for example, did not reflect true turnover in several city departments, but served to lower the overall budgeted expenses. Elsewhere, Sutherland budgeted funds for grants, reforestation, public access television, sprinkler assistance and more.

Despite best efforts, the residents were saddled with the city’s first tax increase since 2014 and the biggest tax increase in at least a decade.

“I did a very unpopular thing,” Buckley said. “I didn’t have a read my lips moment, but I definitely didn’t want to be the liberal Democrat coming into office and putting taxes up just like all liberals do.

“I didn’t want to have that happen, but when you look at how we’ve been operating and people make you aware of what’s been going on, you’re like, we have to deal with it.”

The budget process will start in January, “not a month before it happens,” Buckley said. The city will look for ways to share resources with Anne Arundel County, as both entities will have to pass long-range comprehensive plans in 2019.

Market House

Despite recusing himself from the proceedings, Buckley has claimed the newly opened Market House as a success.

The city put out a request for proposals way back in summer 2017, before Buckley took office. Of the four that came back, Buckley said he had a hand in the ultimate winner — New Market LLC. The New Market team includes Jody Danek, one of Buckley’s longtime business partners in restaurant ventures on West Street.

While Buckley is not involved financially, nor did he vote on the ultimate decision, he said he spent a lot of political capital to back the New Market team. And he’s right. Involvement or not, some critics came away from the fraught Market House bid process calling the new venture “Buckley’s Market House” due to his connections with Danek.

It was the City Council sans Buckley that ultimately picked the New Market team. The Market House opened in August, with new offerings intended as a throwback to the structure’s days as a hub for fresh eats.

“I think that I steered the process, right?” Buckley said. “I pushed that team in that direction.”

Partner Michele Bouchard agreed Buckley was part of the initial decision to apply. He brought the three partners — Bouchard, Jody Danek and Joe Lyon — together, but backed off when he got serious about his mayoral run.

As for whether the Market House can be called a success just yet, Bouchard said business is good, but weather driven; the place is empty during rain and freezing weather. A later than planned opening meant the business doesn’t have the momentum to carry it through the winter, she said.

And despite repeated, insistent calls for a grocery store, hardly anyone shops for their milk and produce in the Market House corner grocery.

“We’re definitely giving it a try for it to catch on,” she said. “But I come here every day and I rearrange it hoping someone will come in here and buy something. No one does.”

City Dock and the hotel

Buckley campaigned on public-private partnerships — leveraging private developer money to work on behalf of the people of Annapolis.

The first attempt didn’t go over so well with the people of Annapolis.

Residents bristled at initial plans for a boutique hotel, which in some versions depicted a 65-foot structure. Then came Buckley’s proposal to change zoning downtown to allow flexibility in the Historic District’s strict height and bulk limits.

“The proposal for a change in the ordinance that’s been in place for four decades,” Historic Annapolis president Robert Clark said. “That’s what got our back up — nothing more than that.”

Buckley has since backed off the legislation, which failed when the council didn’t second a motion to vote on it. He’s maintained he supports a smaller hotel, in character with the scale of City Dock. And he’s gotten behind the Urban Land Institute’s forthcoming report on City Dock; the preliminary findings recommend Annapolis build within the established height and bulk.

Buckley and Historic Annapolis are moving forward to create an action committee to study and carry out the ULI plan. Clark said they’ve had productive discussions since the mixed zoning kerfuffle, and he’s cautiously optimistic about forthcoming City Dock development.

“I happen to believe the reason why there’s so many studies and forums in our city that are now on dust-covered shelves is not the studies themselves, but the politicians,” Clark said. “This mayor has yet to demonstrate that he has that capability — of leaving things alone.”

One Annapolis initiatives

While former Mayor Mike Pantelides first introduced the roles to the city, the African American and Hispanic liaison positions expanded under Buckley, becoming full-time and proactive in the communities they serve.

The city hosted a number of outreach events, including a Dia De Los Muertos celebration, a business and financial literacy event and pop-up camps for children from low-income families.

Community relations specialist William Rowel began reviewing the 24 mayor-appointed boards and commissions responsible for some of the city’s most mundane, yet crucial functions. At the beginning of the year, about 58 volunteer members were serving expired terms.

The boards do everything from reviewing development permits to approving public art to protecting the Historic District and often are the face of the city government for the residents that interact with each body. Those faces, in recent years, have been overwhelmingly white and male.

Rowel has made progress on diversifying the boards. He’s filled 31 positions in the last year, with more nominations in committee. Overall, the mayor appointed 13 women and 17 men thus far, all from varying backgrounds. The Art In Public Places Commission met for the first time in months after Buckley nominated a group of seven women to serve on the board.

Alderman Marc Rodriguez, D-Ward 5, said Buckley has made his presence felt in his ward’s Hispanic and Latino neighborhoods.

“He definitely gets the highest marks for that,” Rodriguez said. “This first year I think did a really good job on that piece, being in the communities. Next year, I think the focus needs to be more on … specific objectives.”

Alderwoman Shaneka Henson, D-Ward 6, praised Adriana Lee and Adetola Ajayi for their work with Hispanic/Latino and African American communities respectively. But she said she’s been frustrated and disappointed when trying to get the mayor’s office to respond to issues in her ward.

“With regard to public housing community,” she said. “It’s been a tough road and I have not seen the support in the administration that I would have liked to have seen.”

Bike lane

Buckley likes to quip no mayor brought together the Main Street businesses quite like he did this past summer. He’s not wrong.

After he announced in late August a bike lane pilot effective through mid-October, businesses balked, citing parking restrictions that would affect their businesses. Some saw loses throughout the duration of the experiment and vociferously called for the city to squash the endeavor.

Buckley relented, ending the program two weeks early. Buckley said he’s still dedicated to completing the city trails, they just might be missing one downtown piece.

Eyes On Main owner Rick Lepski, one of the most outspoken bike lane opponents, said the mayor learned his lesson from the backlash.

“It was a learning experience for him,” Lepski said. “I think he does understand that he does need input from the merchants before you do anything that affects the merchants.”

Lepski had previously demanded the city take action to make the businesses “whole” again and repay them for their losses. But he’s content to move on for now.

“I think that Gavin is trying,” he said. “I think it takes a long time to learn how to be the mayor.”

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