On a Tuesday morning in early September, Ross Arnett sat outside Boatyard Bar and Grill in Eastport ready to talk about some of the most pressing issues of Ward 8 — traffic, speeding, parking and public safety.
He’s eager to address broader citywide topics, too: the budget, land use and the environment, all of which Arnett hopes to tackle if he is elected to a fifth term on the Annapolis City Council.
“Across the board, there’s a lot more work to be done,” said Arnett, 78, who has served the Eastport-based ward since 2007 and is the chair of the standing Finance Committee. “And besides experience and leadership, I think I bring a zeal to this.”
Before Arnett can get to work, he will have to overcome a primary challenge from Kati George, a Texas transplant who moved to Eastport in 2017 and serves on the Annapolis Audit Committee. The winner of the Sept. 21 Democratic primary will take on Rock Toews in the Nov. 2 general election.
George, 73, runs an interior design business and worked in management consulting for 15 years. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, she has worked as an elementary school teacher, pre-school director, social worker, and nonprofit administrator. She’s also volunteered on several political campaigns in Texas.
George decided to run for office in part because she said she kept hearing from Eastport neighbors that their concerns about traffic and other issues weren’t being met by Arnett. Her campaign will be based on listening to those concerns and working to address them, she said, adding that she plans to continue holding weekly community meetings over coffee at Eastport Kitchen.
“Once you are an elected official, aside from setting policy and having vision and all of that, your primary responsibility is to respond to your constituents,” said George in an interview at her Nautilus Point apartment in early September. “And that doesn’t mean just talking to them, and sending data out to them. It means listening.”
Arnett says the notion that he is unresponsive is “a myth” and sees the criticism as coming from those who simply don’t like the answers he gives.
Along with attending numerous city meetings each week, he estimates he fields 50 to 100 emails per day along with untold texts and calls. He points to his regular email blasts detailing the current City Council agenda and townhalls held either in-person or online during the coronavirus pandemic as examples of his high level of constituent engagement.
“I think I make myself more available than any other alderperson ever has,” he said. And he reckons he’s the only candidate who puts their personal cellphone on their campaign materials.
“I would much rather people letting me know what they think than to guess at what they think,” he said. “It keeps me on my toes.”
Since he arrived on the council via a 2007 special election, Arnett has become one of its most prolific legislators, sponsoring an average of 18 bills a year since 2014.
Much of the legislation he sponsors is meant to streamline governmental processes to make the bureaucracy work better for taxpayers plus other hobby horses like zoning, financial reforms and environmental protections.
In the current term, Arnett helped pass bills that regulated short-term rentals, remade the appeals process for the Annapolis Board of Appeals and allowed city departments to promulgate their own rules. He is currently sponsoring a bill to delegate approval authority for some city projects to an administrative hearing officer.
“I want to see that I’m getting value for (tax) dollars,” said Arnett, who worked for more than three decades in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “How are they being used.”
With another four years at his disposal, Arnett would complete a laundry list of goals, he said, including seeing out the completion of the 2020 Comprehensive Plan, addressing a potential structural deficit in the budget, reforming the maritime zoning code, protecting Ward 8′s disappearing tree canopy and safeguarding the peninsula from rising sea levels.
He has also proposed sinking utility lines under Eastport’s streets when the city replaces its water and gas lines, an expensive plan that could pay dividends in the future, he said.
George sees herself as an alternative to Arnett who would provide a fresh perspective to the ward and on the council.
She supports the legalization of accessory dwelling units as a step toward providing affordable housing across the city. Arnett also supports the bill but has concerns about ensuring they are regulated and implemented safely.
Her experience on the Audit Committee has guided parts of her campaign, such as performance measures in each city department to guide the budget process. Arnett has said he supports this initiative.
She also hopes to coax more residents to join the roughly 20 vacant seats on city boards and commissions.
“I want to get people excited about participating and helping people understand, you don’t have to be wealthy; you don’t have to be privileged you don’t have to be of a certain race,” she said. “You just need to have five to 10 hours a week and show up. And you can be part of city government.”
The pair also agree on combatting climate change, specifically on making sure that as City Dock’s resiliency effort gets underway that Eastport is the next focal point for resiliency efforts.
While major infrastructure ideas are discussed, smaller initiatives such as introducing green transportation can be undertaken to help prevent the onslaught of the effects of climate change, George said.
One of George’s first policy goals if elected is to introduce a bill laying out a strategic plan for Annapolis.
Unlike the Comprehensive Plan, which is a land-use document produced every 10 years, a strategic plan would provide annual operational goals for each city department. The plan would help show why the city does what it says it’s going to do and provides transparency in the process, she said.
Another passion project of George’s is to make Eastport into an arts district in the vein of inner West Street. She envisions providing more space to display art and promote community artists. She said she would also propose taking $50,000 earmarked for a citywide community survey and put it toward install community gardens throughout the city.
“My question is, why would we need to survey our constituents? Because to me, the elected officials should already know what their constituents want,” George said.
In this election, Arnett will have to win without the support of Mayor Gavin Buckley, a change from four years ago when the pair campaigned together.
Buckley has instead chosen to support George who said their policy objectives align to get things done such as implementing transportation reform, improving housing affordability, increasing equity and smart development.
A combination of “conflicts” and “personality and priority differences” led to the split, Arnett said, who is the lone incumbent Buckley is not supporting.
Arnett said there’s no animosity between him and the mayor but said he would be lying if he said he wasn’t hurt by the decision.
“I’m truly hoping to get reelected. And when I do, I hope we go back to having no hard feelings,” Arnett said, “so that we coalesce our agendas as I felt we always had.”