Tuesday, March 06, 2007


From the roll your eyes category, The Capital reports today that the Annapolis Business Association (ABA) wants its own City Council seat to represent downtown businesses.

CP agrees with Mayor Moyer who reacted by saying, "They need to have an agenda as to what are some of the things they want to accomplish.” This must come directly from the Please Tell Me Something I Need to Hear But Don’t Want To Hear Department. Downtown businesses should get their act together and put their money where their mouths are. If they want to have a say, get organized and get active, but business owners already vote where they live, and if that’s not here, that’s too bad. Move here or let me vote where you live. After all, if I spend my money in your store which helped you buy your home, should I vote where you live? Actually, as with most Annapolitans, downtown stores are almost irrelevant in CP‘s daily life-which may account for some of the “problem". What if a downtown business owner also lives in town? Why should he or she get to elect two Aldermen? How will we define exactly what is a business owner? If CP rents a stall in an antique store, will he get a vote?

CP has in fact rented store space on West Street, in West Annapolis and on Maryland Avenue and is well aware of many of our local business challenges. Having grown up in a family in the retail business, CP is sympathetic to business owners who are working hard to earn a living and who sometimes feel at the mercy of local elected officials. But hey-that’s why they have trade associations, and chambers of commerce. When they work, they can be powerful and effective. When they have leaders who are willing to participate with their time and money, they are free to have a say. This does not give them a right to their own lawmaker. CP is of the opinion that businesses in general often have a great deal of access to lawmakers, and if they can’t get their own seat, let them buy their votes! (just kidding-but it happens in Congress)

Downtown business owners have rarely stepped forward with real money and real conviction. They work on many things, but do not always agree either, and as the Mayor says, they need an agenda. They have an Alderman representing downtown, The ABA, and they even have the headquarters of the Maryland Association of Retailers downtown. They have a Chamber of Commerce and a conference and visitors bureau (one of its vp’s is apparently leading this effort). There is also an Eastport Business Association, a West Annapolis Business Association, an association representing Maryland Avenue and State Circle merchants and there is an Inner West Street Business Association. CP figures two of those are “downtown”. And now with Main Street jeweler Ron George, they even have one of their own in the House of Delegates.

All of which leads CP to suggest that the real “problem” if there is one in this story are that businesses are not clear about what they collectively want now, or about the future of downtown. Wake up and smell the Starbucks as Parole is looming like an August thunderhead-and it won’t bring a boom to downtown! Let’s not forget, businesses may have some over-arching interests, but they are competing against each other as well and they don‘t always get along. As a longtime resident, activist and former city employee who often worked with downtown business owners and leader, it was clear as a Main Street store window that businesses were never well organized or collectively committed to any big goals. In 1979 when CP worked on a big charter boat and spent beaucoup bucks downtown for liquor and wine to stock the boat, he attended meetings with local business owners who complained about everything even back then from parking to crime to trash removal.

They still are good at pointing fingers at each other, at residents, or at city officials. CP frequently asked why there were so many different business associations. CP asked why they did not really get serious, put their money together, hire an executive director and get an office. When CP was a city employee, he organized a meeting for business owners and brought in an expert from New York to help them set up a Business Improvement District. CP also witnessed similar internal dissent within the other handful of local business associations. CP tried repeatedly to meet with different presidents of the ABA but they were always too busy to be bothered. The Annapolis Business Association has made progress and has accomplished good things, but if it’s serious enough to suggest a special Alderman, why not a business improvement district or an executive director?

Despite inconsistencies in executing it mission, the city’s Economic Development Office has grown and helped in a number of areas. Due to city efforts, many things have improved downtown and along with crowds they bring, businesses have benefitted. If they are not getting what they want, perhaps it is because they cannot agree upon what they want-which of course would put a “special” alderman in a constantly weird position.

Whose next? Eastport will want one, West Annapolis will want one……or maybe taxi drivers will say they need an Alderman. Perhaps the guys who live in Edgewater and sand boat bottoms and drink Natty Bo’s will need a special boat sanding-Natty Bo drinking member of City Council. Maybe all the old timers who were born here and remember Sam Lorea’s will need their own Alderman as will the blue blooded yachties who have million dollar boats but don’t get a vote”. (One man may have one vote, but may one man have one boat?)

We would essentially get a downtown Alderman for residents and one for businesses. This will open a Constitutional can o’ worms! As for the argument that non-resident property owners in some beach resort towns have a vote, CP says those small places have huge seasonal jumps made possible by throngs of non-residents visiting and non-residents owning property. Virtually their entire municipal concerns asnd budgets focus on the resort issues. Even so, those votes are for non-resident property owners and NOT non-resident business owners.

If downtown businesses get a special Alderman, can they make a special seat for bloggers who opine about city issues? CP is definitely a special interest and thinks one of ten votes for its own interests is a good ratio. Take this to its logical conclusion whereby every individual is a special interest and voila, you get total Democracy. Everything voted by plenary, by referendum. Hey, wait a minute, this is a Republic. What was CP thinking?


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3/08/2007 08:26:00 PM  

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