When you’re a councilmember, you witness and experience things that not everyone gets to. Some things can be slight bothers, others are minor inconveniences, but some things are of greater consequence and deserve to be spoken about. Let me say something.
There are limits to a councilmember’s authority and power. This means, in part, that no one councilmember can speak on behalf of the city without the consent of a majority of the council. To do so is to break the rules and abuse one’s power.
There was a time about 6 years ago that the City Council voted on various legislative priorities proposed by individual councilmembers. Some of these approved priorities included completion of the Trolley Trail along Route 1, delivery of school infrastructure, and safety upgrades around the West Hyattsville Metro. This process was a mechanism for the council to consent to focusing the city’s resources on developing partnerships with county and state entities to ensure that the priorities were met.
During the same meeting, some proposed legislative priorities (most of them from Councilmember Solomon) were either voted down or withdrawn from consideration. (One I recall was a push for allowing college athletes to unionize, a curious focus of resources for a city with no universities, regardless of how you feel about the issue.) Not long after the city council codified its annual legislative priorities, we learned that Joseph Solomon submitted a few of the legislative priorities that the council rejected to the Prince George’s County Municipal Association (PGCMA), an association of municipalities working together on particular issues intended to benefit the public. Solomon was not authorized to speak (or vote) on behalf of the city. Proposing and voting on legislative priorities at PGCMA, especially those that the council had explicitly rejected, was an abuse of power.
Around the same time, the City of Hyattsville was lobbying the state for various safety upgrades of the state-owned section of Hamilton St. between Queens Chapel Rd. and 38th Ave. While the city was expending these resources, Solomon attempted on his own to organize a meeting with select state representatives, suggesting that the city would like to take possession of the stretch of road, a maneuver that threatened to undermine the city staff’s effort to secure state-funded improvements and, had the city taken possession of the street, it would have cost taxpayers financially.
Solomon was advised that such actions were a violation the rules governing councilmembers’ authority. Though not unanimously, the council decided not to admonish Solomon publicly, despite him breaking the rules again.
Recently, PGCMA submitted written testimony supporting HB980, a bill that if passed will allow, among other things, the District/County Council to circumvent state ethics laws regarding campaign finance (i.e., voting on issues related to developers who donated to your campaign). The law could also undermine the city’s position regarding (re)zoning of the former WSSC property. Solomon chairs PGCMA’s legislative committee. Again, Solomon abused his power and exceeded his authority, possibly in a way that will harm the city’s interests. More breaking the rules.
These are just three examples of Joseph Solomon breaking or corrupting the rules that govern his power. If it doesn’t already exist, it is a precursor to corruption.
While describing his writing process recently, the great writer George Saunders said that he didn’t want his life to be a first draft. This is sage wisdom on how to live one’s life and how to approach others, knowing that what they’ve done might be a first draft. However, when someone keeps writing the same story over and over, it’s hard not to think, damn, this is his story.
On the scale of power, councilmembers rank toward the bottom of elected officials. We’ve seen time and again that our collective actions, the will of our city, can be overturned by county or state actors. Malfeasance at lower levels might seem petty or minor to some, but bestowing increased power to those inclined to break the rules will almost certainly lead to the corruption or greater rules.
I will be voting for the candidate for Mayor who plays by the rules. I will be voting for Kevin Ward.