Bay Weekly Interview Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer

 Vol. 10, No.9

February 28 - March 6, 2002

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Bay Weekly Interview ~ Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer
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photo by Cristi Pasquella
~ with Sandra Martin and Davene Grosfeld

Her story has the drama of a fairy tale.

She’s a community activist whose dream has come true. She’s the first lady who’s stepped out of the shadows to try her own hand at the game. From passionate advocate, she’s suddenly CEO of one of her county’s largest corporations: the City of Annapolis. Overnight, she’s balancing a $54.6 million budget, managing 560 employees and supervising some dozen departments. She’s Cinderella, and now that the shoe fits, she’s got to wear it.

Three months into her job as mayor of Annapolis, 66-year-old Ellen Moyer invited Bay Weekly into her office to talk about how the fairy tale is playing in the real world …

Bay Weekly: We ran into you last week at a celebration of Black History Month at Banneker-Douglass Museum, the opening of Janice Hayes-Williams local history play Trustees. Do you think it gives people a special sense of pride when their mayor comes to their event?

Mayor Moyer: I get a sense, yes, that is the case. But I was the first lady of the city once, so I’m not necessarily impressed with the title of mayor — or with me.

Bay Weekly: I bet that’s not the only night of the week you were working late. What are your hours on your new job?

Mayor Moyer: Eight in the morning until 10 o’clock at night is standard.

Bay Weekly: You’ve been in office three months. What’s a day in the mayor’s office like?

Mayor Moyer: There is such a variety of issues and such a variety of people that come in.
It’s my job as the CEO of Annapolis to see that we move forward on the things that the citizens say are important as well as the things the council and policy-makers decide.

I think of things in a problem-solving, action-team way. If somebody has a zoning concern, I want to pull in everybody who has an interest in the issue and bring them together so it’s a group of people.

Bay Weekly:

Is this job overwhelming?

Mayor Moyer: Not at all. It gets very hectic, but I enjoy and like what I’m doing.

Bay Weekly: One of your first actions as mayor was to appoint 13 transition teams. Do you have their reports?

Mayor Moyer’s 13 Transition Teams

  1. Annapolis Security
  2. Economic Development
  3. Education
  4. Environment
  5. Fiscal Concerns
  6. Home Ownership / Affordable Housing
  7. Latino / Hispanic Concerns
  8. Mandatory Drug Counseling
  9. Market House
  10. Parking / Transportation
  11. Public Housing Concerns
  12. Senior Services
  13. Stop the Violence

Mayor Moyer: They were all volunteer, formed November 11, and they had two months to do their work. The reports are in now, and we’re doing one report at a time, a week at a time.

Bay Weekly: Do you read each report yourself? Week after week, do you take each one home at night and read it?

Mayor Moyer: When the reports come in, they don’t just sit on the shelf and collect dust. They might come back with multiple recommendations and it’s up to me to say, ‘yes’ or ‘no, I don’t like that idea.’ Some ideas are politically impossible or too costly; not all recommendations are things we are going to be able to do. It’s my responsibility and obligation to say what we are going to be able to do and what we can do. That’s my job as mayor.

Bay Weekly: How will the reports change the city?

Mayor Moyer: The reports are good because they help us focus on what we can do now and what we can do later. We begin by focusing on what’s doable.

As we do each one, I send the team a recommendation as to what I think is doable in the near future. I report back to the team myself. Where we can fit things into the budget, we’ve begun to do that.

Market House was the first report. ‘If the city market is to work better for the citizens, how is it to do that?’ It’s the how the teams addressed.

I looked at the report and said ‘there are some things you can do now. You said people think Market House looks dirty, but it really isn’t. But it is shabby. In the short term, it needs better lighting and it needs to be painted. We can correct the lighting, we can correct the painting. And there are resources in the market funds so that we can hire a part-time manager. We can do that now.’

Longer term, we’ve started looking down the road to see if we can have a relationship with State Department of Agriculture to set up a Farmers’ Market in one of the stalls. And so as next year comes and the year after, we can pursue more recommendations, including remodeling.

photo courtesy of Ellen Moyer
Bay Weekly: You ran on your record as a friend of the environment, and I understand that your environmental transition team has been especially active. What have they been up to to help make Annapolis stand easier on the earth?

Mayor Moyer: The Environmental Transition Team’s goal was to look at what grant resources can help us restore the four creeks that run into the city.

It was grant-oriented because if we can bring more grants from a variety of sources to impact on a creek, we can do a better job of restoring it. And if you can pull together the resources of the state and the county, the city and the Army Corps of Engineers for a creek, you will have a bigger impact on restoring those waters.

This volunteer committee was so enthusiastic about what its job was, it pulled together and prepared a proposal for a $250,000 grant to the Environmental Protection Agency by December 10. Putting big megagrants together is a big job. We’ll know in April if we get this “brown fields” grant to help clean up the old city dump on the headwaters of Spa Creek.

Here’s a good template, a model, for how to get people involved: Applications for another, smaller grant program were due February 1. For this grant, the city put one application in, the Alliance for Sustainable Communities put one in and the Weems Creek Conservancy put one in. So we were able to magnify the number in this competitive pool.

Annapolis’ Four Creeks off the Severn River

  1. Weems Creek
  2. College Creek
  3. Spa Creek
  4. Back Creek

Bay Weekly: You’ve also been a supporter of public art. What are you planning to make Annapolis a more artful city?

Mayor Moyer: The city has a fund for art in public places. It’s a fund that I passed as an alderman. I proposed it because a businesswoman on West Street, Edith Sutton, was so interested in art for the circle that she contributed $1,000 to the city. She said the idea was if people knew about it, maybe people would contribute more.

But nobody knew about it. That was the catalyst for me, that and knowing also that we were part of the Maryland Millennium Legacy Trail Art Project. In this, eight finalists have been selected from competition who are going to submit some designs … [see “Marylanders in Motion,” in this week’s Dock of the Bay.]

Bay Weekly: Further along is the search for art for the West Street Circle. From last year’s national search for the circle, the choice was Measures, a henge or circle of stones arranged as a solar clock and calendar. Bay Weekly found Measures so good a choice we editorialized in favor of it. But it’s been a while since we’ve heard anything on that front. Will we ever see Measures?

Mayor Moyer: It’s been selected, but it hasn’t been funded. It’s now a matter of funding and getting some sort of price projection for how much it will cost to get it done. The city department of public works is gathering projected prices. Then we’ll have to do some fundraising.

We know it will cost six figures, but will it be in the $100,000 or $500,000 category?

Will we get it? Not tomorrow.

Bay Weekly: Even as you’re settling in, the General Assembly has come to town. Is that why Maryland flags are flying throughout the city?

Mayor Moyer: In the wintertime, when we don’t have flowers and the Maryland legislature is here, it’s a way to showcase our town and a way to showcase Maryland. It’s a celebratory measure.

Sure, you’ll always have people who are not pleased, but the majority of the people say ‘gosh, I love seeing those flags.’

Bay Weekly: It’s an honor to be a capital city. But what do you get besides the honor of the thing?

Mayor Moyer: It’s what the state gets from this municipality. Annapolis is an international landmark. We have four million people who come here to our capital. They come here from other states, from places within the state. What they experience here says something about the way they’re going to feel about the state of Maryland. We are the supreme host of the state, if you will.

Maintaining the look and the feel of the city — its brick streets and its canopy of trees and ultimately burying those electrical wires — is very expensive. That’s an expense that needs to be shared with all of the citizens of the state because this is everybody’s state capital. We think that as pride and awareness continue to be developed that we’ll get help.

Bay Weekly: What, in return, do you expect to get from the General Assembly?

Mayor Moyer: We have a line item in the state budget for services, the kinds of services we give to the state. We receive a stipend of $450,000. As well as that separate allocation, we do go after other dollars. We work through the bill process, we also work through the agencies and we go after a number of different grants.

This year, we’ve asked the state to put some money in the budget, $250,000, to renovate the 100-year-old Natural Resources Police facility at City Dock.

We also said to the legislators, ‘if you do that we’d like to find some private money to have a room in this facility for our Maritime Hall of Fame’ — as befits the harbor town known as America’s Sailing Capital.

Mayor to General Assembly
Our urban designer, Sir Francis Nicholson, created this colonial capital as a grand focal point when he laid out the baroque plan of circles and radiating streets. He envisioned that the approach to Annapolis, whether it be by land or sea, let visitors know they were coming into a place of great prominence, a center of state and commerce.

We’re doing what we can to follow Sir Francis’ legacy. You can see the work on West Street, creating a spacious boulevard leading to Church Circle. But we need help, lots of help, from those who share our city, to improve the other gateways into town.

Bay Weekly: Many people were attracted to your candidacy by your promise to make Annapolis an ever more attractive capital for Marylanders. What changes can we — whether Annapolis is our hometown or our capital city — expect to see in the face the city shows us?

Mayor Moyer: There are a number of different gateways into the city: West Street is the heritage entrance to the city; Aris T. Allen Boulevard; Rowe Boulevard; the Naval Academy Bridge. For the most part, except for Rowe Boulevard, you don’t know that you’re coming into a capital city. There’s no signage, no special look and feel. It doesn’t make you necessarily feel good about coming into a capital city.

Particularly since we have so much building going on outside the city, we need to make sure that this city isn’t negatively impacted economically. Part of doing that is setting the tone of how one feels entering the city.

We want to landscape the gateways in a magnificent way. I’ve asked the state to enhance its
own property that it maintains. That is why we are requesting funding for landscaping and other improvements to the approaches on Aris Allen Boulevard, outer West Street, Route 450 and the Rowe/Bladen interchange. I hope that over the next four years, we’ll be able to enhance the entrances to the city so that you know you are coming into the capital.

Bay Weekly: Janet Owens, the Anne Arundel County executive, has told us that, much as she respects you, she views Annapolis as only 35,000 people among the half a million she’s responsible for.

Mayor Moyer: That’s correct, but Annapolis is the capital, and it is the county seat. Our position goes back again to the dynamics of city-county-state funding. Provisions from the state go to the county and then come to us. Money for homeland security, for example, is probably going to go to the county, and we’ll have to get it back.

Having a positive relationship with the county is just as important as having a positive relationship with the state because they hold some of our fiscal purse strings.

Bay Weekly: You mention homeland security. You’re concerned about terrorism in Annapolis?

Mayor Moyer: We are a state capital, that’s number one, and we have some very valuable targets. We also have a harbor, as does Baltimore. Because we have so many of what would be considered as valuable targets, we have a bigger job to do.

Bay Weekly: The City Charter Review Commission seems poised to recommend elimination of mayoral term limits. What do you think of that recommendation?

Mayor Moyer: To tell you the truth, I haven’t thought much about it. I’ve been trying to take things sequentially: to respond to the transition teams and move forward with the budget.

In three months, we’ve instituted a new management style. We’ve upgraded our web page. We’ve got the staff doing things differently. All those are management issues that we’re moving forward.

After the budget come the recommendations from the Charter Review Commission. They were drafted as pieces of legislation, and they’ll either be introduced to the council as a whole or they’ll be given to the rules committee to be looked at. Before that, there are all kinds of things that need to get my attention.

photo by Cristi Pasquella
Bay Weekly: As a former alderwoman who’s now mayor, you’ve worked both sides of the fence so to speak. How has your perspective changed now that you’re on the other side?

Mayor Moyer: I see my role as more of a supporter, helping the aldermen achieve the things that they want. We’ve increased the amount of information they get, and we’ve increased the dialogue, so there’s more face time, more meetings.

What is immediately clear is that when you’re an alderman and you’re working within your ward on programs that are ward-specific, you’re not as engaged in the total complexity of the budget or the total complexity of all the issues as they intertwine. So as mayor, there’s a much broader comprehensive view that you don’t get when you’re an alderman.

Bay Weekly: The Commission said that the mayor’s position should not be strengthened in terms of getting a veto over the council. Do you think you should have that power?

Mayor Moyer: I haven’t focused on that, either. I’m not at all uncomfortable with the system that we have.

But here’s something really interesting, and it’s ironic: During the campaign, we heard about having a weak mayor in our form of city government. Since I’m elected, we’ve heard the opposite: that the mayor has too much power now that she’s mayor. It’s the same people saying two different things.

Bay Weekly: Now that GreenScape’s founder is mayor, how will you make time for this year’s GreenScaping?

Mayor Moyer: We need to be setting the standard, and that goes to the heart of the issue that you had asked me about before. If we’re asking the state to do landscaping, we need to be doing the same on our property, setting the high standard on the look and feel of public property. So that’s what I’m pushing.

One of the things that we started really rapidly when I came in was to repair the sidewalks. We started around public buildings, and we have a lot more to do.

With GreenScape, there are a number of public properties that could take some landscaping. I have made my suggestions for special projects that I want to find people to participate in.

For one, it seems to me we could do more along Farragut Road [the northwest border of Navy-Marine Memorial Stadium]. If we can find a team of people who are interested in Farragut Road, we can begin those improvements.

Bay Weekly: Speaking of GreenScape, I understand you have 13,000 daffodils coming up to greet the Volvo Ocean Race fleet.

Mayor Moyer: We’ve been planting daffodils for over four years. During fall GreenScaping, community groups come and pick them up and plant them along our trail systems and public places. Daffodils because the critters won’t eat them, while tulip bulbs aren’t safe from the critters. We’ve got yellow and white. But as the weather’s going this year, they may be bloomed out before the boats arrive.

Bay Weekly: April 26–28, the Volvo Ocean Race is returning to the city. Besides the spectacle, what will we get from that stopover?

Mayor Moyer: I was very, very involved with bringing The Whitbread [as the Volvo Race was known from 1973 until this cycle] to Annapolis, and I co-chaired the committee. It was a great thing for the maritime industry — and for the economy. In 1998 in Annapolis and Baltimore, Whitbread had a direct economic impact of $22.6 million. That’s a big deal for a small town state capital.

But people forget that the maritime industry is the principal business for this community. When our bond rating was just increased to AA, the strength of the maritime industry was listed specifically as a factor. I say it over and over again: Somehow or other we’ve missed the value of that industry to the city. We’re a government center and a sailing center.

If our maritime industry were to go away, it would be comparable to Annapolis Mall [Westfield Shopping Town] closing. That would be the impact to the city.

The city has not produced a comprehensive plan that hasn’t focused on our maritime heritage. So having these maritime events are extremely important.

Bay Weekly: If you’ll let me oversimplify, you’ve said that everything you ever learned, you learned from the Girl Scouts. How are those lessons helping you as mayor?

Mayor Moyer: Yes, I’ve said that.

It was basically their way of work. The Girl Scout way of work is participatory in nature. It’s the dynamics of opening doors and working together in a team sense to come to decisions and make things happen — then being involved in the doing. All of that I learned from the Girl Scouts, both as a scout and working in the leadership. I am a facilitator-type person. That comes from my Girl Scout training.

Bay Weekly: Does the Girl Scout way of work teach you how to cooperate with difficult people who oppose the team?

Mayor Moyer: That’s a challenge. It is a real challenge to learn how to be a statesman or a stateswoman. In our office meetings, we joke about needing statesmanship skill-building.

Negative stuff — negative attitudes, negative assaults — are so energy-absorbing. If you aren’t able to set them aside and put them in their proper perspective, the negatives will so absorb you that you’ll never get to the positives. You’ll never get to move forward. It’s the positive attitude that will move us to the place where people will say about Annapolis, ‘this is the place I want to live.’

Bay Weekly: But you seem to also believe that most things we need to know can be learned …

Mayor Moyer: Yes, we can pick up skills and learn different things … but some things are easier than others for some people. There has to be a will and there has to be openness. Representative democracy depends on the strength of listening. When you’re willing to listen openly, you can begin to have a conversation that gets beyond combativeness … and those are lessons we all have to learn.

The Mayors Moyer: Ellen and former mayor, Pip.
Bay Weekly: What do you bring to your office from your experience as first lady when your former husband, Pip Moyer, was mayor?

Mayor Moyer: I was an activist person, so there were programs that we started that I was able to initiate. But, you know, I’m a basically shy person so there’s other kinds of things that one has to overcome, personal social attributes.

Bay Weekly: And as an alderman?

Mayor Moyer: I think that Eastport is a kind of a model that can be shared with so many people. We’re taking about problem-solving, team-building and action … Whether you do that in your family or whether you do that in the city, it’s just the scale that changes.

I think I probably have just carried whatever strengths that I have from one level to another.

Bay Weekly:You’ve been wife, mother, grandmother and first lady. Now you’re the mayor. That’s quite a life passage …

Mayor Moyer: I think it’s very freeing to know whatever dream you have, you have to do your dream. It’s a wow! kind of feeling. But you do have to have a sense of what the kinds of things are that make you feel wow!

Bay Weekly: Does being mayor leave you time for family life?

Mayor Moyer: I just led a panel in Florida for the Urban Health Institute… I’ve done lots of traveling with my 12-year-old grandson, William, and he asked me if I had any adventure trips coming up.

So William and I drove to Miami and stopped to explore, on the drive back, St. Augustine and Charleston — very quickly, but nevertheless he had a taste of places he hadn’t seen before.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly