Mayor Tartaro Wants To Be Copied on All Council Emails to Staff
Some council members balk at request, saying mayor lacks authority to control how they reach out to staff.
Hyattsville Mayor Marc Tartaro wants members of the City Council to include him on all emails they send to city department directors. But he's being met with resistance by some city council members who say the mayor's office is overstepping its bounds.
The directive was communicated through a memo sent by Tartaro on June 22 to each member of the city council, as well as Acting City Administrator Elaine Stookey and the heads of the city's police, public works, code enforcement and recreation and arts departments. A copy of the memo was provided to Hyattsville Patch by an anonymous source.
In the memo, Tartaro directed city council members to communicate with department directors only through emails addressed to the acting city administrator. Department directors may be included in those email, according to the memo, but the response would be issued through the acting city administrator's office.
Most controversially, Tartaro also directed that he be included in all emails sent by council members seeking information from city department directors.
Council Vice President David Hiles (Ward 2), who typically aligns with Tartaro on issues of council policy, said that the memo formalizes a practice which council members should already have been adhering to.
"This is just putting down on paper the policy that I understood back when I went onto council a few years ago," said Hiles by phone. "If we wanted to get things done with staff, the way we were supposed to do it, is send the request not to the city staff member but to the city administrator."
But Councilor Candace Hollingsworth (Ward 1) said that the Mayor cannot dictate how the council interacts with staff or constituents.
"Clearly he doesn't understand that the council doesn't report to the mayor," said Hollingsworth in an interview. "He may be confused by that fact."
Tartaro wrote in the memo that the directive was crafted in response to an abusive tone which had taken root in some emails sent by current council members to city staff.
"At best, these communications squander limited staff resources," wrote Tartaro. "At worst, they create an openly hostile work environment."
"Our department directors have little choice but to treat many of these messages as direction, with the clear implication that failure to respond promptly and thoroughly will result in negative action," wrote Tartaro. "I remind you, once again, that policy matters are decided by the entire council."
Hollingsworth conceded that communication between elected officials and government staff can sometimes interfere with the function of government services or give rise to the appearance of corruption. But she said that the vast majority of council interactions with staff come as a result of constituent services. For instance, a city council member may try to get in contact with a member of the code enforcement team if a constituent has a question about obtaining a work permit or code violation.
Hollingsworth said that the mayor's directive points to a larger issue within Hyattsville's government: increased safeguarding of public information by the mayor and the city's closed-door executive committee which sets the agenda for each council meeting.
"I don't think the staff members are comfortable sharing anything at this point, because they don't know if the mayor wants it release," said Hollingsworth. "I wouldn't want to work in that environment."
Councilor Shani Warner (Ward 2) took umbrage at the directive.
"I thought it was amusing," wrote Warner in an email to Patch. "The mayor would be more effective if he were to deal with his colleagues as professionals."
Citing travel between Ocean City, Hyattsville and Texas, Tartaro was unable to be interviewed by Patch for this story.