“I’ve lived the big city life, I’ve traveled. I’m here because it’s a small city. And I think I have the ability to help it grow,” said Fourth Ward Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler during an interview at City Hall last week. Hatzenbuhler said her 35 years working in the aviation industry have prepared her for the job of responding to her constituent’s needs.
When asked about the successes of the common council over the past two years, Hatzenbuhler was forthright. “We have struggled,” she said. “And it seems like everything we try to do is shot down.”
As an example, she recounted, “We had a great charter commission set up that was extremely bi-partisan…they had already put in six weeks, eight weeks of time. Then the mayor makes an announcement that you have to disband it.”
She added that she believes the mayor-appointed commission that replaced the council’s was seen as too “pro-mayor” which led to the defeat of the commission’s proposed charter changes at the polls last year.
Despite the struggles, Hatzenbuhler outlined several areas she wants to work on if elected to another term.
Asked whether the city needed to go back and correct details from the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years to the point where they could be audited, Hatzenbuhler said that she agreed with Controller Matt Agresta that city needed to pick a point in time to move forward from. However she said that some work may still need to be done on past records.
“Once we get this [Annual Update Document] back, on 2013-2014, then we need to sit down and look at it. And then we need to see where the deficiencies are on the AUD, and then maybe we can go back and do spot checks on whatever department or whatever program or process that was creating the deficiencies.”
Asked whether the city needed to hire outside financial consultants, Hatzenbuhler said, “I think we need to see what 2013-2014 holds first. [Agresta] has assured us that he expects, because they put so much time and effort into making sure that the numbers they’ve submitted are correct, that everything else is supposed to fall in line. And in theory I guess it would. And if it doesn’t, we have to find out why.”
In coming years, Hatzenbuhler said that updating the city’s list of assets would be a priority. She said that the Department of Public Works has provided her with detailed reports on the department’s assets, but has not received similar reports from the Recreation Department.
Hatzenbuhler said she will continue to work on the idea of transferring the job of cutting down vegetation on city owned properties from the Recreation Department to either the DPW or possibly a whole new department.
She said she would like to see a more systematic approach to attacking overgrown vegetation, targeting one whole neighborhood at a time. She suggested the idea of hiring seasonal help to work two shifts during the summer months. Hatzenbuhler said it would require additional funding at first to catch up with the work needed on all the city’s properties, but after the initial “surge”, it would be easier to maintain the properties in the future.
Hatzenbuhler also said she would support a program of “density reduction,” which would involve encouraging property owners to convert two family homes in to one family homes, or four family homes to two family.
Although the move may reduce the amount the city collects in per-unit user fees, Haztenbuhler said the city would benefit from attracting more financially stable home owners who would “anchor” the neighborhoods, as opposed to renters.
“I think we need to come up with incentives,” said Hatzenbuhler in regards to encouraging the conversions. “I would be very happy to do that.”
Hatzenbuhler said she believes the city’s code enforcement officers do an excellent job, but that the current corporation counsel has not done a good enough job prosecuting cases.
“The first three and a half years of [Mayor Ann Thane’s] administration, and I think that’s where it impacted us tremendously, we had really nothing going to court. Because every time they went to court, the judge did not care for or did not like the accusatory statement.”
“It was well into the fourth year before anything really started going to court,” she added.
She said she agrees “wholeheartedly” with mayoral candidate Michael Villa’s plan to hire a dedicated codes enforcement attorney on a contractual basis.
Haztenbuhler also said she would like to hold a meeting with city landlords, “so that we can find out what their issues are and then move forward with legislation appropriately, that will help the landlords. Because right now the way the law is set up, it’s all in favor of the tenants.”
Additionally, Hatzenbuhler said she wants to see regular inspections of multiple family dwellings for the purpose of issuing rental permits.
“We have many many units that are rented by slumlords that are not up to code. And they’re not going to do anything to bring them up to code,” she said.
“If they don’t want to bring them up to code, them maybe we just need to knock them down, if they’ve become that much of a blight on the city,” she added.
In order to implement the program, Hatzenbuhler said, “It’s going to require, in the long run, budgeting for another codes enforcement officer next year.”
She added that the most recent hire to the codes department would take almost a year to become fully certified to complete the full range of codes inspections. However, she said that the fees for rental certificates would bring in revenue to help offset the cost of an additional position.
Hatzenbuhler said that she would like to study an idea first proposed by former alderman and current county legislator Joe Isabel to build a city-wide fiber optic and wireless network to provide internet connectivity to residents, businesses and city offices.
Hatzenbuhler said that she would put together a committee to look at the idea, but believes the system would save the city money by not having to depend on Time Warner’s network and could be an attraction for new businesses. She noted that the police department currently uses a large amount of bandwidth using Time Warner’s network to deliver video feeds from surveillance cameras around the city to their central server.
In regards to economic development, Hatzenbuhler said she does not believe the position of Community and Economic Development Director at the city is needed and that the existing city agencies and Montgomery County could handle the job.
“They have more extensive operations up there, more extensive capabilities. I’m still not in favor of us doing it here…we have AIDA, and we’ve also got Urban Renewal Agency.”
She also said she does not favor an creating an economic development committee on the council, “because I think between AIDA and the county we can handle things. Currently, we don’t have the right people in place at the city.”
“Any one of us, even as alderman, can go and talk to somebody if they want to talk about bringing business into the city,” she added.
On the issue of a city-wide ambulance service, Hatzenbuhler said she would only consider the idea if it were approved by a public referendum first.
About the proposed recreation center, Haztenbuhler said she was concerned about the viability of such a project and wants a study completed first.
“How do we support a rec center? The [YMCA] was not sustainable, they’re not sustainable up in Hagaman. How do we support it? The city can’t afford it,” she said. “It would have to be a public-private partnership…I’d like to see at least one study done… a business plan.”
Rather than build a recreation center, Hatzenbuhler suggested that the recreation department could expand to offer more programs and activities.
Hatzenbuhler said she is not in favor of the proposed idea of moving the train station to the downtown area.
“If you have a good downtown with the right kind of small businesses, we don’t need an inter-modal train station,” she said. “As a federal taxpayer, I would be livid at the prospect of…spending $60 million of federal tax dollars, moving a train station downtown when we don’t have the need for it.”
In regards to the Creative Connections arts center, Hatzenbuhler said she would like to allow another organization to use the facility and take over the maintenance and utilities, so that those costs would not have to be paid by the city.
She said would be in favor of creating more neighborhood parks in the city and in her ward, would like to see a children’s playground built in the vacant space between Milton and Vanderveer St. where the Milton Ave. school used to be.
“80% of our job is taking care of people in our ward,” said Hatzenbuhler. “I’ve answered close to 350 phone calls from residents in my ward this year, and others. I enjoy taking that part of my customer service training from 35 years in aviation, and really just taking care of it here in the neighborhood.”
Hatzenbuhler concluded, “I do respond, and people know that. And I think that’s one of the better things that I’m known for in the ward, at least I feel that way.”
Hatzenbuhler will appear on November’s ballot on the Republican and Reform party lines. She faces challenger Rodney Wojnar on the Democratic and Rebuilding Amsterdam party lines, and Tim Quist on the independent Voice of the People line.