BY SUSIE CURRIE — About 170 people attended the District 2 Town Hall Meeting at Northwestern High School on June 2 – a record turnout, said Prince George’s County Council Member Will Campos, who organized it.
Campos presented an overview of the 2012 county budget, which the council unanimously passed on May 26. The $2.65 billion budget allows for such local projects as expanding the Hyattsville library and Prince George’s Plaza Community Center, establishing a Rhode Island Avenue trolley trail, and building a new elementary school next to Nicholas Orem Middle School.
It also restores some education funding that had been cut in the original plan. That was welcome news to many in the audience, including Hyattsville Elementary School PTA secretary T. Carter Ross. HES parents had coordinated a letter-writing campaign addressing proposed cuts.
“That effort helped get a partial restoration of funds for the Reading Recovery program throughout the county,” Ross learned in talking with Campos before the meeting.
Campos went on to discuss his 2011 legislative agenda, which includes strengthening the county noise ordinance and tweaking the residential parking permit system. He also praised recent development in Hyattsville.
“If you have not had an Elevation Burger yet, do so!” he urged, referring to one of the new businesses in The Shoppes at Arts District Hyattsville. “The first time I drove down Route 1 and saw people sitting outside at the tables … I almost got sentimental.”
Campos had arranged for representatives from various county agencies and nonprofits to be on hand during the meeting, and invited constituents to stay afterwards to talk directly to the departments that could help them, whether their concerns were school boundaries, public safety, foreclosure help, potholes or trail access.
“I thought it was a good model for what we should be doing in our wards on a regular basis to let people know what’s going on and what our immediate priorities are,” said Hyattsville City Councilmember Shani Warner (Ward 2).
The evening also included remarks by County Executive Rushern Baker. Baker touted his $50 million Economic Development Incentive Fund, a one-time investment that he said would attract new businesses and strengthen existing ones.
“We have to grow our commercial tax base,” he told the crowd. “Our residents are taxed enough already.”
Baker’s first term as county executive could also be described as taxing. He took office on December 6, faced with a $30 million deficit. His first two months on the job brought a homicide rate that averaged one a day at its height, as well as the busiest firefighting day since September 11, 2001.
“There were seven major fires throughout the county in one day,” he said, shaking his head. “I told my staff that if locusts come, I’m leaving!”
Just hours before the town hall meeting began, the U.S. Attorney’s office released the latest twist in the drama of his predecessor, Jack Johnson – a third developer pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion, among other charges. Since his high-profile arrest by the FBI on November 12,
Johnson has become the center of a widening corruption probe that centers on bribery, extortion and tampering with both evidence and witnesses. On May 17, as part of a plea deal, he pleaded guilty to two felonies.
Federal prosecutors expect more charges in the case.
But none of the speakers mentioned him. “It’s been a pleasure working with [Campos] for the last six months,” said Baker. “It seems like six years!”