Attendees of a Tuesday night election forum in Fairmount Heights asked candidates to explain how they would be accountable for their actions as a council member and communicate better with residents about town business.
More than a dozen residents, including past and current elected officials, attended the forum to pose questions to challengers Andina Keith and former councilwoman Patricia Waiters, who are among four candidates running for three council seats.
Incumbent Councilwoman Nancy Dixon Saxon said Wednesday she was unable to attend because she was collecting documents to get the Grace United Methodist Church on 59th Avenue on track to be recognized as a county historical site. Incumbent Councilwoman Jacqueline Wood-Dodson was sick and recently got out of the hospital, she said Wednesday.
The polls for the May 7 town election will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Fairmount Heights Municipal Center at 6100 Jost St.
When former mayor Johnnie Saxton asked both women what they will do to be accountable if elected, Keith cited her work with the group Citizens Against Prostitution. Keith formed CAP in March 2010 to establish partnerships with Prince George's County and Metropolitan Police in Washington, D.C., to eliminate prostitution on Eastern Avenue.
Keith said she has expended most of her personal days from her full-time job as a project accountant in the District to lobby on behalf of residents for CAP, which resulted in residents now having the cell phone number of a police officer to report criminal activity and more county police patrols from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
If elected, Keith said, she plans to do outreach to the community to find out if the government is fulfilling residents' needs.
"We rely too much on the meetings here," Keith said. "We don't go out in the community enough. I can personally say I have not seen one single council person knock on my door unless it's election time, and I have a problem with that."
Waiters, an information technology specialist for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, said she prided herself on being punctual for town business when she was a council member from 2009 to 2011. She said she has taken off work to address town business, handling issues that range from ensuring the town gets reimbursed for snow removal during the snowstorms of 2010 to fixing the town's Internet service.
Waiters said she has heard residents say that this year is the easier one to get on the council because the seats are not up for re-election at the same time as the mayor's, a higher-profile race.
"That should not be," Waiters said. "It's the same responsibility in the mayoral candidacy as it is every other year. My job is to serve the people. That's where it starts, thatís where it ends."
Resident and former councilman Edward Jordan asked the candidates what they would suggest to bring out more people to town meetings and events such as Tuesday night's forum. Jordan referenced two town signboards that haven't been updated with town meeting information because of a lack of black letters.
Waiters suggested having meet-and-greets outside the building and mailing notices to each household. Waiters said replacing the letters could be an inexpensive quick fix, but because most residents are accustomed to not seeing the sign updated, they won't expect it to be current now.
Keith said even if a flier was placed on every house, they would still have the same amount of people come out to town meetings. She said the Town Council has to be welcoming and that she supported the idea of breaking up the town into six sections where each of the six council members can focus on those residents and report their issues back to the Town Council.
"Even if you split up Fairmount Heights, when you start engaging with people, they feel welcome," Keith said. "They don't feel welcome around here. It's a rebuilding of trust, so I think if we get out there and we generally talk to people without handing them a flier, it will be packed in here."
Resident Daisy Capers, also a former councilwoman, said she has worked with both women as members of the Fairmount Heights Civic Association. She praised Keith for her commitment to eradicating prostitution on Eastern Avenue and Waiters for trying to bring programming such as Prince George's County Department of Parks and Recreation sports to the town's parks.
"They're both strong ethically, and I think they can add some direction to our town," Capers said.