Despite traffic violations, Toles to head public safety -- Gazette.Net







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A Prince George’s County Councilwoman who was found guilty this past year of reckless driving in a county-issued vehicle has been placed in charge of managing the county’s public safety agenda this year.

Councilwoman Karen Toles (D-Dist. 7) of Suitland, who was given probation before judgment due to a Feb. 22 traffic stop in which she was reportedly traveling at more than 105 miles per hour, was made chairwoman of the County Council’s Public Safety and Fiscal Management Committee on Monday. The committee’s oversight includes the county’s first responders, Office of Finance, Office of Law and the Board of Ethics.

The move has left some residents, such as Forest Heights Councilman Larry Stoner (Ward 3), with mixed feelings.

“She’s been a proponent of safety bills, but she should act the part,” he said. “She shouldn’t be speeding.”

Council committees are responsible for reviewing bills and making changes before the proposals go to the full council, said former state senator David Harrington, who was on the County Council from 2002 to 2006 and was council chairman in 2006. Council leadership positions allow a council member to set the agenda for a committee, said Harrington, who is now president of the Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce.

Toles was pulled over this past year by county officers on the Capital Beltway. A 14-year veteran officer, Cpl. Joseph Brooks said during court testimony that he saw Toles swerving between vehicles, nearly causing several collisions. An officer at the scene, Lt. Kathleen Mills, testified that the councilwoman told her she had been distracted as she was putting on makeup, talking on the phone and rushing to a meeting in Annapolis.

Toles was ordered to pay a $435 fine, but she did not incur any points to her driving record from the reckless driving citation. Prior to the incident, Toles already had two points on her driver’s license from similar traffic violation in 2010 and 2009, according to Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration records.

During the investigation, Toles was barred from use of a county-owned vehicle; county officials were unable to say by press time Wednesday whether the vehicle restriction had been lifted.

Toles said the past conviction didn’t relate to her appointment.

“I don’t think there is any issue,” Toles said.

Council Chairwoman Andrea Harrison (D-Dist. 5) of Springdale and council Vice Chairman Obie Patterson (D-Dist. 8) of Fort Washington decided on council leadership during the council’s winter recess. Committee assignments are the responsibility of the County Council leadership. The assignments were circulated to members and officially released Monday, Harrison said.

Toles was given leadership of the Public Safety and Fiscal Management Committee due to her interest in public safety, Harrison said.

“There has been a passion and a concerted effort particularly on her part,” she said.

Of the 50 or so bills that went before the Public Safety and Fiscal Management Committee in 2012, about one-third were either sponsored or co-sponsored by Toles, Harrison said.

On Tuesday, Toles discussed her passion for public safety, pointing to her legislative work, such as new loitering rules in 2012 that standardized the warning process and increased the penalties.

The driving violations should have no bearing on Toles ability to lead Public Safety and Fiscal Management Committee, Harrison said.

“This is not an ethics issue. It was a traffic issue,” she said. “Quite honestly, since the court has adjudicated that matter, the matter is over.”

Police department officials said they look forward to working with Toles.

“We enjoy a very productive relationship with Council Member Toles and anticipate that will continue as she assumes this new leadership position,” Kevin Davis, the county’s assistant police chief, said in a statement.