Concerned about rats he has seen roaming his Bladensburg neighborhood, Steve Weitz decided he had to do more than simply complain about the problem — he brought in visual evidence to a town forum.
During the July 26 meeting held to discuss community trash, among other issues, Weitz, 67, showed Mayor Walter James and several council members photographs of garbage bins overflowing with trash bags that spilled onto the streets. He also showed the officials pictures he had taken of rats rooting through his neighbor’s garden.
Residents say the garbage situation out on the streets and the resulting rat problem started about a year ago, after the town reduced trash pickup from twice a week to once a week.
But the rats and the trash are only part of the problem, say residents, who added they feel as though they have no voice in the decisions made by the town’s leadership.
“We have ho meaningful input,” Weitz told the mayor and council during the town forum. “We feel like we’re being excluded from the whole process.”
Mayor Walter James, speaking after the meeting, said the schedule change in the town’s trash pickup could be “a contributing factor” to the rat sightings reported by residents, but he said Bladensburg has had problems with rats in the past. He said he was glad to see residents engaged in town issues, but disagreed with assertions that he and council members are not allowing them to voice their concerns.
“We have always been an open and transparent government,” James said, adding that he and council members want residents to participate in “solutions-oriented” discussions.
Members of the Citizens’ Action Committee of Bladensburg said they have seen some progress in their communication with the town leadership. The group of about 15 residents formed in May to address ongoing concerns they have with what they say is a lack of transparency in their government and a neglect to follow up on resident requests.
“I’m encouraged that we are seeing some positive response from the mayor and Town Council and from the town administration,” Chris Melendez, 53, who is chair of the committee, said after the meeting. “Still there are issues about the enforcement of things.”
John Carlson, 69, who is a member of the committee, said other resident concerns include barking dogs and expensive out-of-town trips that he said officials take at taxpayers’ expense.
“They’re living large at public expense and are not transparent,” Carlson said after the meeting. He said the July 26 town forum was the third held this year, and the most productive so far.
James, who took notes on key problems and possible remedies on an easel pad throughout the July 26 meeting, said the forum pointed to a need for better communication with residents, better community education and better enforcement of regulations.
“And then holding people accountable,” he said.
Town Administrator John Moss said officials are working on educating the community about managing trash, food waste and dog feces, which attract rats. He said officials visited residents’ homes after receiving complaints about rats, and in mid-July began setting out five baited traps in locations where people have reported seeing the rodents.
“It’s about trash and trash maintenance,” he said.