First District 9 forum draws more than 200 residents
Councilman Franklin's initial monthly meeting connects south county residents with officials
This story was updated on March 1, 2011. An explanation follows the story.
More than 200 southern Prince George's County residents packed the cafeteria of an Upper Marlboro middle school Thursday night for the inaugural public forum hosted by first-term County Councilman Mel Franklin (D-Dist. 9) of Upper Marlboro.
Franklin spent much of the evening as moderator, helping residents direct questions to police, school board members, and state and county public works officials in attendance to address issues such as public safety, school budget cuts and street repairs.
Monthly public meetings were among Franklin's campaign promises, in response to widespread complaints from south county residents that previous officials were difficult to reach and not responsive.
"This is the first of a monthly tradition," Franklin told residents at James Madison Middle School in Upper Marlboro. Since taking office in December, he also has relied heavily on e-mail and other Web-based tools to reach out to residents. He posts regularly on Twitter and Facebook, and launched an Internet survey last week seeking feedback from residents on the quality of communities in south county, including roads, schools and the delivery of other services.
As of Thursday, he said, about 200 people had completed the survey.
Clinton resident Donald Johnson, 51, said he voted for Franklin and was pleased to see him following through on a campaign pledge. He is especially concerned about public safety as he and his wife were recent burglary victims.
"[The forum] gives you an opportunity to know what's going on," he said.
Noting the rise in home break-ins throughout south county and understaffing in police districts countywide, Acting Maj. Jason Bogue, police District 5 commander, and Maj. James Harper, police District 4 commander, urged residents to start neighborhood watch groups in their communities.
Domonique Flowers, a constituent liaison for school board Vice Chairwoman Donna Hathaway Beck (Dist. 9), spoke about proposed school budget cuts. The same night as Franklin's meeting, the school board approved a $1.6 billion budget that, without more money from the county and state, would cut more than 1,300 jobs and trim programs to close a $155 million gap.
Residents spoke out against cuts to the junior ROTC program and the lack of upgrades to aging and deteriorating south county school buildings, and called for greater oversight of school board spending, especially on salaries.
Representatives from the county's Department and Public Works and Transportation, the Maryland Department of Transportation and Maryland State Highway Administration fielded questions on poor road conditions and dangerous intersections around south county. Despite assurances that improvements would be made as funds become available, several residents questioned the agencies' priorities.
Clinton resident Fentress Jones, 57, said after the meeting that the streets in her neighborhood were badly in need of repairs.
"I don't like the idea of everybody saying we're out of money," she said. "We pay taxes like everybody else."
There was also a presentation from Glenda Hodges, founder and chief executive officer of Still I Rise, a new, Clinton-based nonprofit that offers resources for victims of domestic violence.
After the meeting, several residents said that while they were reserving judgment on Franklin's performance until they see him act on issues brought up during the meeting, they were impressed with his community outreach to date.
"He appears to be very genuine," said Patricia Scales, 59, of Upper Marlboro. In electing Franklin, she added, "We did the right thing."
District 9 public meetings are scheduled for 7 to 9:30 p.m. for the following dates and locations:
March 24, Accokeek Academy, 14600 Berry Road, Accokeek
April 26, Gwynn Park Middle School, 8000 Dyson Road, Brandywine
May 24, Princeton Elementary School, 6101 Baxter Drive, Suitland
June 21, Friendly High School, 10000 Allentown Road, Fort Washington
July 26, Baden Volunteer Fire Department, 16608 Brandywine Road, Brandywine
Aug. 25, Frederick Douglass High School, 8000 Croom Road, Upper Marlboro
Sept. 27, Stephen Decatur Middle School, 8200 Pinewood Drive, Clinton
Oct. 25, Accokeek Academy, 14600 Berry Road, Accokeek
Nov. 15, Gwynn Park Middle School, 8000 Dyson Road, Brandywine
To complete District 9 Councilman Mel Franklin's resident survey, e-mail Franklin's office at firstname.lastname@example.org or use links available through Franklin's Facebook page or Twitter account at www.twitter.com/melcouncil9.
Residents who cannot access the Internet but would like to participate should call Franklin's office at 301-952-3820.
This story was updated to reflect new dates, times and locations for the District 9 public meetings.