Saturday, August 21, 2010

From the Educationdoctor

A deadly mistake in Prince Georges

Thursday, August 19, 2010; A16

A YOUNG WOMAN was murdered last week, an apparent victim of domestic violence and an unforgivable bureaucratic error.

Prince George's County police say that LaCole Hines, 17, was shot in the head Aug. 9 by Marcus D. Shipman, her 23-year-old boyfriend. Ms. Hines was in a Landover liquor store when Mr. Shipman allegedly walked in, shot her and sped away in a waiting car driven by a 16-year-old accomplice. Mr. Shipman and the teenager were arrested after they crashed the car. Ms. Hines died at an area hospital late last week.

What makes this heinous act all the more tragic is that it might have been prevented. Two weeks before the shooting, police issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Shipman after he threatened Ms. Hines with a gun -- a felony, first-degree assault. But he was never arrested because the Prince George's Sheriff's Office, which has primary responsibility for serving most of the warrants issued in the county, misfiled the document, the sheriff's office said. Instead of being handled on a priority basis, it was stashed away among misdemeanor warrants.

The employee responsible for the alleged mistake faces disciplinary action, the sheriff's office said, and the office has instituted a process by which the classification of warrants will be doubled-checked -- something that was apparently not being done before the Shipman mistake. "My heart goes out to the 17-year-old girl," Sheriff Michael A. Jackson said in a statement. Mr. Jackson, a Democrat who is running for county executive, labeled the incident "a very serious lapse in my agency." (Readers should know that The Post has endorsed one of Mr. Jackson's opponents, Rushern L. Baker III, in the Sept. 14 primary election for county executive.)

Mr. Jackson said that this lapse was an "isolated incident." But how can he know that this was an aberration? For years, the sheriff's office has had severe problems carrying out its duty to serve warrants in a timely fashion. In 2002, when Mr. Jackson was first elected, the office had a backlog of 30,000 unserved warrants. This was a major campaign issue for Mr. Jackson, who used it as an argument for unseating the incumbent sheriff.

Yet now he won't or can't provide even a ballpark figure of outstanding warrants. His spokesman asserts that the office "has no backlog," but that is only because the office now refuses to use that term; the backlog has become a "structural inventory." Rafael Hylton, a member of the sheriff's office who is running to replace Mr. Jackson, puts the backlog at 48,000 warrants. Mr. Hylton told the Gazette newspaper that shrinking the backlog will be a priority if he is elected.

Backlogs and errors are almost inevitable when dealing with the thousands of warrants that sheriffs' offices are asked to serve each year. But Mr. Jackson's apparent failure to control the problem and his unwillingness now even to acknowledge it all but guarantee mistakes. In the case of LaCole Hines, the carelessness proved fatal.

Fresh makeup for the County Council

Gazette Newspaper – August 19, 2010

Prince George's County Council members are limited to two four-year terms, and with five of the nine current members prevented from seeking re-election, the county's leadership will be significantly different after the Sept. 14 primary election. The 37 candidates for the nonpartisan seats will face a mountain of challenges: a tight budget, high crime and struggling schools, to name a few — all for the annual salary of $96,417.

The following council candidates possess the best strategies, leadership experience, dedication to an open, transparent government, and commitment to improving the community:

- District 1: Constituent area includes Adelphi, Beltsville, Calverton, College Park, Laurel, Montpelier, South Laurel, West Laurel and Vansville.

With eight years and four two-year terms as a Laurel city councilman, Frederick Smalls brings experience handling economic development, zoning issues and public safety and is the best candidate to succeed term-limited County Councilman Thomas E. Dernoga.

Smalls, the director of administration, finance and human resources for the Maryland secretary of state's office, brings experience as a Laurel Regional Hospital board member and former PTA president. Smalls has successfully worked on leading environmental efforts in the city and hopes to continue his work on the county level.

The one hit to Smalls' record is the city's lack of progress on the ailing Laurel Mall, which has struggled to attract popular retailers and is in need of revitalization; however, Smalls has learned from the pitfalls of revitalization efforts and has strong plans for dealing with developers on future projects.

Smalls' strongest competition comes from Mary Lehman, who has worked as an aide to delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Dist. 21) of College Park and Dernoga, and as the president of the West Laurel Civic Association, but Lehman doesn't have as clear a strategy to accomplish her goals.

Candidates Sam Epps, Valerie Cunningham and Crystal Thompson would have too steep a learning curve to be as effective in their first term.

- District 2: Constituent area includes Adelphi, Avondale, Brentwood, Chillum, Green Meadows, Hyattsville, Langley Park, Lewisdale, Mount Rainier and North Brentwood.

Incumbent Will Campos remains the best choice to represent his constituents. In his first term, Campos spearheaded efforts to find a site for a new Hyattsville elementary school to alleviate overcrowding in schools in the region. Campos worked with state leaders to provide tax credits for the university town center project in Hyattsville and support for the U.S. Route 1 corridor to spur construction and attract retailers.

For his next term, Campos wants to include Mount Rainier in revitalization efforts by making infrastructure improvements, turning the area into a vibrant downtown space and completing work on the western portion of EYA (Eakin, Youngentob and Associates) Arts District Hyattsville, a $200 million residential and commercial project along Route 1.

Campos combines creative ideas — such as establishing a trolley system through the district to add character and identity in the area — with logical plans, such as reviewing county contracts to eliminate unnecessary spending.

Challengers Dottie McNeill and Sabrena Turner need more experience on a municipal level.

- District 3: Constituent area includes Beacon Heights, Berwyn Heights, College Park, East Pines, Glenridge, Landover Hills, Lanham, New Carrollton, Riverdale Park, Seabrook, Templeton Knolls, University Park, West Lanham Hills and Woodlawn.

County Councilman Eric C. Olson deserves re-election to the post through the solid performance during his first term, which includes a successful push to prevent council members from receiving raises unless county employees get one as well; formation of "walking town meetings," where he walks through neighborhoods with residents to hear their concerns (he says he has walked every community in his district); startup of the countywide Youth and Gang Violence Prevention Task Force; and championing legislation to help stop pawn shops from enabling petty crimes.

His opponent, retired business owner Al Whiting, is a political newcomer who says he opposes the Purple Line, a much-needed mass transit project for this district.

- District 4: Constituent area includes Bowie, Glenn Dale, Greenbelt, Lanham-Seabrook, Upper Marlboro and Westchester Park.

Democratic incumbent Ingrid Turner and Republican challenger Fiona Moodie are both unopposed in their primaries.

- District 5: Constituent area includes Bowie, Blandensburg, Cheverly, Colmar Manor, Cottage City, Edmonston, Fairmount Heights, Glenarden, Landover, Lanham, Mitchellville and Springdale.

Incumbent Andrea Harrison won a special election for the seat of her former boss, David C. Harrington, who was appointed to a state Senate. Harrison was his deputy chief of staff and policy director, but has little to show for her two years on the council.

Challenger Pat Thornton offers much more leadership and, of the three candidates for this district, offers the most promise.

Thornton has worked as marketing director at the Prince George's County Economic Development Corp., which works to attract and support businesses, for the past six years and has strong plans for bring jobs and federal dollars to the county. While at the EDC, she has worked with the top 100 employers in the county and understands their needs — and how to attract more businesses.

Thornton expresses frustration over the county's missed grant opportunities and pledges to have a staff member better monitor available funding.

Harrison points to the county's triple-A bond rating and managing the budget during tough economic times as her main accomplishments. Challenger Nakia T. Ngwala shows a lot of promise but lacks experience and her plans, such as bringing federal agencies to the Metro stations in Prince George's County, lack specifics.

- District 6: Constituent area includes South Bowie, Capitol Heights, District Heights, Forestville, Kettering, Largo, Mitchellville and Upper Marlboro.

Derrick Leon Davis, chairman of the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund and a parent coordinator for Prince George's County Public Schools, identifies a clear strategy for environmental jobs growth, a transportation corridor, community revitalization and transit-oriented development around Metro stations.

Davis, who lives in Suitland, has the leadership and community experience several of his challengers lack — he was elected to the county's Democratic Central Committee and has served as a constituent services aide on the County Council. He also has a thorough understanding of the issues and will likely be a consensus-builder on the council.

Mark Polk, a Bowie attorney and former county police captain, is a strong contender but — along with Venus Bethea, a Prince George's County District Court commissioner, and Leslie Johnson, wife of the current county executive — lacks leadership experience. Polk offers an interesting data-driven approach for measuring leadership performance; however, his resolute stances may make him a polarizing force on the council.

Arthur Turner, chairman of the Prince George's County Democratic Central Committee, has helped promote economic development, but his embarrassing disputes with union leaders raise concerns about his ability to handle county conflicts.

- District 7: Constituent area includes Bradbury Heights, Capitol Heights, Coral Hills, Hillcrest Heights, Seat Pleasant and Suitland.

Darrell Miller, former mayor of Capitol Heights, is the strongest contender in a race with no standout candidates.

Miller served four years overseeing the roughly $2.5 million budget of Capitol Heights. He took a grant-focused approach while at the helm — which he says bore fruit after he failed to win re-election this year. He plans to continue that approach on the county level to jumpstart economic development, pay for road improvements and build more recreational centers, but is unable to provide a solid long-term solution void of the grants.

Still, Miller has the combination of leadership experience, an outlined strategy for district and county improvements and focus that other candidates lack.

Challenger Eugene Grant, mayor of Seat Pleasant, outlines some specific plans for economic development in District 7 but his strategy is too reliant on partnerships and community engagement, which can be unreliable. Candidate Natasha Shamone-Gilmore's strengths are her community and leadership experience, but she offers few details.

- District 8: Constituent area includes Camp Springs, Clinton, Forest Heights, Fort Washington, Glass Manor, Marlow Heights, Oxon Hill and Temple Hills.

In a race with several competent, accomplished candidates who would do well on the job, Jerry Mathis, a Fort Washington real estate agent and community leader, gets the nod. Mathis provides solid, well thought-out plans to redefine the county's economy and schools, and he has the business and community advocacy experience to support his vision. He has long been at the forefront of county issues, successfully fighting for historic preservation and local business.

Among the race's other top contenders is Archie O'Neil, a former county police commander who has strong plans for capitalizing off National Harbor's success and wants to improve Metro access.

- District 9: Constituent area includes Accokeek, Aquasco, Baden, Brandywine, Camp Springs, Cheltenham, Clinton, Croom, Eagle Harbor, Fort Washington, Joint Base Andrews, Piscataway and Upper Marlboro.

Attorneys Mel Franklin and Tamara Davis Brown, two top-notch professionals and community leaders, would both thrive excel in replacing outgoing Councilwoman Marilynn M. Bland.

Our nod narrowly goes to Franklin, a Marlton resident and Maryland assistant attorney general, who has hit the ground running with improvement strategies that address all facets of the economically and demographically diverse district. Franklin has smart plans for fostering growth and development in the district's developing tier and around Metro stations, attracting business with incentives while ensuring the necessary infrastructure will support growth, and preserving the rural tier with stricter zoning protections.

Brown of Clinton also is a talented leader and a proven advocate for residents, with solid plans for sustainable economic development, preservation of the rural tier and transit-oriented development.

However, Franklin, who is a member of the board of trustees for Prince George's Community College, the board of the Indian Head Highway Area Action Council and the county's Prince George's County Democratic Central Committee, has the leadership experience to be a powerhouse on the council.

Zalee Harris a.k.a. Maryland's Education Doctor
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