LARGO – Community leaders took the opportunity to bring their questions right to the top as County Executive Rushern Baker III joined county council Chair Derrick Davis for a presidents’ advisory committee meeting.
The District 6 committee is made up of leaders of civic and community associations and meets to hear about and discuss county issues with their council representative. On Aug. 4, Baker and his staff also attended the meeting to hear constituent concerns, including trash, education and health care.
A large part of the meeting focused on the county’s recent switch to one-day-a-week trash collection. Community leaders expressed frustration with missed pick-ups as well as the county’s 3-1-1 system, where they were told to report such misses, not working properly.
Tom Himler, deputy chief administrative officer for budget and finance, said the challenges Prince George’s faced in making the switch were like those other jurisdictions experienced when they switched in the past. He said misses are much lower now than at the beginning of the new schedule.
“We had some rough patches with the initial rollout. That was kind of normal,” he said. “I’m sure there are still some issues out there. We’re not perfect. When we hear those we call the haulers.”
Baker said residents could contact his office with 3-1-1 case tracking numbers if problems persist. Other residents also reported the parallel online system, CountyClick, has been working correctly for them.
Some residents also expressed concerns about the county’s public school system, particularly the curriculum being taught. Daisy Cherry Maggett, president of the Wilburn Central Civic Association, said today’s students are not being taught civics or cursive writing.
“I want to know why they are tearing the school system up,” she said. “These children can’t count, and if you don’t believe what I’m saying, go to one of these fast food restaurants. They can’t count your change.”
Davis said responsibility for the school system is shared between the county council, the board of education and the county executive’s office.
“We’ll kick the ball around in regard to that. We’ve got to get the right bodies sitting at the table around issues like (Maggett) just described,” he said.
Baker said his office employs an education liaison and a Commission for Education Excellence to help guide education policy in the county. He said if residents have specific concerns, like Maggett’s, conveying those specifics to his office would help in getting detailed explanations, or in creating change.
“We’ve got to be very specific as to what we’re talking about. We can’t talk in generalities. When we do that, (the school system) gives me general answers, general information. They go ‘oh no, our curriculum is on target,’” he said. “But if you say, ‘at Beacon Heights this is what’s going on, at Central High School this is what’s going on.’ If you know there are bad personnel out there, or we want to be able to raise a disagreement, we need to know that.”
Another disagreement on many people’s minds involved the regional medical center planned for Largo. The Maryland Health Care Commission, the state regulator who must approve a Certificate of Need before the hospital can be built, said in May the plans would need to be scaled back to get approval. County officials, as well as the community leaders present, disagreed strongly with the commission’s $100 million cuts.
“We don’t think the hospital needs to be reduced. Experts in the medical field drew that hospital up,” Baker said.
Community association leaders said they would have liked to be involved in lobbying the governor to return to the original plan, to make their voices and their organizing power heard early on rather than playing catch-up.
Baker agreed such input would be valuable.
“It’s your hospital. It’s our hospital. And this is the standard we want. And we’re going to ask you to talk to your representatives in Annapolis, but also to the governor. Tell them we are not going to accept anything less,” he said.
But he and Davis argued that it is prudent to go through the normal legal channels to appeal the decision, including writing a formal counter-proposal with input from three agencies (which is due by Aug. 31), before making it a political issue.
“We have a responsibility to go through the process. We are doing due diligence in all of the work that is required by the people who changed the rules in the middle of the game,” Davis said. “What we’re saying to you is, if they continue to persist in changing the rules, then we might have to make a political noise. This is not a political issue. This is a health care and this is an economic development issue.”
Still, the communities want to help join the fight to bring the more than $600 million project to completion.
“I think the community has to be engaged,” said Samuel Dean of the Lake Arbor Foundation. “Because we can raise all the hell we want to raise, but politics works in mysterious ways. My thing is that there has to be a hearing (on this) now, and we need to know (about it) so that we can come out in force.”
Davis assured them he would keep them in the loop and enlist their help if necessary to make the hospital happen.
“I will yell when help is needed,” he said.