Monthly Archives: May 2017

EXCLUSIVE: PGCPS CEO responds to 788 abuse and misconduct cases in district

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– For the first time, the head of Prince George’s County Public Schools is talking about the hundreds of cases of alleged abuse and misconduct by school staff.

FOX 5 was first to uncover that there have been nearly 800 abuse and misconduct cases so far this school year. Some staff members say new policies put in place after high-profile abuse cases are an overreaction and good teachers are being unnecessarily pulled from their classrooms – sometimes for months while under investigation.

For more than a month, FOX 5 has made repeated requests for an interview with Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell. On Thursday, we caught up with him at a school board meeting for an unscheduled interview.

“I’m not going to say that we don’t have some over reporting that is going on,” Maxwell said. “But I think you have to take that in the context of we have had some very serious things done to our children and they are absolutely unacceptable and we will never, ever tell our employees not to report things that they think are child abuse.”

We asked Maxwell if he thought current policies on abuse were strong.

“I think the board policies are fine,” Maxwell said. “I think we need to make some adjustments and some of our procedures that we are operating under and make clear. We have made some adjustments in our practices.”

“Are we going to see a repeat of this next year?” Watts asked.

“Absolutely not,” Maxwell replied. “We are already not seeing a repeat of what we saw at the beginning of the year or at the end of last year. We are already much improved.”

FOX 5 opened records requests in March and again in April that showed abuse and misconduct cases jumped from 636 to 788.

“When you want to mix apples and oranges and you want to throw in the conduct in those kinds of things as opposed to abuse, we have to be careful which category we are talking about,” Maxwell said. “Are we saying that we should just ignore misconduct? I don’t think we want to go there. I think we want to make sure that we keep our children safe and do what we think is appropriate and expect our people to be professional in that.”

When Maxwell was pressed on the issue, he attempted to end the interview with us. We then asked why there would be any change next year if procedures and reporting standards remained the same.

“The standards for how we conduct ourselves professionally will not change,” he said. “If someone believes, if you believe that a child has been abused, you should report that to child protective services. We are mandatory reporters under state law. I will never tell an employee in Prince George’s County that if they believe a child has been abused, that they should not report that, and so that standard will be there because it is the law.”

He also said, “I have already that our numbers are down and they will continue to go down.”

Maxwell then walked away from our cameras.

Teachers told FOX 5 it is now to the point that if they a touch a child for any reason, they run the risk of being put on leave, and that students know they can make up allegations to get rid of teachers. In a majority of these cases, the accused staff members are sent home on paid leave. The head of the teachers union brought up the issue at Thursday’s board meeting.

“The morale is low,” said Theresa Dudley, president of Prince Georges County Educators’ Association. “When teachers can leave here for surrounding jurisdiction where they don’t fear for their job for an accusation that is not true.”

Dr. Maxwell had this to say about low staff morale.

“I have heard a little bit about morale, but I can tell you I have been a lot of different places, and you heard me talk about a few of them in the board meeting tonight,” he said. “And I will tell you that just as many people are coming up and saying, ‘I like what you’re doing. Thanks for keeping our children safe.'”

He said it is unclear if the number of teachers who have been put on leave is impacting students, emphasizing that there are 128 teachers currently on leave. The majority of those accused over the course school year have been returned to work.

“We are not seeing big declines in our (student) promotion rates, we are not seeing big declines in pass rates,” Maxwell said.

FOX 5 will continue to follow this story. You can reach reporter Lindsay Watts at lindsay.watts@foxtv.com

Via Fox 5 

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Cell towers could be built at dozens of PGCPS System – Schools

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GREENBELT, MD (WUSA9) – A cell phone tower developer is backing away from a proposal to put a tower at Greenbelt’s Eleanor Roosevelt High School. The decision comes as scrutiny is mounting over the company’s confidential lease with the Board of Education that allows tower development at 73 of the county’s 208 schools.

Milestone Communications has told Prince George’s County Public School’s CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell that it will withdraw its application to put a tower at Eleanor Roosevelt H.S. Maxwell criticized the company saying it has “not met our desired standards for transparency, communication and community engagement.” Maxwell made his comments in a letter to Board of Education member Lupi Quinteros-Grady, who opposed tower development at Roosevelt.

Even so, the school system in 2016 renewed a lease with Milestone that gives the company rights to develop as many as two towers at dozens of county schools. At least six schools are already cell tower sites. One clause in the lease said the terms must be kept confidential.

In exchange for the rights to construct towers and rent space to network providers like T-Mobile and Verizon, Milestone agreed to give the school system 40 percent of gross revenue, according to the lease, which lists the 73 schools in a rider to the agreement.

“People are really waking up to what this master leasing agreement means,” said Theordora Scarato, a Greenbelt community activist and blogger.

Scarato has documented the history of the school system’s dealings with Milestone on her blog, No Cell Tower At PGCPS Schools. She uncovered the controversial lease through Freedom of Information Act requests to the school system.

Scarato said the cell phone tower deal with Milestone Communications did not include any other bidders.

Milestone Communications specializes in revenue sharing with school systems and other institutional property holders in order to develop cell tower sites, according to its website.

During an April 24th community meeting with Greenbelt residents opposed to the Eleanor Roosevelt tower proposal, a Milestone representative was shouted down after saying “some of you would never be happy; I’m sorry about that.”

Some opponents of the towers fear possible long-term health effects from exposure to radio frequency radiation emitted by tower sites despite an American Cancer Society report which finds little risk. Others object to the appearance of the towers.

Via WUSA 9

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Theordora Scarato, a Greenbelt community activist and blogger. Scarato has documented the history of the school system’s dealings with Milestone on her blog, No Cell Tower At PGCPS Schools. She uncovered the controversial lease through Freedom of Information Act requests to the school system.

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I-Team investigation reveals the pricey perks of local official – Rushern Baker III Leads the Region.

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With Corruption very high and driven by white collar violations in the Prince George’s county and elsewhere in Maryland, at $210,000 a year, County Executive Rushern Baker III earns the title of being the highest paid local elected official. Baker makes more running Prince George’s County than Governor Larry Hogan makes running the entire state of Maryland, at $165,000. Baker also makes more than Maryland’s U.S. Senators and Congressmen who make $174,000, respectively.

Chauffeurs? Body guards? Giant salaries? Those pricey perks sound like something that belong to a celebrity… but they’re not.

The I-Team analyzed the benefit packages of elected officials from the 11 largest local jurisdictions – what they make and what they get.

“To the average citizen, this kind of difference in compensation just seems a little irrational,” Pete Sepp, the president of the National Taxpayers Union said.

Beyond salaries, DC’s Mayor Muriel Bowser, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, and again, Rushern Baker, get a security detail. But if you cross the Potomac, in Virginia, the I-Team couldn’t find one local politician who got an armed guard.

When it comes to drivers, the Potomac River is again the dividing line. Bowser, Leggett and Baker all get a chauffeur, while lawmakers in Virginia drive themselves.

We asked Fairfax County Board Chairman Sharon Bulova if she’s at all jealous about the pricey perks her counterparts over the river are receiving.

“No. I love my job. I don’t do it for the many; or the perks,” she told us.

Bulova, who drives herself in her own car, says her biggest perk is having a parking space at the government center.

Upon investigating, the I-Team found it’s not just the top elected officials getting the perks. Prince George’s County Council has something non other has… each and every member get a car or a $10,000 a year car allowance.

A Washington Post article found in the last five years, those council members have racked up more than 100 traffic violations and 15 crashes in their taxpayer funded take-home cars.

Increase in wages, pensions and health care costs are straining budgets all across America. Sepp believes the needed leadership to control spending can only come from the top.

“One of the rationales for paying top elected officials so much money is that you have to attract good, talented people.” Sepp said. “Then, how do we explain the fact that in Virginia they get by paying their folks a lot less. Are they that much less talented? That’s hard to believe.”

We’ve reached out to the top three elected officials mentioned in this story. Here’s their responses:

Office of DC Mayor Muriel Bowser:

As the Nation’s Capital, the District of Columbia is unique and functions as a school district, city, county and a state–with an annual budget of over $13 billion. The Mayor’s salary is in line with the salaries of her counterparts in other major cities. The Mayor’s transportation and protection is also in line with her counterparts in other major cities, is aligned with that of her predecessors, and permissible by law.

Office of Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker:

“There is a formal process per County Charter through the Compensation Review Board who makes recommendation on the salaries and benefits of the County Executive and County Council Members.”

Office of Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett:

The County Executive’s compensation is set by law, approved by the County Council from recommendation by a citizen’s advisory committee.

His security detail, two officers who protect/drive him part-time and coordinate security for County buildings the other part, is not unusual for mayors and elected county executives of jurisdictions with more than a million residents. Another difference I might note is that Fairfax has a more lucrative defined benefit pension plan. Our CE has an ordinary 401-K.

Via 7 On Your Side

Read more >>>House flippers in Prince George’s County help pressure homeowners into foreclosure

Larry Hogan

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan makes less than Rushern Baker III running the entire state of Maryland, at $165,000. The Maryland leadership needs to act to prevent local officials driven by greed to toe the line and to avoid excessive swindling of the local resources which could be used in local schools.

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Maryland’s United States senator. Ben Cardin and Congressmen make $174,000, respectively. The Maryland leadership led by U.S Senators and congressmen needs to act to prevent local officials driven by greed to toe the line. We must demand accountability and avoidance of excessive swindling of the local resources by local leaders engaged in organized schemes. Extra money being misused could be utilized in local schools and elsewhere to assist the homeless population.

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Maryland’s United States senator.  Chris Van Hollen and Congressmen make $174,000. The Maryland leadership led by U.S Senators and congressmen needs to act to prevent local officials driven by greed to toe the line. We must demand accountability and avoidance of excessive swindling of the local resources by local leaders engaged in organized schemes. Extra money being misused could be utilized in local schools and elsewhere to assist the homeless population.

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COMMUNITIES REJECT CELL TOWERS NEAR ELEANOR ROOSEVELT HS, ACCOKEEK ACADEMY

ProposedTowerGREENBELT – Although on the surface Accokeek and Greenbelt may not have much in common, the two cities on opposite ends of Princes George’s County are fighting similar battles at the same time.

Both do not want to see a cellphone tower built at their thriving school and near their homes.

“Obviously I’m furious,” said Dason Bobo, a Greenbelt resident. “They’re proposing a tower and already decided to move forward on a tower that is a few hundred feet from my house.”

Last week, the two groups stood in unity as residents of Greenbelt met in Lanham with representatives of Milestone Communications about a proposal to build a cellphone tower at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, directly adjacent to several homes. While the meeting location was an annoyance for several gathered at the meeting, including the Greenbelt mayor and mayor pro tem, it was quite a hike for several Accokeek residents who traveled to the meeting in solidarity with the Greenbelt community and to rehash their complaints about a tower proposal at Accokeek Academy.

The meeting with Milestone was held at the Seabrook Seventh Day Adventist Church on April 25, outside of Greenbelt city limits and on the same day and time as a county board of education meeting, even though the proposal includes school grounds. Greenbelt’s Mayor Pro Tem Judy Davis pointed out that the city building was not being used that night, while Eleanor Roosevelt High faculty and families noted the school as also unoccupied.

This was something that did not escape Bobo, either.

“Was this intentionally planned to conflict with the school board meeting?” he asked.

Bobo was just one voice among the large crowd packed into the meeting room in the church. He came armed with a video camera and several questions that he would not let up on. During the meeting he was forceful, demanding answers from the Milestone Communications and T-Mobile representatives.

It was an extremely heated meeting that started rocky and only got worse as time ticked on. Sean Hughes, an attorney representing Milestone Communications, and Derrick Green, who works for the cellphone tower company, attempted to move through a prepared presentation quickly, but were stopped multiple times by questions and accusations from the crowd gathered.

“I understand that some of you are not happy about certain things, but some of you would never be happy,” Hughes said to the crowd after several minutes of shouting.

During the presentation, Hughes explained the need for the tower, which would house T-Mobile initially with the possibility of expanding to other carriers, the proposed location and what that location would look like from surrounding areas. During the presentation of renderings of the tower there were shouts of “that is right next to my house” and “who gave you the right” as photos showed the proximity of the proposed tower to nearby residential buildings.

The proposed tower is just feet away from Bobo’s house, which he bought from his mother a few years ago. Bobo said he loves living in the city of Greenbelt and making his childhood house into his own home, but said with the possibility of a new cellphone tower being built so close to his property he is considering moving away.

“I didn’t just consider moving, I actually was looking at homes last weekend,” he said, explaining that he does not want to expose himself and his future family to radiation from the tower. “They’re literally pushing me off my land and forcing me to go somewhere else.”

And this is about more than just aesthetics and property values for many of the residents of both Greenbelt and Accokeek – it’s about health concerns and what these towers mean for the children in the schools.

“They’re trying to rationalize our health for money in their pockets and that’s not acceptable,” Mary Goldsmith, an Accokeek resident, said. “It’s made to believe that we are actually willing to put ourselves at risk for wireless service, which is totally untrue and false.”

Milestone, however, brought a scientist to the meeting to explain the details of the towers and the type of radiation they emit. Kevin McManus said the radiation coming off the towers is comparable to visible light and quoted from several research papers he had brought with him.

“This is called non-ionizing radiation. Non-ionizing radiation is a form of energy that does not have the strength “to break chemical bonds and harm your cellular structures,” he said.

McManus continually said there was no conclusive evidence to prove that radiation from cellphone towers causes harm, but those gathered in the room were quick to point out that there is also no evidence to prove that it doesn’t.

Research done by several organizations, including the American Cancer Society, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), concluded that the radiation emission levels at the ground near a tower are below the safety limits set by the FCC in 1996.

However, researchers across the country and world have consistently called for further exploration into the issue as technology and dependency on cellphones changes.

To that point, the Environmental Protection Agency, the FCC, CDC and American Cancer Society have all stated the effects of radiation from cell towers and cellular devices is still an “area of active research.” All of those organizations are still evaluating and researching long-term effects of the radiation, as well as “chronic exposure.” While, at the same time, the World Health Organization classified the radio frequency radiation, which cell towers emit, as a Group 2B carcinogenic in a press release from 2011. A Group 2B carcinogenic is a possible cancer-causing agent.

Although the members of both communities have several concerns about the towers, there is not much they can do in terms of fighting them off.

Cellphone towers on school grounds has been a long-running issue in Prince George’s County, elsewhere across Maryland and the nation. In 2011 the county school board signed a contract with Milestone Communications that listed 73 potential school sites for possible tower construction. That contract also lays the groundwork for how the school system would be paid for the towers: $25,000 for each built tower and 40 percent of the profits from each.

That contract was renewed just last year.

“This is an entire Prince George’s County issue and it’s just unacceptable,” Goldsmith said.

Despite few options, Accokeek residents are ready to take action. Goldsmith said the community is ready to take on Milestone Communications for, what they see as, a trend in failing to fully notify surrounding areas (several at the April meetings said they were not notified about the tower or the meeting itself, and meetings were held outside of the area affected by the tower and on dates when public officials cannot be present).

DeeDee Smith-Foster, another Accokeek resident, said the community around Accokeek Academy had similar concerns to those surrounding Roosevelt who said they were not notified of the possible tower.

Smith-Foster and Goldsmith said the Accokeek community is ready to take Milestone to court and they have a case date set for May 22.

“This (tower) is not in the best interest of the students, the community or the staff that attend that school,” Smith-Foster said.

via Sentinel 

Reform Sasscer Movement for Prince George’s County previously covered this story here years ago.

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BOARD MEMBERS QUESTION EQUITY IN CHARTER SCHOOL PROCESS

download (1).jpegUPPER MARLBORO – Two public charter renewals came before the Prince George’s County Board of Education last week for a first-reading vote, but only one will move on to the next phase.

On April 25, the county board of education could not move College Park Academy’s charter renewal forward due to the absences of a number of boardmembers and a few members’ hesitations. The board ultimately voted with six yes votes, one no and three abstentions (due to hesitation), which left the board without a majority.

Boardmember Edward Burroughs, III was the sole vote against the motion and said he did not feel comfortable supporting College Park Academy because he believes there were issues of access regarding how the school wants to reserve 35 percent of its seats for students from nearby neighborhoods.

“Students don’t determine what zip code they live in. They don’t determine if their parent works at the University of Maryland,” he said. “And so that is something that I truly am struggling with.”

The academy’s charter will now go back on the next board agenda as a first reader, while the charter for Imagine Foundations at Leeland will continue on to a vote at the next meeting.

Both of the charters were separate from a list on the board’s new business agenda so that a number of board members could talk specifics and have their questions answered about the logistics of the charter schools and their purpose in the community.

Boardmember Curtis Valentine specifically asked about Imagine Foundations’ several requests for waivers from county mandates including the in-house lottery process and district professional development.

School staff said, when talking with the charter’s executive team, that professional development should be handled on a “case-by-case basis rather than in totality exempting them.”

Andria McMichael, the regional director of the Maryland-based Imagine Schools, said the charter’s educators and educational leaders have dual standards to meet, in that both Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) and Imagine Schools have separate criterion for their teachers.

“We have expectations for our school leaders as well and we just want to get a balance,” she said. Where they’re not only getting the professional development that is needed from the district, but also getting the same leverage of professional development at a high level for Imagine Schools, with the same respect to both.”

In regards to the lottery waiver, the executive director said she feels the charter has the ability to conduct their own lottery system.

Burroughs pondered if Imagine Schools anticipated a different result from an Imagine-run lottery versus a PGCPS-run lottery. McMichael said it would probably be different because the school itself would be able to manage it, especially when it comes to parents that have entered their children into several different lottery lists across the county.

McMichael further clarified that “absolutely” all students would still have access to possibly enroll in the school through the lottery.

“I knew that would be the case and why I buzzed in to speak in favor of this renewal,” Burroughs said. “All kids deserve access to high quality schools and Imagine Leeland is definitely a high quality school.”

However, that was not how the boardmember felt when it came to the College Park-based charter, where he said he sees serious issues of access.

College Park Academy, which is located near the University of Maryland (UMD), is also a public charter school, but one that has both PGCPS and UMD playing a role in the curriculum.

Michael Poterala, a board member for the academy as well as the vice president and general counsel for UMD, said the charter school was created as a way for the university to give back to the surrounding community.

“The university has been quite open in the fact that, in opening this charter school, that one of its primary goals was to try to improve services to our local community,” he said. “We don’t view it as we’re doing it on behalf of the university; we look at it as the university doing a service to our immediate surrounding community and not at all to be disadvantaging anyone in the county.”

The issue at the core of discussion about the academy’s charter is one that came up during discussion last year on the same topic: access. In 2016, College Park Academy’s charter was renewed for only one year after similar debate.

Currently, the charter is requesting that 35 percent of its population be pulled from a local “catchment” area, meaning the school wishes to reserve 35 percent of its seats for students of nearby neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods include those directly adjacent to the university such as College Park, Berwyn Heights and University Park, potentially.

According to PGCPS documents, the current law allows public charters to “provide guaranteed placement through a lottery to students who live within the geographic attendance area for up to 36 (percent) of the available space of the charter school.”

However, a caveat to that law states the attendance area must have a median income equal to, or less than, the median income of Prince George’s County, which would likely force the charter to extend its catchment area beyond the university’s immediate suburbs.

Despite 65 percent of the school remaining open to all other students in the county, Burroughs expressed uneasiness about the reserved seats. In his opinion, the catchment stands in the way of equal access to all students – especially those in the southern area of the county.

“I want to vote for your contract today, but there is one aspect that I have deep concern about and that is the 35 percent en-catchment area,” he said. “I’m of the fundamental belief that all kids in Prince George’s deserve access to high quality opportunities. And they should have access at equal opportunity levels as everyone else.”

Burroughs said he understands the desire to help the area surrounding the university, but as a school board member it is his job to ensure students have equal opportunities and access.

Additionally, Boardmember Raaheela Ahmed said she didn’t feel the school’s upcoming expansion to house further grades and the minimal seats available would do much in the way of easing overcrowding Northern County. In response, though, Boardmember Dinora Hernandez said she felt any open seats created would help.

“This isn’t the solution to our overcrowding issues in the northwestern part of the county but anything would help. We are bursting at the seams,” she said.

Via sentinel

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House flippers in Prince George’s County help pressure homeowners into foreclosure

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County Executive Rushern Baker (shown here) has allowed violations of law to continue unchallenged while working closely with Mr. Haitham Hijazi, Director of Permitting for P. G. County (holdovers from the previous County administration). DPIE’s responsibilities include identifying properties that are vacant, abandoned, foreclosed or blighted. His son, Abdullah Haitham Hijazi, Esq., is the person who appears in court to represent the family interests.

Reducing foreclosure ‘backlogs’ is not the same as reducing foreclosures. To reduce foreclosures, best we keep people in their homes. Unfortunately, a different strategy is too often pursued, at least in Prince George’s County–speeding up the foreclosures. The backlog of foreclosures still in the hopper in the county can thus be reduced, on the books. It’s a strategy that benefits real estate investors. House flippers with the capital and connections to snap up a bunch of houses can then turn around and sell the houses at a profit, sometimes quickly.

Take for example the real estate company called Integrity Professional Contracting, in Prince George’s County, Maryland. On September 12, 2013, Integrity Professional Contracting purchased a pleasant home at 7800 Suiter Way, in Landover, for the bargain price of $73,000. Four bedrooms, four baths, nice yard if somewhat bland landscaping. The Washington Post’s real estate report listed Mark H. and Gerard W. Wittstadt as the seller. However, Maryland public records show that the actual homeowner was Olusegun A. Bright. Bright had bought his house in 2005 for $215,000. Forced into foreclosure after the collapse of the real estate market, he sold at enormous loss.

The Wittstadts were what is known as ‘substitute trustees’. In Maryland, these companies help push along the process of foreclosure. When a homeowner falls behind on  mortgage payments, the bank holding the mortgage note can contract with a foreclosure firm–which acts as ‘substitute trustees’, standing in for the lender–rather than dealing directly with the homeowner. Sometimes this arrangement works out well for the bank, which has fewer tearful borrowers to deal with and fewer individual cases to decide justly on the merits. Sometimes the arrangement fails to benefit the bank. 

Signs of the times

Signs of the times

The process can benefit well-financed house flippers, as mentioned. Integrity Professional Contracting sold the 7800 Suiter Way property on October 10, 2013, for $193,000–still a reasonable price for a good-sized condo in good shape, nonetheless a $120K gain in less than a month.

The company has not yet returned a telephone call for inquiry. Its members may or may not be Flip or Flop fans. What is known is that its top executive is Abdullah Haitham Hijazi, son as previously written of P. G. County’s Director of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement. Mr. Hijazi has gotten sweet press from the Washington Post, partly in support of cutting red tape, partly in sympathy for immigrant families in America.

Speaking of immigrant families–

Mr. Hijazi’s company bought another house on Suiter Way on January 30, 2014, paying Tito T. Ladipo $114,500 (foreclosure). The company sold the house on May 8 for $199,000, according to public record. The company bought 3911 Elkhorn Circle from Olushola Adetunji on September 19, 2013, for $162,000 (foreclosure). Sold on December 12 of that year for $270,000.

There seems to be little regulation of ‘substitute trustees’ in Maryland. Or–if you really can’t stand the word “regulation”–there seems to be little public oversight. With the enormous supply of homes in foreclosure in Prince George’s County, there is tremendous market pressure to ease up restraints that would keep properties from coming on the market. ‘Reducing the backlog’, again. (And “reducing regulation” and “cutting the red tape.”) Add to that a large county that includes historically excluded minorities, immigrant families, and first-time home buyers, and you have the ideal population for taking advantage of, historically under-served, with apparently little or no scrutiny from the state Attorney General. (Lack of scrutiny from the courts as an issue will have to wait for another day.)

Add further the recent down and up in real estate–the crash in 2007-2009, and the recovering housing market today. There is interest in buying houses, and there is frustration in waiting for a house to come on the market. Also, sellers leaving their homes voluntarily may choose to hold out for a decent price. And if they’re in a good position to sell, they may also have access to legal protection.

So what’s a sharp house flipper to do? One thing he can do is get in on the ‘substitute trustee’ end of the business. That way, he’s in touch with banks/lenders, with information on houses heading into foreclosure. In fact, he’s put directly in touch with the homeowners struggling with foreclosure. Another thing he can do is keep a sharp eye out for the most recent updates/information on permitting.

Integrity Professional Contracting, for example, the firm mentioned above, became active (registered) in Maryland in April 2011. The company purchased two houses in Prince George’s County in the next two years, and sold two others. Mr. Hijazi became Acting Director of DPIE on June 11, 2013, transferring from his previous county position as Director of the Department of Public Works and Transportation. A quick look at WaPo home sales for P. G. shows that from that date through the end of the year, the Hijazi firm bought six houses, selling the two in foreclosure mentioned above.

The pace picked up further. In 2014, the company bought and/or sold nine houses, including this home at 2715 Judith Avenue bought for $74,000 in October 2013 and sold for $230,000 in July 2014.  In 2015, the company bought or sold ten houses, including 804 Nalley Rd., purchased September 3 for  $100,000 (foreclosure) and sold November 26 for $210,000. In 2016, the company bought/sold eleven houses in Prince George’s County, including 116 Swiss Gap Rd., No. 14-4, sold on February 4 for $159,000 and purchased the previous September for $77,000 (foreclosure).

One cannot assume that all foreclosures are undeserved. Not all homeowners are deserving. But I know for a certainty that some foreclosures are undeserved. The homeowner, or relatives, can offer to make up the payments missed–and the foreclosure will still proceed. In other words, if the substitute trustee wants the house, once a homeowner falls behind on payments–even if because of medical bills or other legitimate issues–the trustee can still push the foreclosure forward.

From the standpoint of public policy, this is not the best strategy for reducing backlogs. The effect in Prince George’s County has been to reduce–directly and drastically–the chief source of wealth for historically excluded groups.

More to come.

Via Margie Burns

Legal notice

Legal notice

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“Important Notice about Eviction”

Haitham Hijazi, Director of Permitting for P. G. County

Haitham Hijazi, Director of Permitting for Prince George’s county Government

Imagine coming home and finding a notice posted on your front door:

A person who claims the right to possess this property believes that this property is abandoned.

You just got home–from work, errands, visits. You’ve lived in the house for years; it’s your home. You and your relatives know the house well; so do your near neighbors. “Abandoned?” Potted plants on the front porch, porch furniture in place, house furnishings visible through the windows–this is abandoned?

Sad to say, some people who find such a notice on their front doors just leave. They don’t fight it. They just go, taking with them whatever belongings they can carry. They think it’s a done deal: they’ve been evicted. It’s over. Silent as it is, the printed word speaks.

But it’s not over. A neighbor of mine had this experience, some while back. Her particular posting, titled “IMPORTANT NOTICE ABOUT EVICTION,” told the homeowner,

If you are currently residing in the property, you must immediately contact:

Abdulla H. Hijazi, Esq., Hijazi Law Group LLC, 3231 Superior Lane Suite A-26, Bowie, Maryland 20715

with contact information via phone, fax and email.

Well, that’s one option: you could get in touch with the company that posted a notice telling you your home was abandoned. My neighbor took the wiser action of writing the judge who had jurisdiction. That took care of the abandonment claim, at least.

A call to Hijazi’s office, asking for information, has not yet been returned.

I asked the mayor of my own incorporated community what the homeowner should do. He had a quicker measure: “Call the police.” If you feel yourself to be intimidated, if you feel threatened, then put in a call to the police. The town administrator seconded: “That’s what 911 is for.” Regrettably there is no requirement that someone posting an eviction notice is supposed to let the town know first. No one checks in at the town office beforehand. You could theoretically xerox some notices, post them on doors, and nothing would happen.

The Maryland Office of the Attorney General is currently involved in various willful violations of laws in Maryland including engagement in racism and discrimination to the detriment of many citizens in Maryland. In fact, there is a Maryland case against Brian Frost in the U.S Supreme court against against this very same illegal conduct my the Maryland attorney General. (See  U.S SUpreme Court Docket No. 16-8539 Mua, v. Brian E. Frosh, Attorney General of Maryland, et al.

My neighbor is someone I have been acquainted with for years. I know for certain that she lives in the house, did live in it at the time of the ‘abandoned’ eviction notice, and lived in it well before.

I am convinced, furthermore, that the company posting the notice knew that the house was not abandoned. I’ve had detailed conversations with the neighbor, and she is fortunately someone who keeps documents, answers correspondence, and makes copies. I’ve leafed through one of her three-inch-plus binders. She has made every effort to do everything right.

So what is the punishment for posting something you know is not true? Well, apparently–nothing. But isn’t it against the law? Well, apparently, if the homeowner is non-white–no. Or not effectively. I mean, is the poster even required to send a letter of apology to the victim? Or is an officer of the court required to apologize to the courts for what one might consider abuse of process? Again–seems not.

Giving up is humanly understandable. I have no respect for victim-blaming. But any house lost–by someone who wanted to stay in it–is a loss for everyone. This is not just metaphysics, as in We’re-all-part-of-the-great-web. It is survival in the most practical terms: if a real-estate investor can get away with this tactic against one of your neighbors, then he can use it against you. We all need to be paying attention.

With reportedly some six thousand home foreclosures still in the hopper in Prince George’s County, it is easy to understand how homes can slip through the cracks. But the effects are horrendous.

More to come.

via  Margie Burns

rushern-baker-head-111010w

County Executive Rushern Baker (shown here) is working closely with Mr. Haitham Hijazi, Director of Permitting for P. G. County (holdovers from the previous County administration). DPIE’s responsibilities include identifying properties that are vacant, abandoned, foreclosed or blighted. His son, Abdullah Haitham Hijazi, Esq., is the person who appears in court to represent the family interests.

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“Important Notice about Eviction”

Haitham Hijazi, Director of Permitting for P. G. County

Haitham Hijazi, Director of Permitting for Prince George’s county Government

Imagine coming home and finding a notice posted on your front door:

A person who claims the right to possess this property believes that this property is abandoned.

You just got home–from work, errands, visits. You’ve lived in the house for years; it’s your home. You and your relatives know the house well; so do your near neighbors. “Abandoned?” Potted plants on the front porch, porch furniture in place, house furnishings visible through the windows–this is abandoned?

Sad to say, some people who find such a notice on their front doors just leave. They don’t fight it. They just go, taking with them whatever belongings they can carry. They think it’s a done deal: they’ve been evicted. It’s over. Silent as it is, the printed word speaks.

But it’s not over. A neighbor of mine had this experience, some while back. Her particular posting, titled “IMPORTANT NOTICE ABOUT EVICTION,” told the homeowner,

If you are currently residing in the property, you must immediately contact:

Abdulla H. Hijazi, Esq., Hijazi Law Group LLC, 3231 Superior Lane Suite A-26, Bowie, Maryland 20715

with contact information via phone, fax and email.

Well, that’s one option: you could get in touch with the company that posted a notice telling you your home was abandoned. My neighbor took the wiser action of writing the judge who had jurisdiction. That took care of the abandonment claim, at least.

A call to Hijazi’s office, asking for information, has not yet been returned.

I asked the mayor of my own incorporated community what the homeowner should do. He had a quicker measure: “Call the police.” If you feel yourself to be intimidated, if you feel threatened, then put in a call to the police. The town administrator seconded: “That’s what 911 is for.” Regrettably there is no requirement that someone posting an eviction notice is supposed to let the town know first. No one checks in at the town office beforehand. You could theoretically xerox some notices, post them on doors, and nothing would happen.

The Maryland Office of the Attorney General is currently involved in various willful violations of laws in Maryland including engagement in racism and discrimination to the detriment of many citizens in Maryland. In fact, there is a Maryland case against Brian Frost in the U.S Supreme court against against this very same illegal conduct my the Maryland attorney General. (See  U.S SUpreme Court Docket No. 16-8539 Mua, v. Brian E. Frosh, Attorney General of Maryland, et al.

My neighbor is someone I have been acquainted with for years. I know for certain that she lives in the house, did live in it at the time of the ‘abandoned’ eviction notice, and lived in it well before.

I am convinced, furthermore, that the company posting the notice knew that the house was not abandoned. I’ve had detailed conversations with the neighbor, and she is fortunately someone who keeps documents, answers correspondence, and makes copies. I’ve leafed through one of her three-inch-plus binders. She has made every effort to do everything right.

So what is the punishment for posting something you know is not true? Well, apparently–nothing. But isn’t it against the law? Well, apparently, if the homeowner is non-white–no. Or not effectively. I mean, is the poster even required to send a letter of apology to the victim? Or is an officer of the court required to apologize to the courts for what one might consider abuse of process? Again–seems not.

Giving up is humanly understandable. I have no respect for victim-blaming. But any house lost–by someone who wanted to stay in it–is a loss for everyone. This is not just metaphysics, as in We’re-all-part-of-the-great-web. It is survival in the most practical terms: if a real-estate investor can get away with this tactic against one of your neighbors, then he can use it against you. We all need to be paying attention.

With reportedly some six thousand home foreclosures still in the hopper in Prince George’s County, it is easy to understand how homes can slip through the cracks. But the effects are horrendous.

More to come.

via  Margie Burns

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Why is a P. G. County official (or his family) buying up foreclosed homes?

Via Margie Burns Blog:

On October 14, 2016, my neighbor received a two-page letter from the bank holding her mortgage note, M&T Bank.

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Baltimore’s own M&T Bank

As foreclosure letters go, it could have been worse, on paper. M&T told her that it was “reviewing” her “workout package.” “It is possible,” the bankers informed her, that “we may determine that additional information is needed.” “If we determine that additional information is needed,” they assured her, “you will receive a letter identifying any additional documents that you need to provide.” Footnoted at bottom in faint and fine print was an address–a P. O. Box in Baltimore–and an 800 number for “Mortgage account information.”

The decision would be reached within 30 days after the bank received all the required information. That would be–spelling this out–the decision as to whether my neighbor was being kicked out of her house, the home she has lived in for eighteen years.

The bank said that she would receive one of five possible replies. 1) Her mortgage eligible for repayment or forbearance. 2) Mortgage eligible for trial-period modification. 3) Mortgage approved for permanent modification. 4) Mortgage not eligible for modification. Or 5) “More information is needed to make our decision. You will be contacted either by phone or letter to request the additional information.”

In proof of its bona fides, M&T signed off with one of those truly personal touches that make you wonder how a bank with heart like this stays in business:

Sincerely,

Single Point of Contact Team

Homeowner Assistance Center

The bank auctioned her house five days later. No further communication in the interim, from any person, through any medium. The letter was dated October 6; perhaps the bank docked eight days from the thirty, jumping the gun by a mere seventeen days.

The auction did not succeed. But that’s the end of the good news.

My neighbor’s house is still in the toils of the court system. In fact, it is still embroiled in two courts–only one of them legitimately involved under Maryland law.

Unfortunately, someone with connections in P. G. County had an interest in acquiring the property. Pshaw on the facts. The homeowner had cared for her mother, who died of cancer in her nineties. She had cared for her father, who died of Alzheimer’s, also in his nineties. The homeowner had lost her County job, quite possibly because of internal politics; fell behind three months on her mortgage; and has been working since 2014 to get her life back. Her house is not even underwater. No matter. The prospective buyer has all the cards–which happen in his case to include a top-tier County job as well as four adult sons and a former wife, mother of the latter, who invest in real estate via the foreclosure stream. Adiebi Hijazi, the former wife, is seen Tuesdays and Thursdays in front of the courthouse at Upper Marlboro, purchasing properties. The family has acquired quite a few houses in P. G.–all of them, as it happens, through the court of Judge Toni Clarke. “No one meets her”: the Honorable Ms. Clarke issues decisions without a hearing, from chambers, homeowner not present. The observation that “no one” meets her is not literal, be it noted. The prospective buyer of the house is present. “He goes in ex parte.”

Why is a P. G. County official pushing through foreclosures on properties he wants to buy as an investor?

The buyer is a son of Mr. Haitham Hijazi, Director of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement for Prince George’s County, Maryland. Hijazi has gotten favorable ink in The Washington Post for his interest in cutting red tape in permits. The Department (DPIE) itself touts Mr. Hijazi’s activities in its newsletter, published at taxpayer expense. Hijazi is one of County Executive Rushern Baker’s few holdovers from the previous County administration. DPIE’s responsibilities include identifying properties that are vacant, abandoned, foreclosed or blighted. His son, Abdullah Haitham Hijazi, Esq., is the person who appears in court to represent the family interests.

Haitham Hijazi, Director of Permitting for P. G. County

Haitham Hijazi, Director of Permitting for P. G. County

Unstated in the department newsletter is the fact that Hijazi and his family themselves invest in buying up foreclosed properties. Worse yet, he and his family members actively push the foreclosures. And worst of all, they are canny enough to push them through the District Court in Hyattsville rather than through the legally mandated route through Circuit Court.

Here’s where a brutal process, grim at best, not to say heartless to the point of becoming morally repugnant, gets odd. As another Maryland judge states with laudable clearness,

” . . . all of the Judges of the District Court are aware that foreclosure matters fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Circuit Court.”

Question from Ms. Average Citizen: If foreclosure is exclusively the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court, then why do homeowners have to go into the District Court in Hyattsville to try to keep from losing their homes?

My neighbor has been represented by an attorney, a couple of times in the process; has received informal assistance from attorneys; and has been in touch with other homeowners in related cases. She and others in danger of losing their houses–and some who have already lost their homes–have had to show up in courtrooms in Hyattsville.

What she/they do is bounce back and forth between the District Court in Hyattsville–which, as mentioned, is not the venue for foreclosure–and the Circuit Court system in Upper Marlboro and Annapolis–which sometimes blesses the District Court foreclosures. It’s an agonizing process or game of shuttlecock, as our British cousins would say, or ping pong, where the hapless homeowner gets batted back and forth between parties with a more moneyed interest in the real property, though none of the sweat equity. First, the courtroom of Judge Crystal Mittlesteadt (Prince George’s County Circuit Court), who denies without a hearing the homeowner’s request for a stay of proceedings. Then, the courtroom of Judge Brian Denton (Hyattsville, District Court), who at least listens to the homeowner, in appearance pro se. (In this particular matter, Judge Denton granted a continuance. That gave the prospective buyer more time but arguably gave the homeowner same. More to the point, the Hyattsville court did not have jurisdiction in the first place.) Then, another Hyattsville courtroom, where the homeowner’s continuance is denied. (“People get a continuance for missing a bus.” Again, shouldn’t have been there anyway.) In this case, denying the continuance request meant that the Hyattsville judge “gave him my property.” Again, fortunately, it didn’t stick.

Imagine being in your house, living in your home, where you have lived for years, and facing the constant threat of losing the house any month. Any week. Any day. From a public policy perspective, what is the upside here?

Back to the court system, if ‘system’ is the term–

On a briefly happier note, the homeowner asked the (last) judge to reconsider, and the judge granted the request. The case then went to Hyattsville Judge Clayton Aarons, who ruled that the homeowner had to put up $7,500. A previous employer of the homeowner stepped in and put up the money. One for the good guys.

The case is now back in Circuit Court. The homeowner could not afford the constant legal help necessary to shepherd the matter through five or six courtrooms. Aside from the bank or the eager investor, who can afford such legal help? Pro bono legal work is not available for foreclosures, according to my neighbor. The University of Maryland legal clinic had a good guy available to help, and help he did. But he died in December 2016.

The interested real-estate-investor buyers in these cases have more options. They always have more cash and more financing than a homeowner in arrears, and more ability to hire legal talent.

They also have more legal talent on the bench–their bench–according to the accounts I’m hearing. In Prince George’s County, they have Judge Clarke. She “never decides for the homeowner.”

Questions emailed to County Executive Baker and DPIE Director Hijazi have not been returned.

More to come.

rushern-baker-head-111010w1

County Executive Rushern Baker (shown here) is working closely with Mr. Haitham Hijazi, Director of Permitting for P. G. County (holdovers from the previous County administration). DPIE’s responsibilities include identifying properties that are vacant, abandoned, foreclosed or blighted. His son, Abdullah Haitham Hijazi, Esq., is the person who appears in court to represent the family interests.

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Reporter ordered off PGCPS school property in transparency battle

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LANHAM, MD. (WUSA9) – Parent Keisha Chase has 900 signatures on a petition and just wants a meeting with Prince George’s County School Administrators over concerns about the future transfer of a popular assistant principal and other issues at DuVal High School.

What she and a group of supporters got Monday night was a mystifying run-around that one board of education member who witnessed the goings on at DuVal High School called “silly.”

Along the way, one of the school system’s administrators overseeing principals ordered WUSA9 reporter Scott Broom to leave DuVal’s property, but relented when three board of education members said Broom could stay on their authority. The board members told administrator Kathleen Brady they would accept “responsibility” for the reporter being there.

Brady was among three top administrators including two deputy superintendents who answer directly to School CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell who showed up for what parents billed as a “rally” and meeting at the school. But all the top brass refused to discuss school issues with parents and would not read or accept the petition.

Instead Deputy Superintendent Monique Davis politely explained that the parents had failed to fill out the required forms to hold a meeting and that she and the other top officials had come to answer questions about the proper procedures for holding a meeting with school administrators.

Earlier a school spokesman provided WUSA9 with an exhaustive 14-page policy on holding meetings at schools that warned it can take 30 days to get approval once requests are made.

After School Use of Facilities by wusa9 on Scribd

Keisha Chase’s head was spinning.

“We’re all responsible adults. I don’t understand. You ladies are here,” Chase protested.

“It’s like what are you hiding? What are you scared of?,” asked parent Rene Brand.

Deputy Superintendent Davis stood firm.

“We just want to make sure that, one, we advertise to all of the parent community at DuVal; and two, that we have all the appropriate forms based on our policies completed,” Davis explained to WUSA9.

“That’s silly,” said Board of Education Member David Murray.

Earlier in the day Murray met with WUSA9 saying: “What we’ve taken as a decent sized problem and made it bigger.”

The student representative on the Board of Education, Juwan Blocker, called the failed attempt at a meeting “disappointing”.

“For there to be three officials from the administration here today and for them to say they’re not going to do it because of a form that wasn’t signed? I think it’s absolutely ridiculous,” Blocker said.

Dissident Board of Education Members who are all young adults are advocating for more openness and transparency as Prince George’s County’s Board of Education is currently debating limiting public comments at its regular board meetings.

David Murray Was on channel 9 at 5:30PM speaking up for the parents and students of DuVal High School. Parents are our partners, and need to be treated as such. The refusal of the school system to engage with our parents is unacceptable.

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