With 2014 coming to a close and 2015 beginning, the Sentinel reflects on the last year in Prince George’s County. From a new pilot body camera program for the Prince George’s County Police Department to the FBI potentially coming to the county to Frederick Douglass bringing a state championship back to the county, everything across […]
With 2014 coming to a close and 2015 beginning, the Sentinel reflects on the last year in Prince George’s County.
From a new pilot body camera program for the Prince George’s County Police Department to the FBI potentially coming to the county to Frederick Douglass bringing a state championship back to the county, everything across the spectrum has been covered. Let’s take a look at our top stories from the last year.
6. Frederick Douglass wins state championship
The Frederick Douglass Eagles won a championship under head coach Julius Pinkney for the first time after falling short the year prior.
After 12 years of waiting, Pinkney finally won a title with Douglass after shutting out Dunbar in the championship game, 38-0. Douglass’ defense, which will go down as one of the best of all time in the history of Prince George’s County, held Dunbar to just 152 total yards while putting up 452 yards themselves.
“It’s an incredible feeling. It’s been a magical run,” said Douglass head coach J.C. Pinkney. “We’ve asked so much of these kids and they’ve done everything we’ve asked. I’m almost at loss for words…It’s a feeling I can’t really explain right now.”
The Eagles dominated from the get-go. They jumped out to a 6-0 lead after a long touchdown run from senior running back Akiva Wedge. Wedge finished the game with 159 yards, compiling most of that yardage in the first half, and coupling it with two touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Devin Butler, who finished the game with 100 rushing yards and two touchdowns himself, felt proud of the team’s effort after a long struggle to get to the top of the state.
“I’m really proud of everybody. Some of these guys come from Marlboro and all sorts of situations,” Butler said. “We all just grind. Some guys have to go through ACL injuries. Some have been here 30 years and still haven’t won. I’m proud of everybody up here.”
5. The city of Greenbelt denies step increases for city police
When the Greenbelt Mayor and City Council passed its budget, it denied step increases for the city police force.
Mayor Emmett Jordan and the city council decided to give the officers cost-of-living increases in each of the first three years of a new collective bargaining agreement, but would not unfreeze step increases or give officers the increases they have missed since 2010.
Donna Gomez, a family member of an FOP member, said the police got the short end of the stick.
“I think that’s a terrible deal. Terrible,” Gomez said. “Police are not feeling valued at a time when their contract is not being honored past the time when the economy has picked up and they should’ve gone back and honored what they gave up four years earlier. They’re not feeling valued.”
The parties reached an impasse when they could not agree to terms. The union’s final proposal asked for a 1.5 percent cost of living increase in year one of the deal as well as for 3 percent step increases to be reinstated each year.
The city countered with an either-or proposal. The officers could either have a 3 percent step increase reinstated for three years or receive cost of living wage increases of 1.7 percent, 1.8 percent and 1.9 percent.
Jordan said he wanted to find a way for the city to stick with the stepped pay scale plan, but the budget is tight since the city is still trying to catch up on capital improvements projects following the Great Recession.
“I want to maintain a good relationship with the FOP,” Jordan said. “Our city police officers do a great job. It has been tough and the economy has been really bad. I am very sympathetic to their needs. Everybody deserves more money, but we have got to balance it with other needs.”
4. Board of Education spends thousands on board issued credit cards
Members of the Prince George’s County Board of Education spent thousands of dollars on hundreds of meals and local hotel stays according to receipts obtained by the Sentinel.
Parents in the community say they would prefer if the members of the school board would be more frugal and one board member recommended the expenses be reviewed by the ethics board. But other members defended their spending habits.
According to receipts and expense reports obtained by The Sentinel through a Maryland Public Information Act request, board members used their cards for meals both locally and outside of the state. According to the school system’s internal audit department, 10 of the 14 board members have credit cards. Board members Edward Burroughs, Peggy Higgins, Segun Eubanks and Sonya Williams chose not to have cards.
Locally, some board members frequently eat at locations around the county such as Ruby Tuesday, Jerry’s Seafood and the Olde Towne Inn.
“We spend a lot of money on local meals. We need to look at it closely and see what the data says and what our constituents tell us,” Eubanks, chair of the board, said. “We listen to our constituents so we know they are paying a lot more attention. We know that we have our ears open to what our constituents are saying and making sure they continue to maintain a level of trust in us.”
The board’s policy states the board members are limited to $7,000 in spending per card, every fiscal year, for costs relating to board businesses, meal plans, cell phone data costs and other various costs. Personal uses are not reimbursed according to the policy and all expenses are first approved by the board chair and then the office of internal audit.
“Board members use different strategies,” Eubanks said. “Generally meals are about outreach with constituents and partners and with people in the community. It’s a result of differences in responsibilities and differences in strategies and outreach.”
Thea Scarato, a parent of a Prince George’s County Public Schools student, said she thinks board members should spend taxpayer money more responsibly.
“There needs to be an evaluation and discussion about what to use the cards for,” Scarato said. “There needs to be limits. Board members should be able to explain how the expense benefits the students of Prince George’s County in two sentences or less.”
Delegate Alonzo Washington (D-22) from Prince George’s County has proposed legislation banning the use of taxpayer-funded credit cards by school board members.
“Unless there’s a policy change within the school system this year, I plan on going full steam ahead,” Washington said. “A lot of my constituents are alarmed by the reports. They’d like to see a change happen based on reports that came out. They’re absolutely right.
3. Greenbelt and Landover named finalists for FBI headquarters relocation
Maryland lawmakers gathered on Capitol Hill in July to voice their approval as the General Services Administration named Greenbelt and Landover as two of three finalists for relocation of the FBI headquarters.
“We want the FBI to have the facility they need to carry out their critical importance to this country, they need a modern, secured facility,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md). “The only location that supplies what the FBI needs is in Prince George’s County.”
The project would cost $2 million for the state while bringing 11,000 jobs to the table, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md) said.
The impact of the FBI headquarters coming to Greenbelt would have a far reach beyond just the building itself being there said Emmett Jordan, the mayor of Greenbelt.
“The project would be a game-changer for the area surrounding Greenbelt,” Jordan said. “The positive impact would be huge on our local economy.”
The site in Greenbelt is located near the Greenbelt Metro Station and the intersection of I-495 and exit 24. The Landover site is located near the intersection of I-495 and MD-202, a site known as the former Landover Mall. The third finalist on the GSA’s list is a site in Springfield, Va.
“I think everybody’s hoping the FBI comes here and provides other opportunities for our other businesses,” said Greenbelt Councilman Rodney Roberts.
2. Prince George’s County preparing pilot body camera program
In the wake of police brutality incidents across the country, the Prince George’s County police department has confirmed it plans to implement a pilot body camera program in 2015.
The department began investigating the best practices and placement for body cameras in January 2014 said Lt. Bill Alexander, spokesman for the PGPD, and the department anticipates moving forward with a pilot program in early 2015.
“Over the past 12 months, our Training Academy has worked in coordination with our Office of Information Technology, our Inspector General, as well as with members of our community and special interest groups,” Alexander said. “We are being deliberately thoughtful about this important decision that we believe will only strengthen our relationship with our citizens, further enhance our dedication to transparency and keep safe our officers and the citizens we are sworn to protect and serve.”
Scott Peterson, deputy manager of communications and press secretary for County Executive Rushern Baker III, said the police department formed a panel of stakeholders which includes citizens, special interest groups and allied partners who are researching the type of equipment, the cost, data capacity, and the best practices used by other law enforcement agencies around the country.
“As much as we are researching and investing in technology, PGPD remains committed to community policing and we are proud of their success over the past four years,” Peterson said. “Our police department is an integral part of County Executive Baker’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative and our officers are interacting with people in neighborhoods throughout the county more than ever before. They understand that it is essential to build trust in the communities they protect and serve.”
Mel Franklin, chairman of the Prince George’s County council, said it is good the county is considering a pilot program and shows how progressive the county’s police department is. “It is important to test out to see if it is viable for all of our officers who are on the street,” Franklin said. “I think it is a good thing that they are moving forward and testing it.”
1. Prince George’s County’s residents continue to oppose cell phone towers
Parents from Prince George’s County, Anne Arundel County, Montgomery County and Baltimore city joined together to form the Maryland Coalition against Cell Towers on School Grounds.
The coalition brings parents together who have been fighting the implementation of cell phone towers on school grounds. Local organizers hope the coalition will help prevent the towers from erecting on school grounds.
“We are trying to galvanize community support and convince the school board that we are not happy about this,” said Charlene Bearisto, a Bowie resident and parent of a Bowie High School student.
The opposition has become so fierce the state has considered a bill regarding the non-educational use of school grounds, which includes cell phone towers.
Delegate Geraldine Valentino-Smith said she introduced the bill after community concerns over the construction of cell phone towers on public school grounds. The school system does not have a policy like the proposed bill or a policy addressing cell phone towers on school property, said Max Pugh, a spokesperson for Prince George’s County Public Schools.
“Some people were concerned they didn’t understand the criteria and process in how the development of school property is determined,” Valentino-Smith said.
First reported by The Sentinel in June, Bowie is one of 73 potential school sites that the developer, Milestone Communications, is looking to place is looking to place a tower, according to a 2011 leasing agreement between the Prince George’s County Board of Education and Milestone Communications, the cell phone tower provider. No towers have been constructed yet, but some permits have been approved.
The coalition has a total of 22 organizations, including the NAACP chapters of Prince George’s County, Montgomery County and Anne Arundel County.
“This is the first time community groups have crossed county lines to work on issues,” said Bob Ross, president of the Prince George’s County chapter of the NAACP. “I’m really excited about that. We partnered up with organizations against cell phone towers to get an understanding of the issue. After that, we are weighing our options. Our team is on a halt until we collect all of the data.”
The Board of Education approved the construction of cell phone towers on public school grounds on Nov. 11, 2010, during a public meeting. The leasing master agreement between Prince George’s County Public Schools and Milestone Communications, the cell phone tower provider, was signed on Feb. 7, 2011.