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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Toles Holds District 7 Community Forum

Following her new colleagues in council districts 8 and 9, newly elected District 7 Councilwoman Karen R. Toles (D) held her first community forum on Saturday, February 26, at a community center in Suitland.  Unlike the forums held by her colleagues, the press did not cover the event (see links below). About 100 people attended. Here is a summary of the District 7 forum based on the handouts and notes from two attendees.

Several current and former elected officials attended the forum, but did not speak.  They included Sheriff Melvin High, former District 7 Councilwomen Dorothy Bailey (1994-2002) and Camille Exum (2002-2010), school board members Henry Armwood (District 7) and Edward Burroughs (District 8), and several current and former municipal officials.

In her opening statement Toles talked about priorities, including public safety, truancy, cross-border criminal activity, code enforcement, and raising community standards.  She mentioned that District 7 has the longest common border with the District of Columbia.  Clubs or dance halls operating outside their permits and licenses are a problem in the community--several of the murders in District 7 have been outside such clubs--and Toles wants to give public safety officials more authority to shut them down.  About half of the county's 2011 murders have been in District 7.  Her plans for the near future include opening a website, starting e-mail updates, planning an April project for youth, and pushing for a single system for posting job opportunities for youth in the county.

Circuit Court Judge Herman Dawson spoke at length on juvenile crime, especially problems such as increasing assaults by juveniles, many of them truants, almost daily robberies in schools, the lack of any secure facilities in Maryland for violent juveniles, and resulting problems from placing violent juveniles back in the community.  Seventy percent of children passing through juvenile court never finish the next grade in school. He mentioned truancy courts and the surprising number of 6, 7, and 8 year-olds not in school, and invited everyone to come and observe in his courtroom.

The Police Department was represented by Deputy Chief Kevin Davis and District 4 Commander James Harper.  Major areas mentioned included the growing problem of organized groups of retail thieves and new retail crime squad, the night club problems mentioned earlier by councilwoman Toles, attacks on people walking near Metro stations, and the establishment of a violent crime and recidivism unit.  States Attorney Alsobrooks has assigned assistants to work with each police district.

Acting Fire Chief Marc Bashoor began with a discussion of the recent fire in Hillcrest Heights where one person died in a house occupied by eight families and with no working smoke detectors.  The county had four fire fatalities in January and that was way above average.  The department now has a campaign to reach out to every resident of the county in six months, either through visits to homes or in community meetings, to empasize the need for smoke detectors and to offer free detectors and installation to all.  Bashoor also reported that the wind-driven fires a week earlier had been the worst firestorm in county history.

Pepco representative Ernie Baker spoke about street lighting from the public safety perspective, then answered a number of questions about Pepco's response to recent power outages.

Housing and Community Development Department representative Dottie Kendrick spoke about weatherization and inspection and repair services available to eligible individuals.  Pamela Wilson described the single housing rehabilitation program aimed at inspecting single family homes and bringing them up to code.

Park and Planning supervisor Emmett Brown spoke about upcoming activities including the safe summers program.

The forum closed with a lengthy question and answer session.

Reports on District 8 and 9 meetings:

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