Prince Georges County grows up

With only two major parties in the United States, the most motivated and extreme voters tend to dominate each, while the average voter in both parties leans to the middle. Since in politics as in physics, every action begets a reaction, the political pendulum swings back and forth.

In Maryland, Delegate Mike Miller was elected in 1971 and began his tenure as President of the Senate in 1987, the longest-running Speaker in Maryland. When health issues caused him to retire in 2020, he was the longest-serving Speaker in the country, representing parts of Calvert, Charles, and Prince Georges (PG) Counties. During his long term in office, Speaker Miller gave a lifetime job to the person in charge of the voter rolls. Governor Larry Hogan and others have since discovered she cannot be fired. The Democrats have a lock on most offices in Maryland, and not since Gov. Hogan’s father ran PG County have Republicans been elected in the county.

PG’s problems are too various to name or to blame exclusively on one career lifetime political appointee. But decades of one-party control have enabled PG’s decision-makers to ignore the wishes of those they supposedly represent. The search for middle-class housing in the Washington area has led to a PG population boom. PG has much to recommend as the border county at the district line from College Park to the Wilson Bridge. The population is booming over 499 square miles. But there are obvious problems.

Families pay higher taxes than in Virginia for poorer schools. But the reduced housing costs allow for private school tuition in tonier neighborhoods like Tantallon. Voters who have done well tend not to buck the system. But the main entrance to this neighborhood today sports a large sign, “Angela Listen to Your Voters.” Pitiful but persistent weekend protests on the circle have had little effect on Angela Alsobrooks, former state’s attorney who is now PG county executive. She has refused to meet those upset by plans to build a $1.2 billion four-story K-8 school on 23 acres of forested wetlands adjoining their neighborhood.

The educational, traffic and environmental considerations are enormous. The idea of a 2,000-student elementary school is a travesty. While educators hardly ever agree, they do agree that young students thrive in smaller schools. Consider a five-year-old finding his or her classroom in a four-story school among 100 classes.

The PG County School Board decided to build on two-lane Swan Creek Road, blocks from the dangerous and already overcrowded Highway 210. The road will have to be widened to accommodate the estimated 46 school buses — end-to-end a quarter-mile of traffic making a left-hand turn, each pausing to release or take on students. To estimate traffic, 6% was added for Covid in October 2020. Reasonably, Covid would be more like 600 percent. Although the forested area was to be clear cut on June 30, the new police substation staff did not know about the potential traffic.

 Environmental impact statements are non-existent, and in the region increased flooding is already present from the widening of 210 due to National Harbor, the casino, and the new suburbia. Sixty-year-old storm outlets carry so much debris, mud, and water that docks along the river are breaking. 

There are no minutes of the school board meetings and when questioned, Ms. Alsobrooks called her questioners liars and refused to answer their questions. After a 10-hour contentious meeting, school board members representing Districts 8 and 9 apologized for not alerting the neighboring civic and homeowner associations of the site, but there are not enough children in just these Districts to fill the school. The parents of children to-be-bused remain unaware.

Ms. Alsobrooks and the CEO of the PG schools Monica E. Goldson on June 30 posted an op-ed on a small website MarylandMatters.org, citing “an $8.5 billion school construction backlog.” 

“We are done waiting,” they wrote. “We are moving forward with pride.”

For decades voters have overlooked the widespread no-bid contracting, jailed officials, and backroom deals, but this may be the last straw. In Maryland, voters’ rolls cannot be purged even with a death notice, published obituary, and funeral. But the hubris of PG officials may just blow the winds of change into a county long in need of actual reforms.

  • Donna Wiesner Keene was a Reagan, Bush and Bush Administration appointee at the Department of Education and Director of Government.

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