Montgomery Employee Is Referee in Neighborhood Squabbles

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 8, 2009

Reina Pineda tried fighting the snakes with the weapons she had. A shovel. A machete. A weed whacker.

Now she's trying Alexis Reed.

There are 12,749 government employees in Montgomery County, and if you live in a broad swath east of Rockville and north of Silver Spring, Reed is the one you call for the constituent grunt work. Her boss, County Council member Nancy Navarro (D-Eastern County), calls her the "social worker for District 4."

In a county of almost a million people and in a district where elegant homes and gang graffiti color the landscape, Reed is the bureaucratic prod who takes and makes the low-tech telephone calls that inch government forward.

Worried that your homeowners association's herbicide is killing frogs and making you itch? Call Reed. Concerned about cars from the newish subdivision zooming past the autistic boy who straightens up the trash cans? Call Reed. Are visitors slithering onto your property from overgrown bamboo on public land next door, as in Pineda's yard?

"I have called her lots, maybe 12 times or more. She's been very nice. It's not like the other people," said Pineda, a school bus driver who said her initial pleas went nowhere. "I told Alexis that my kids didn't even go outside this summer to play in the back yard because we were scared."

This is not where Reed expected to be. She left the district where she grew up for college in New York City and thought she was headed for a life in international human rights. Instead, 24 years after she was born at Montgomery General Hospital, she ended up back home.

"It's your neighborhood. It's your home; you should feel safe," Reed said. "You can't help everyone. But if you can help one person -- I'm sure that makes me sound like a hippie, but I'm fine with that."

In an office stocked with Golden Oreos, pretzel sticks and software for scoping out property lines, Reed has spent her first four months as a government official charting constituents' dramas. In the late afternoons, she moonlights as the varsity volleyball coach at Springbrook, her old high school, where at a recent game "the ref came up to me and asked me where the coach was," she said.

Squabbling constituents have no trouble seeing her as a referee, a role she tries to resist. Her refrain: Just talk to your neighbors.

It doesn't always work.

"A lot of it is aesthetics," she said.

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