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The Top 10 Stories in Prince George's County

Wednesday, December 25, 1996; Page M01

1. Government by Referendum

County leaders asked voters for permission to raise their taxes, and on Nov. 5, the voters answered with a resounding "No!" Instead, they imposed one of the country's toughest restrictions on the power of local government. Any tax increase now must be approved by referendum. Stunned county leaders still are unsure what effect that will have on public services such as schools and police.

2.Redskins Get New Home

Jack Kent Cooke had wandered for years in search of a new place to play football. In March, he found it. Arising from an old farm field in Landover is something that actually is starting to look like a stadium. Cooke wants the place ready for his Washington Redskins in September, but construction work on the roads and parking lots around the stadium got off to a late start in the fall.

3.Desegregation Reevaluated

The federally ordered desegregation of Prince George's County public schools is under review for the first time in a decade. No one knows what to expect when U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte completes the review next year. Among the possibilities: He could keep the desegregation programs, such as busing and the magnet schools; he could order new measures; or he could lift the court order.

4.Clarence Thomas Gets an Invitation

Was there ever so much fuss over an eighth-grade awards ceremony? The public schools spent a remarkable two weeks in the spring debating whether Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should have been invited to attend the event with 120 students from a Landover school. As school system officials applied pressure, the invitation was withdrawn, but days later, it was reinstated. To the surprise of many, Thomas showed up -- and got a standing ovation from the students.

5.Tricentennial Celebrated

April 23, the 300th anniversary of Prince George's County, was a party for the county's emerging black majority. The day began at a plantation manor house, evoking images of the county's slave past. It ended at the University of Maryland's Cole Field House, where about 2,000 celebrants in tuxedos and formal gowns displayed the impressive new wealth and dazzling diversity of Prince George's County.

6.Town Houses Limited

Leaders in Prince George's, weary of their county's lingering image as the regional capital of cheap housing, moved in November to force development of more expensive houses for the type of residents the county wants to attract. The County Council acted to channel developers into building higher-priced single-family houses.

7.County Moves Roadside Vendors

The council took another step last month to redefine the image of Prince George's: The hundreds of vendors peddling crabs, flowers, smoked ribs, T-shirts and other goods along the county's main roads will have to move. Critics said vendors on public highways gave the county a trashy appearance, repelling some of the people Prince George's is trying to attract.

8.New Police Chief Attacks Crime

During his first full year in office, Police Chief John S. Farrell started to put his crime-fighting strategies into effect. He concentrated officers on "hot spots" for violent crime that were identified by computer tracking, and he ordered arrest sweeps in several open-air drug markets. The rate of homicides declined by about 20 percent through August but climbed again near the end of the year.

9.Teenage Gang Members Tried

Three young people faced trials this year in the slaying that had focused the county's attention on youth gangs late in 1995. Two Suitland High School honor students were convicted of luring their classmate and fellow gang member, 14-year-old Tatia Brennan, into the woods and fatally stabbing her. The gang's teenage leader, accused of ordering the slaying, also was convicted of first-degree murder.

10.Blizzard Clobbers County

The memory may have melted by now, but for more than a week in early January, the Blizzard of '96 changed the county's way of life. Many residents were stranded for several days as road crews struggled to clear two feet of snow. The public schools had to rearrange their calendars after losing six class days to bad weather. The county government, already operating on a tight budget, had to spend more than $2 million to clean up the mess.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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