What amounted to something of a farewell party for Prince George's County Executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr. drew a crowd of 300 people last night, not all of them friendly.
Kelly is not really leaving the county, but he is saying farewell - at least until the November elections - to the "Town Meetings" that he started in 1974 as a series of forums where citizens could go ask questions - just about any questions - of county officials.
Last night's meeting at Friendly Senior High School in Oxon Hill was the 35th and last of these.
The citizens who attended brought up topics ranging from Proposition 13, which limits property taxes in California, to animal controls, taxes in general, shcools, public transportation, housing inspection and the slaying of a 12-year-old Clinton youth last weekend.
Kelly brought most of his administration's officials with him and didn't hestitate to turn the microphone over to them.
In attendance were Rep. Marjorie Holt (R-Md.) and several state senators and delegates. Kelly brought most of his administraion's officials with him and didn't hesitate to turn the microphone over to them.
The officials did not exactly compete for possession of the microphone. At one point, after several tough questions, Kelly said, "will one of you guys please take one of these hot potatoes from me, I've been getting burned all night."
Kelly, who retained his composure throughout the session, was exaggerating.
The most volatile issue of the night was the death of 12-year-old Donald Alan Henley, found stabbed to death in Clinton on Sunday. A suspect arrested in the slaying was a parolee employed as a carpentry instrutor in a county-supervised teaching project at an old, county-owned mansion in Clinton.
Kelly, using the style he has developed over the years at the meetings, took the offensive before he could be put on the defensive.
"Before we start tonight I'd like to say that this is a saddest of circumstances I've ever come to town meeting under," Kelly said. "We're all saddened by the tragedy of the Henley boy.
"I'd like to outline the circumstances of the situation to you. The man who is accused of this heinous crime was not one of the prisoners being bused into the Berger Mansion from the Maryland House of Corrections for training. He could have been anywhere in the community."
Kelly, who ordered the project halted on Tuesday, said he would not allow it to begin again nor would he allow any other similar program to begin without being certain that the community fully understands the nature of the program. "We made a mistake this time," he said. "It will be corrected."
Later, Kelly become more emphatic.
There is no way a program like this will start before the community fully understands," he said. "But I won't stop these programs. We have to find a way to help these men return to the community. I think the biggest fault lies with the system. Maybe we should build bigger jails and keep people in there longer."
"Are you Mr. Kelly?" asked the night's first speaker after Kelly finished his 15 minute introduction speech, adding, "well, I don't think very much of you or your administration."
Kelly never blinked.
At this, Kelly senior aide, John Lally remarked to a reporter, "Listen, 20 per cent of the people here don't know who Kelly is. These meetings let people know he's accessible. They've been very good for him."
Kelly said he was ending the town meeting because of the coming election in which he hopes to be re-elected. "Town meetings have not been political in the past and I don't want them to get that way now," he said."