For weeks, citizens of District Heights struggled over plans to memorialize Emmett Michael Roll, the mayor who bound them together for the last 25 years and whose leadership made their town a special place.
When Roll died last September, the disappearance of the rotund figure who embodied municipal leadership--a bow-tied man with a kind smile, a red, white and blue handkerchief sprouting from his breast pocket, and his Lions Club lapel pin glistening--left a vacuum in the community's identity.
Ever since he moved to District Heights in 1948, Roll had immersed himself in every kind of community activity imaginable, from various Catholic honor societies to a slew of Prince George's County commissions. He once estimated that he attended 275 meetings a year.
Throughout the area Mike Roll was regarded as the patron saint of metropolitan townships. He served as president of the Maryland Municipal League, and he is credited with helping to resolve what the role of local governments would be at a time in the 1960s when county and municipal authority were in flux.
After his death, the Town Commission appointed a memorial committee, which suggested hanging an oil portrait, a collage of pictures or a bronze plaque in the municipal center, or renaming the municipal building after the late mayor.
Roll is said to have regarded the municipal center, built during his tenure in 1962, as his greatest achievement for the town. With its steel-beam rafters and cinder block walls, the center's plain and solid character resembled that of the nearly 40 residents who crowded into last week's commission meeting.
For more than an hour, sometimes punctuated by emotional pleas and snarling exchanges between residents and commissioners, citizens stood one after another stressing their love for Roll and their dissatisfaction that the proposals somehow didn't match what Roll had meant to them.
Francis J. Aluisi, who used to carry business cards describing himself as "brother-in-law of the mayor of District Heights," drew applause when he delivered his remarks from the back of the room.
"Mike wasn't wrapped up in a collage or bronze or pictures, he was wrapped up in this building," Aluisi said. "That's why it should be named after him."
Two residents disapproved naming the building in Roll's honor and another man presented to Mayor David Goldsmith a petition with nearly 100 signatures asking that Roll be remembered "in an honorable way."
After defeating a proposal to hold off action for 10 days of citizen comment, the commission decided to rename the building the E. Michael Roll Municipal Center.
In other business, the commission decided to buy $2,500 worth of fireworks from Zambelli International Fireworks Manufacturing Co. Inc. of New Castle, Pa., for the city's July 4 celebration.
Parris N. Glendening, a County Council member and municipal liaison, presented the commission with a roundup of local issues, reporting that Gov. Harry Hughes will support a bill to give municipalities specific authority to sign their own contracts with cable television firms--a stipulation coming out of a recent Supreme Court decision.