State legislators from Prince George's County considering the issue of a divided Takoma Park came under attack last week from angry city residents who said they were fed up with stalling on a bill that would let them vote whether to join the rest of the city in Montgomery County.
In a public hearing Thursday night in Riverdale, city officials, residents and community leaders lashed out at Prince George's members of a bi-county legislators' committee, raising questions about their "backbone" and their ability to bring about the voter referendum that 84 percent of city voters requested in a straw ballot last November.
Endorsement by the Prince George's representatives is the key to getting the unification referendum bill through the General Assembly, which legislators say would approve the bill only if the counties' delegates agree. Most Montgomery delegates say they support the unification voting bill.
The seven Prince George's legislators, some of whom were accused of reversing their support for the referendum, repeatedly reminded speakers that the purpose of the meeting was to gather information on issues concerning the move, which would place the southeastern third of Takoma Park in Montgomery.
(About 4,900 of the city's 16,200 residents live in the Prince George's sector.)
"Quite frankly, it's getting more and more frustrating and discouraging to deal with legislators who are unwilling to respond," retorted city resident Sherry McMahon.
McMahon complained that being divided between two counties forced residents and officials into "double dealing, with two sets of everything, including two sets of politicians."
Lawrence W. Hush, head of the Citizens Committee for a Referendum to Unite Takoma Park, noted that over the past few months legislators were repeating the same concerns--and exploring few of the suggested answers--for such considerations as how schools would be affected and what would happen to liquor stores on the Prince George's side.
(If incorporated into Montgomery, such stores would be illegal unless exemptions were granted.)
Most of the 11 speakers criticized Prince George's County government for taking in more than $1.8 million in taxes from city residents last year and returning only $44,000 to the city, which maintains police, fire, library and other public services independent of the two counties.
City resident Eugene Freeman accused the legislators of "insulting the intelligence of the people" and of stalling on the referendum because they might lose votes elsewhere for giving up county turf.
"I have watched politicians operate in their closed system, and I have heard and seen the people speak and be ignored," Freeman said. "We know that, bottom line, no one wants this unification except the citizens who have to live under disunification. We are being held prisoner against our will."
"But," he warned, "the more and more you cut the grass, the stronger and stronger it grows."
"Boy, they really know how to make friends and win influence," Del. Thomas J. Mooney (D-Prince George's) said afterward as his colleagues hurried out of the meeting without comment. "I happen to be caught in the middle because I live in the Prince George's section of Takoma Park."
In an emotional and wide-ranging speech, Takoma Mayor Sammie A. Abbott blasted Prince George's politicians for expressing concern that losing tax money from Takoma Park would be burdensome in the face of the county's property tax limitations under TRIM.
"Where the hell were they in the fight against TRIM?" Abbott shouted, accusing them of "using it as a handy excuse" to stall unification.