Protesters marched outside the municipal center. Inside, citizens and council members traded noisy accusations. Also, there was a war of words between the mayor and a teenager.
Turbulent meetings have been the norm this year in Capitol Heights, a small Prince George's County town off Central Avenue across the D.C. line. But Monday night's Town Council meeting was especially unruly, fueled by decisions to rehire a town manager who had sued the town in 1996 and to suspend a popular community youth program, dismissing its teenage leader.
Mayor Vivian M. Dodson at Monday night's meeting said that town officials have done nothing wrong, despite noisy outbursts from residents during the meeting.
"Lies hurt," Dodson said.
Angry residents see it differently. Dennis Williams, 18, who showed up to protest his dismissal as the leader of Explorers, said he was let go after he accused town officials of withholding funds from the program.
The Explorers were founded almost a decade ago in partnership with the town's police to give children a sense of civic duty and self-confidence. The group patrolled the town and sponsored recreational activities until Dodson suspended it in June.
"I started telling parents that the mayor and council are always all smiles when they talk about the program, but behind the scenes they really don't care," Williams said in an interview Monday night. "Then, in so many words, they told me to be quiet, and I didn't. I wanted to know where money went that was donated to the program. The program hasn't seen any of it."
In protest, Williams, who graduated this spring from Bladensburg High School, refused town officials' request to have the Explorers march in a recent parade. Shortly after, officials voted to suspend the Explorers, until they could find "appropriate leadership," Dodson said.
"We didn't like the way you spoke to us," Dodson told Williams at Monday's council meeting when he complained about his dismissal to the mayor and council.
Residents also were angry as they learned of the recent hiring of former town manager Fred Nocente, who had unsuccessfully sued the town in 1996 over nearly $50,000 in a pay dispute. Nocente, who attended, did not return phone calls yesterday seeking comment.
"It's disgusting, really," Senora Ball said Monday night. Ball is the treasurer of the Capitol Heights Citizens' Association and helped organize the protest, complete with placards saying "Mayor and Council, Do us a Favor, Resign!"
The tumult follows still pending allegations of wrongdoing by town officials made by the town's most recent manager, John H. Kitchings Jr. Kitchings was fired in May shortly after going to state and local law enforcement officials with allegations that town officials--and their predecessors--did not properly report payments from the town as income on their tax returns. Kitchings also said town officials have given themselves unauthorized pay raises.
Before Monday's meeting, Ball and other residents distributed fliers advertising the demonstration and detailing eight points of alleged misconduct by town officials, reiterating the allegations of tax evasion and missing money, among other things.
"All eight points are false," council member William Devine said at Monday's meeting.
Capitol Heights has 4,000 residents, including some of the poorest people in Prince George's County.
"My 5- and 6-year-olds could conduct a better meeting. . . . It's outrageous and ridiculous," said Anita C. Anderson, who showed up at the municipal center to complain about a drainage problem on her street. "We shouldn't have to suffer this way."
CAPTION: John Outling, who said he has lived in Capitol Heights since 1977, protests outside the Capitol Heights Municipal Center on Monday night. He and other residents called for the resignation of the town's mayor and council members.
CAPTION: Mayor Vivian M. Dodson told an 18-year-old who had been dismissed as leader of a youth program, "We didn't like the way you spoke to us."