A Community of Concerns
Before heading into a special meeting called by the Glenarden City Council on Thursday night, some members of the community stopped to pray outside at a makeshift alter to Saint Martin de Porres, who was invoked as "the patron saint of racial harmony and peace." They were expecting the session to be a bit unruly.
It was exactly that--and more.
Emotions erupted at the James R. Cousins Community Center as the City Council voted 4 to 3 to remove City Manager Jeannelle B. Wallace from the position she has held for three years. They gave her a 30-day paid leave and then fired her effective at the end of the leave.
"I'm just flabbergasted," Mayor Donjuan L. Williams said.
Council President Louis Vaughn introduced the resolution, which said that "the unsatisfactory performance of the powers and duties by the city manager has been witnessed by the City Council during her tenure."
The resolution stemmed from a private meeting Wednesday night, during which some council members decided to take sudden action against Wallace.
But Thursday, several council members were outraged by the resolution, which they said differed from the wording that had been previously agreed upon. Council member Sheila R. Woodson said that in the Wednesday night meeting, the officials present had agreed to put Wallace on a six-month probation-like period during which she would get regular evaluations.
Woodson and Council member Karen Standifer said they were appalled at the Thursday version.
"They said Wallace had done certain things, and I asked for documentation. They didn't produce any, so I recommended a six-month term and evaluations," Woodson said in an interview. "Then this. . . . All of a sudden, everything changes. No! That's not fair."
Standifer told the council: "I feel it's a real personal attack. This is not what we talked about last night. I do not support this."
Council member Edward D. Brown called the situation "ludicrous. . . . The city manager has not had an evaluation in two years!"
Former Glenarden mayor Stan Brown broke in to say that he was "appalled that we are even discussing personnel matters in this manner. . . . This is a witch hunt."
Council members Elaine A. Carter, Rubin J. Reid, Andrew J. Ward and Vaughn voted to approve the resolution to remove Wallace. Council members Edward Brown, Standifer and Woodson voted against it.
The resolution cited Wallace for such things as "failure to exert good judgment" and using a city credit card to buy personal items, among other things.
"I feel like this is petty, and there are explanations for those items," Wallace said after the meeting. "The big issue is that they have never discussed any of these things with me or the mayor. . . . This isn't about me."
Wallace, who was paid $50,000 annually, said she soon will file papers to appeal the council's decision.
Some residents seemed to agree with Wallace, who they say got caught in the middle of a power struggle between the mayor and certain council members.
Another resolution and an ordinance--both of which were tabled--on the Thursday agenda meant to take away Williams's power to find and appoint future city managers.
"It's a control thing," Williams said after the meeting.
The resolution would have changed the Glenarden charter's wording from "The mayor shall appoint. . . ." to "The mayor shall submit to the city council a recommendation for the appointment of a city manager from the candidates submitted to the mayor by a search committee. . . ."
But a procedural problem halted a vote on the resolution. Williams told the council: "I'm trying to understand. Are you trying to amend the charter without a public hearing? We have never in the past changed the charter without letting people know."
Reid made a motion to table the resolution. The ordinance for the creation of a search committee also was tabled.
Outside the community center after the meeting, candles lighted at the pre-meeting prayer service were still burning, as were some tempers.
A group of about 13 residents were angry. Community activist Wade Simmons vowed to begin circulating a recall petition against Vaughn, Carter and Ward the next morning.
"What about procedure? What about fairness? Who's going to be the city manager in the morning?" Simmons asked other residents. "This is a sad day in Glenarden."
Alice Howard, who represented the Frost Subdivision Homeowners Association at the meeting, said, "I guess they figure what better way to get to the mayor than to get rid of the city manager."
Glenarden's charter states that the city manager is "responsible to the mayor for the administration of all city affairs."
"If I thought she was incompetent," Williams said, "I would have fired her a long time ago."
-- Susan Saulny
Bringing a Town Around
Local officials have high hopes for a traffic circle on Rhode Island Avenue at the intersections of Perry and 34th streets in Mount Rainier. Construction is to begin in the fall.
The $1.6 million project, which is being funded entirely by the state, is expected to take six to nine months to complete. It may frustrate drivers, but Mount Rainier Mayor Fred J. Sissine said the circle and other traffic enhancements will "give us a whole new look."
Two 15-foot sculptures will stand on the peninsulas created by the traffic circle. The median strips also will be widened so pedestrians do not have to cross both the northbound and southbound lanes at once.
"We want to make it safer and more pedestrian-friendly," Sissine said.
Before 1929, the year Rhode Island Avenue officially opened between Mount Rainier and Hyattsville, the highway--also known as U.S. Route 1--was little more than a muddy track along a streetcar line that ran out of the District.
But now when Sissine looks out at the highway, he says, he sees "a small lake of asphalt." The heavily traveled road is a major commuter route between the District and Prince George's County, carrying 22,000 vehicles a day through Mount Rainier.
Sissine said his biggest hope is the project, which he thinks will encourage foot traffic and help spur economic revitalization in the area.
The state funding for the project came from a program established by Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) in 1996. The neighborhood conservation program, as it is called, is targeted at communities seeking to revitalize their often-abandoned and run-down commercial strips. The program is administered by the Maryland State Highway Administration.
Mike Morrill, a spokesman for Glendening, said communities can use the money for curbs, gutters, benches and landscaping. "About the only thing they can't use it for is decorative lighting," he said.
Glendening recently announced that he intended to seek additional funding from the state legislature for the program. He wants to triple available funds from $50 million to $150 million.
About 80 percent of the work on the Mount Rainier circle will be done at night, said Dennis German, assistant chief of highway design for the State Highway Administration.
He said the traffic circle, which is similar to one being constructed on West Street in Annapolis, will be built "bottom up, from the outside in."
Bidding on the project began last week.
Prince George's County Council member Peter A. Shapiro (D-Brentwood), whose district includes Mount Rainier, said the traffic circles are going to "put Mount Rainier on the map."
-- Jackie Spinner
If you have an item for Prince George's Towns, please let us know. Susan Saulny coordinates the municipal coverage. She can be reached at 301-952-2036; fax to 301-952-1397; e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; or write to Prince George's Towns, Prince George's Extra, The Washington Post, 14402 Old Mill Rd., Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md. 20772.