Citizen unrest in Capitol Heights has become commonplace, whether in the form of emotional outbursts during official meetings or more formal protesting.
But the latest commotion is internal--from inside the Leo P. Forami Municipal Center, involving Mayor Vivian M. Dodson, Town Council member Amizi L. Springs and Town Clerk Sherry Tucker.
Springs and Tucker have not teamed up--their issues are individual--but together their complaints paint a picture of a municipal government that is in turmoil, where power struggles bring open tension in the workplace.
Springs said his discontent stems from Dodson's recent decision to rehire Town Administrator Fred J. Nocente, a former employee who unsuccessfully sued the town in 1996. Springs, acting chairman of the town personnel committee, said last week that he is concerned about Nocente's work history and the decision to hire him, which, Springs said, did not go through the personnel committee.
Shortly after making his position known Thursday, Springs received a memo from Dodson telling him that he has been removed as chairman of the personnel committee.
Shortly after making his position known Thursday, Springs received a memo from Dodson "relieving" him of his duties as personnel committee chairman. It stated: "Please be advised that this memorandum shall serve as formal notification that you are hereby relieved of all duties and responsibilities in connection with your position as Chairman of the Personnel Committee."
Springs fired a memo back: "You, the mayor of the Town of Capitol Heights, have no authority or powers to relieve or remove a council member from any committee."
Springs quoted two sections of the Town Charter to support his position. His letter closed, "This memorandum serves as an official notification that I am the chairman of the personnel committee."
The mayor's memo said Council member Charlotte A. Price would be reinstated as Chairman. Price resigned from the position in April because of certain "procedural questions that were not resolved," she said. Reached Monday at work, Price said she had been out-of-town since Friday morning and knew very few details of Dodson's decision: "I don't know what happened or why I've been reappointed. I don't have any confirmation on that yet."
Springs said he is troubled by the Nocente appointment because Nocente made "very poor business investments for the town" while serving as administrator from 1989 to 1993. Springs said he wanted more time to research Nocente's background.
On his original job application and resume from 1998, Nocente wrote in the "educational background" section that he attended George Washington University. The application asked, "Did you graduate?" Nocente checked "yes."
The registrar's office at George Washington University said in a written statement to The Washington Post, however, that officials were unable to locate records showing that Nocente attended or graduated from the school.
Nocente also stated that he attended Southeastern University in the District. Southeastern officials could not locate a graduation date but did verify in writing that Nocente had been enrolled as a management major. They did not give dates.
In 1982, Nocente, who was a county liquor board inspector, was the focus of a bribery investigation by the state's attorney's office over a transaction with a restaurant in Marlow Heights.
In the end, the Prince George's County prosecutor found insufficient evidence to bring bribery charges against Nocente, who had acknowledged that he received $4,000 from the owner of a pizza parlor regulated by the board.
All this was news to Springs last week, who said it gave him more reason to reiterate, "The personnel committee did not make a motion for Nocente to be accepted for a position."
According to Springs, Town Council member Elizabeth Johnson offered Nocente a temporary position at $50,000 a year, a town car and benefits.
"I did not feel Mrs. Johnson had a right to make that offer," Springs said. Johnson, Dodson and Nocente did not return phone calls seeking comment.
"I was against him coming back from the jump," Springs said. "The mayor took it upon herself to hire who she wanted and thought I would go along with it. . . . With me talking, I might make enemies, but there's no use being on council if things aren't being done right."
Nocente was hired on a temporary basis, and Springs said he plans to post the position in a newspaper this week.
Meanwhile, Tucker said last week that she plans to sue the town if they don't give her insurance coverage.
"I have been working for more than 90 days with no annual leave, no pay increase and no benefits," Tucker said. She said she has consulted a lawyer and is mulling taking action against the town.
Tucker said she was recommended for hiring by then-Town Administrator John Kitchings, who was fired in April shortly after alleging to state prosecutors and other agencies that town officials mismanaged public money.
"It was agreed that she would be full time and receive benefits after 90 days," Kitchings said. "She has a valid, legitimate claim."