It's election time in Greenbelt, and seven candidates are vying for five at-large seats on the City Council.
Although there are some key issues facing the community, there is little dispute about them among the candidates, making for a relatively quiet pre-election period. The biggest difference of opinion appears to be about the strength and deployment of the Greenbelt police.
Among the top issues: whether a proposed regional shopping mall should be built and closer to home, whether a new post office should be built.
There is unanimity among the candidates on these issues: no to the shopping mall (dubbed "Metroland") and yes to the post office. Where there was disagreement among the candidates, the issues centered on police staffing and whether there should be stepped up bike patrols by police.
The nonpartisan election will be held Tuesday. The council members are paid $5,000 a year, and the mayor, chosen from among the council members by the panel, is paid $6,000. Terms are two years.
At a recent candidates forum, all the candidates said they opposed, in its current form, the planned development, which would include a mall with retail stores, a hotel, an office complex and multifamily residential units. The plan calls for the development to be constructed on land that straddles Indian Creek. The site runs from the Capital Beltway south to Greenbelt Road, between Cherrywood Lane and the Metro and CSX railroad tracks.
Mayor Judith Davis said the main objections to the proposal are that it encroaches on area wetlands and that a proposed Beltway interchange would create excessive traffic. Companies have a right to develop and try to make a profit, Davis said, but not at the expense of the environment. "It's just too much," she said.
All the candidates said they supported a new post office in eastern Greenbelt, even though there is a lawsuit filed by the previous owner of the site, Gary Modjesko, to block construction. The proposed site is on Hanover Parkway, south of Route 193.
Davis speculated that the matter may be settled out of court, with Modjesko receiving some compensation.
Profiles of the candidates follow:
Davis, 57, the mayor, is running for her fourth term on the City Council. She has lived in the city since 1975 and recently retired from her job as an elementary school teacher. Before being elected to the council in 1993, she was a member for 10 years of Greenbelt's Advisory Planning Board.
Davis is a member of government organizations, including the National League of Cities, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Prince George's County Municipal Association. She also works with the Greenbelt Foundation for the Arts and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Davis received a master's degree from West Chester State University in Pennsylvania.
At the recent candidates' forum, Davis addressed a question about police staffing, saying that the city may have enough officers (there are 53) but that they aren't sufficiently visible.
Davis agreed with other candidates that, though officers do a good job, they need to be better deployed and talk to residents more. The best officers should be paid more, so that Greenbelt doesn't lose them to communities that pay better, Davis said. She also said surveillance cameras, a few of which have been installed throughout the city, could be a good way to reduce crime. She said that the city must do more to work with other communities in the state, and even around the nation, to learn new ways to solve the city's problems.
Putens, 53, has served nine terms. Stressing the fact that the council must work together to be successful, Putens said, "No one person can do anything."
He praised his fellow candidates, saying, "Any five of these candidates could serve the citizens well."
Putens was born in Pennsylvania, lived in Baltimore and received a degree in microbiology from the University of Maryland. He has worked for the federal government for more than 25 years. He is an advocate for maintaining and improving Greenbelt schools, although the council is not directly involved in the governance or funding of the Prince George's public schools. "Good schools are essential for Greenbelt to remain attractive to families with school-age children," he said.
On public safety issues, Putens supports the use of surveillance cameras, saying that placement of cameras in places such as the Baltimore-Washington Parkway overpass should help lower crime in the area.
He does not believe that bicycle patrols will work. "When you need help, you don't want [an officer] on a bicycle," he said. Putens would support the hiring of additional officers in some neighborhoods.
Roberts, 41, has lived in Greenbelt his whole life and runs a mobile repair business, visiting homes and businesses to make repairs. He first became interested in local politics in the late 1980s.
Now seeking his fifth consecutive term, Roberts enumerated several issues he supports: pedestrian pathways, environmental protection, housing for seniors, and recreational facilities. Roberts has said that he supports increasing the number of police officers in Greenbelt. He supports building more bicycle patrols.
Turnbull, 34, is seeking his second term.
He attended Eleanor Roosevelt High School and the University of Maryland and works for the National Park Service.
Although Turnbull said he respects the police, he said they need to do a better job. He supports bike patrols, saying that a recent study showed that only 1.5 percent of officers' working hours was spent on a bike or on foot. Turnbull said that the city has not done enough research on police-related issues and that issues like whether the city should hire more officers cannot be fairly decided until that research has been done.
White, 64, who was raised in Washington, enlisted in the Navy soon after graduating from high school and served as a medical corpsman for five years before receiving a degree in microbiology from the University of Maryland. He works for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. White was first elected to the Greenbelt City Council in 1973 and has served 13 consecutive terms. "I think my experience is of value to Greenbelt," he said. "The size of the Greenbelt police department is about right."
He backs bicycle patrols. Like most other candidates, White praised the department, saying, "We have a very professional force." White supports increased spending on programs for young people and opposes what he called "excessive development" in Greenbelt.
Expressing his love for his home city, White said, "This is a great place to live and to raise a family."
Auerbach, who will turn 80 in December, said he likes to propose ideas that haven't been thought of before. He proposed a free bus system that he said would relieve traffic congestion and decrease pollution.
Auerbach moved to Greenbelt 37 years ago. After living in the city for so long, "I figured it was time I run for office," he said.
Auerbach noted that the city has grown. "When I moved into Greenbelt, the police department consisted of two officers."
Auerbach supports police bike patrols and said that more traffic enforcement is needed. He also proposes building more bicycle paths and pedestrian walkways, increasing city support for arts and recreation, and offering mediation services to resolve conflicts and to help prevent crime.
"I believe I can be of some value to the council," he said.
Brick, 28, is legal counsel for government affairs for the National Association for the Deaf. He was born in Jacksonville, Ill., but attended high school in the Washington area and went to Gallaudet University. Although the education budget is handled at the county level, Brick said he believes that the City of Greenbelt must do more. "We need to play a bigger role in influencing education decisions," he said.
Brick also believes that crime in Greenbelt needs to be reduced. "We have a great police force" but police need to be more visible, he said.
He believes current council members have not done enough to address crime and education. Brick hopes to increase public dialogue and volunteerism if he is elected. Because he is deaf, he said, he is sensitive to what he said is a need to "level the playing field" for all residents, including minorities and people who are disabled. But he said that he is a candidate for all voters. "My issues are those that affect all people."
There are four polling places for Tuesday's elections: the city municipal building, the city police station, the Springhill Lake recreation center and the Greenbriar community building. Any Greenbelt resident registered to vote in Prince George's County is automatically registered to vote in the city election. Polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, call the city clerk's office at 301-474-3870.
CAPTION: BOB AUERBACH
CAPTION: KELBY BRICK
CAPTION: RODNEY ROBERTS
CAPTION: JUDITH DAVIS
CAPTION: ALAN TURNBULL
CAPTION: EDWARD PUTENS
CAPTION: THOMAS WHITE