Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Kojo Comes to Laurel

WAMU's king of community talk radio, Kojo Nnamdi came to Oseh Shalom Synagogue last evening as part of his Kojo in your Community series. Kojo taped two one hour shows about living in Laurel and Prince Georges County.

About 100 people attended the event. Current and former politicians were well represented in the audience. The first hour was a wide ranging conversation about growth, development and preservation. The second hour, well actually 49 minutes in radio time, was about our schools and education.

I was called about a week ago by Tara Boyle, one of the producers of the show. She asked me if I would be a facilitator for the first hour. Not quite sure what a facilitator would do, but having a face for radio, I readily accepted.

It turns out that facilitators sit at the front table with a huge, Edward R. Murrow style microphone in front of their faces and wait for Kojo to ask them a question to help push the conversation forward. Or in my case , to kill the conversation when Kojo asks a question out of left field while I was not paying close attention.

During the first show we talked about historic preservation versus development, community identity, shopping on Main Street, the ICC and politics in the county. Sounds almost like this blog.

The second hour was about education policy, school boards vs. superintendents. That show was facilitated by Dr. Alvin Thornton and West Laurel's own Mary Lehman. About half of the 49 minute hour was Kojo and Thornton sparing about the future of our schools and how the funding, school board and community needed to come together.

You can hear the first hour today, Wednesday, March 29th at noon and 8:00 pm on 88.5 FM. The second hour will be broadcast next Wednesday, April 5th at the same times.

N.B. Wednesday Night. In case you missed the broadcast. A kind reader passed along the following in the comments section:

"The first hour will be archived online here, and the second hour, to be broadcast next week, here (this link won't work until next week)."

Friday, March 24, 2006

American Patriots

I was on my way home from New York City. It was well after midnight and I was Southbound on the New Jersey Turnpike. I pulled in at the Joyce Kilmer service plaza for a soda and some peanuts to stave off drowsiness.

I was standing in line at the little convienence store behind a very young soldier in desert fatigues and jump boots. He had an armful of junk food and sodas. He looked barely old enough to shave. In front of him at the checkout was a sixtyish man and his wife.

The older couple were just about to pay for their things when the man turned to the cashier and said to the clerk, "Ring up this soldier's things too."

The young soldier protested and said, "That's not necessary sir."

The older man said, "Son, I want to thank you for what you are doing. I never had the opportunity to serve. But I'm proud of what you guys are doing. Let me pay for this. It's the least we can do."

The young soldier was visibly shaken. But he got out a quick, "Thank you, sir."

Then the older guy shook his hand and said, "Thank you, be safe, and God bless you." And then he and his wife walked back out into the night. The soldier gathered his bag of junk food and walked out to the highway towards his life too.

The clerk and I smiled and tried to ignore each other's tears as I paid for my peanuts.

Two American patriots just met for the first time on a New Jersey turnpike. A generation apart in time, but brothers in spirit.

Monday, March 20, 2006

City Election Results

TURNOUT - 827 voters out of 11,600 registered or 7.1%

Craig Moe 686

*At - Large*
Holland 309
Leszcz 466

*Ward 1*
Levin 388
Robison 493
Snyder 445

*Ward 2*
Sarich 521
Smalls 483
Whitley 291

*Mayor Salary to $20,000*
Yes 558
No 111

*Council Salary to $7,500*
Yes 578
No 188

Rick Wilson

Sunday, March 19, 2006

10,800 voters cited for criminal negligence in Laurel, MD

There are over 12,000 registered voters living in our fair city. During each of the last three city election opportunities in 2000, 2002 and 2004, only 1204 people voted at least once. Only three hundred “super voters” participated every time. A criminally low 10% turnout.

I don’t understand why more citizens can’t find 15 minutes to vote. City elections are important. They determine which candidates will write our local laws and execute the city’s business. Laws that could raise or lower your property taxes. Laws that determine if a police officer promptly responds to your call. Laws that maintain your quality of life in so many ways.

The shenanigans in Annapolis and Washington attract swarms of reporters. They steal our attention. Almost 9000 city residents voted at least once, over the three state-wide election cycles in 2000, 2002, and 2004.

State-wide elections are important too. But their impact on your life is remote compared to that pothole in front of your house, the neighbors down the street that collect huge storage containers and junk cars, and controlling crime in your neighborhood.

I hope you can find the time to vote tomorrow. Nine courageous people have asked you to vote for them. They are not officials who live and work far away. They are your neighbors. They will return your calls.

The polls at the Phelps Center on Montgomery Street open at 7:00 am and close at 8:00 pm. Our election judges are quick and efficient. They are well known for giving voters big hugs and pinching cheeks.

Now, set your alarm clock and vote on MONDAY. It will only take a few minutes. Voting will help you lose weight, regrow hair in your bald spots, kill weeds in your yard and improve your odds of winning the lottery. At least that's what a candidate told me....

Thanks again for reading and participating in the conversation here at Connections. I hope you have found it useful. Watch this space for the all the election results on Monday night.

Warmest Regards,


Friday, March 17, 2006

Mike Leszcz - Candidate for At -Large

1. Who are you?

Mike Leszcz, incumbent Councilman At-Large. My wife and I have lived in Laurel since 1972, raising our children on Prince George Street where her family has resided since 1933. I began my service to the residents of Laurel in the 1970's when I was asked by the Mayor to serve on the City of Laurel Planning Commission, where I served as a Commissioner until I was elected to the City Council in 1996. I've also served our community on school and charitable organizations, and other boards and committees in the city as well as with the county and state. I've been married for 36-years to my wonderful wife Mary Eileen. Our daughters call Laurel and Savage home, although our son is drawn to the water, so he resides in Edgewater.

2. Why do you want the job of Laurel council member at this time?

I have had the honor of serving the citizens of Laurel for 5-terms on the City Council and wish to continue to work for the residents of our community.

3. What are the three most important things you want to accomplish if (re)elected?

Continued emphasis on: (1) an improved fiscal position of the City’s Pension Plans for our City staff; (2) efforts with County, State and Federal officials to implement improvements to existing road and transportation systems to minimize and mitigate the effects of externally-generated pass-through traffic flow: and (3) economic development/redevelopment that provides a balance of retail, office and residential opportunities for our residents.

4. What is your vision for Laurel ten years from today?

A place where all residents realize it is not just living somewhere, it is living somewhere special, Laurel.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Gayle Snyder - Candidate for Ward I

1. Who are you?

Gayle Snyder, Ward I incumbent. My family has lived in Laurel for almost 100 years. I went to Laurel schools and now live in the house on Prince George Street where I grew up. I am an Executive Assistant at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory where I have been employed for 28 years. I have served as the Chairman of the Historic District Commission, Chairman of the Laurel Civic Improvement Committee, serve on the Laurel Tree Board, member of the Maryland Municipal League, Laurel Historical Society, Laurel Board of Trade, and the First United Methodist Church. I am married to the Laurel Postmaster and have 2 sons.
2. Why do you want the job of Laurel council member at this time?

After serving my first term, I want to use the experience, knowledge, and contacts I have gained to continue my service to Laurel residents. I look forward to the opportunity to participate in the challenges facing Laurel residents and businesses.

3. What are the three most important things you want to accomplish if re-elected?

I want to continue the work I have been doing on all the employees' retirement plans and benefits, not focusing on just one group. I believe that all our city employees are essential to making our city run so efficiently; much has been mentioned about our Police Department. What about our Public Works? I am proud to live in the Historic District. I want to make sure our heritage remains one of our greatest assets.

4. What is your vision for Laurel ten years from today?

I want it to be a safe beautiful thriving city with a lovely Main Street, a busy Mall, beautiful parks. Laurel will be THE place people will want to raise their families, do business, and spend their leisure time.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Dennis Whitley - Candidate for Ward II

1. Who are you?

8137 Fenwick Court
Laurel, Maryland 20707

I am a life long resident of Prince George’s County. I graduated from Suitland High School in 1989, Morgan State University in 1993 and Rutgers Law School – Newark, New Jersey in 1996. I am currently an attorney in a private practice with 10 years of experience in land use and litigation at Shipley & Horne, P.A. I am also the attorney representing Ward 2 citizens in opposition to the Bozzuto apartment project. Additionally, I am a Peer Review Member on the Attorney Grievance Commission, a Pro Bono Attorney for the Law Foundation of Prince George’s County and an Alternative Dispute Resolution Mediator for the District Court of Prince George’s County, Maryland.

I currently live in the Ashford community, where I have lived since 2003. I am also a member of the Ashford Board of Directors and chair its planning and zoning committee. As a graduate of the County’s public school system, an experienced land use and zoning attorney and a community activist, I will bring a different perspective and skill to the Council’s deliberations and decisions.

2. Why do you want the job of Laurel council member at this time?

The City of Laurel has always been a wonderful place to live, but it is at a crossroad. With the proper guidance from its elected officials the City can continue to thrive as a great place to live, work and play. However, without the proper guidance the City can become a place: 1) overrun with development, 2) hampered by poor ineffective public schools and 3) protected by underpaid discontent police officers. I want the job of Laurel council member at this time to ensure that the Laurel of today and tomorrow is the same wonderful place as the Laurel of yesterday. Moreover, I want the job because I believe I have the experience, the education and the temperament to help lead the City at this crucial time in its history. My experience as an attorney has provided me the opportunity to work with other municipalities in resolving many of the same issues, and it is this experience that I believe separates me from the other candidates running in Ward 2.

3. What are the three most important things you want to accomplish if (re)elected?

Three of the cornerstones of my campaign are 1) increasing safety, 2) improving public education and 3) making land use decision that benefits the City. These are also the three most important things I would like to accomplish if elected. Specifically, I would like to make the City a safer place by retaining experienced and fairly compensated officers and providing officers with state-of-the-art equipment and facilities. Additionally, I would improve public education in the City by working with elected County and State officials for increased funding and controlling residential development to ease the overcrowding problem. Lastly, I would make land use decisions that benefit the City. In particular, I would only approve development that encourages smart growth principles and require developer funded CIP projects addressing citizen’s concerns as a condition of approval.

4. What is your vision for Laurel 10 years from today?

My vision for Laurel 10 years from today is simple, a city that is a great place to live, work and play. I want Laurel to be a place where people of all income levels can live in comfort. The City should include million dollar estate homes, high quality one bedroom apartments and everything in between. My vision of Laurel for 10 years from today also has employment opportunities for the individual with the Ph.D. in biology and the teenager looking for their first job. The City has to create a pro-business environment that encourages investment by both Fortune 500 companies and small businesses alike. Finally, my vision of Laurel for 10 years from today has restaurants with linen tablecloths, where parents can celebrate an anniversary alone, a new Cineplex where a family can enjoy the latest Disney cartoon and a ecologically viable Laurel Lakes. It is extremely important that the City has places within its borders for its residents to eat, shop and entertain. Having vibrant entertainment options in the City not only provides a sense of community, but it also adds to the tax base and creates jobs.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Frederick Smalls - Candidate for Ward II

1. Who are you?

Frederick Smalls incumbent Ward II. My family and I have lived in Laurel since 1986. I began my service to the residents of Laurel in the early 90's as a member of the Belle Ami Condominium Association Board of Directors' serving 6-years as president. During that same period I also served as PTA president at Scotchtown Hills ES, and coached boys basketball and baseball with the Laurel Boys and Girls club. I've served on several boards and committees in the city as well as with the county. I've been married for nearly 20-years with 3 of my 5 daughters calling Laurel their home.

2. Why do you want the job of Laurel council member at this time?

I have served 2-terms on the City Council and wish to continue my service to the residents of our community.

3. What are the three most important things you want to accomplish if (re)elected?

Continued improvements to the employee benefits plan particularly focusing on our retirees; work to improve traffic flow in and around the City; work for more balanced growth in the City while preserving the City's heritage.

4. What is your vision for Laurel ten years from today?

A City that has a sense of place. Having achieved a balance between a thriving medium sized municipality while preserving the "hometown" feel that drew many of us to the City.

Monique Holland - Candidate for At Large

I've invited all of our 8 council candidates to answer 4 interview questions. Today's candidate is At-Large challenger Monique Holland. Please feel free to use the comments section to ask her additional questions.

1. Who are you?

Monique L. Holland
14614 Farnham Lane
Laurel MD 20707

I am a Ward 2 resident who has resided in Laurel for 5 years. I am a 40 year old mother to 4 children and a wonderful and supportive husband. I am a Vice President with CW Capital in Washington DC whose primary responsibility includes evaluating the operations of commercial property owners and directing them on running efficient and viable operations. I grew up in Dundalk Maryland and between my grandparent’s tobacco farm in North Carolina. I am active on Laurel High School’s PTSA Executive Board and I am on the Concessions Committee selling snacks at games. I am on the Advisory Board of the Villages at Wellington Community Association and on the Social Committee. I personally enjoy gardening, watching old westerns, soccer, baseball and visiting with family and friends. My faith in GOD is the foundation of my life and directs my path.

2. Why do you want the job of Laurel Council member at this time?

I believe that I could become instrumental in helping Laurel maintain its small town feel while at the same time addressing the most important concerns of its residents. I will promise to always listen to the residents, respect their opinions and most importantly respond. I believe I can be effective in bringing the residents together and in being a team player with the Council to resolve the concerns you have that face this City. I will take the time to analyze, research and evaluate all decisions that are made for the good of the community. I see areas of improvement in the use of technology, recordkeeping and in nepotism. My view is that every great corporation looks for a variety of leaders who all bring unique talents and strengths to help the company stay viable and grow. We have to ensure that we are maximizing every dollar earned and being smart in the way we spend your tax dollars.

3. What are the 3 most important things you want to accomplish if elected?

Focus on proper management of development and land use issues. Allow public infrastructure to catch up with development This includes roads, services and response time for residents; adequately equipped schools that are magnets to learning; and smart economic growth for our city (to include the proper business mix along Main Street).

Public Safety – working to have a first rate fire/rescue, police and public works department. Retention of all our staff is key to our stability. The most pressing need is addressing the concerns of the police department, to include technology which could help improve efficiency and by approving collective bargaining and the DROP Program.

Work as a partner with our neighboring schools and recreational department. We need to lobby and work as a partner with the County to get more of our tax dollars for Laurel’s aging high school. We can no longer accept inadequate lighting, aging library and a football field that is ill-equipped for games forcing the school to utilize the fields of neighboring schools. We have first rate middle and elementary schools but then our high school lands on the list for failing to meet the yardstick for “No Child Left Behind”. Our best and brightest kids go on to other high schools to include Roosevelt in Greenbelt. Recreational facilities for our kids are inadequate and we lose at-risk kids because their parents cannot afford to pay for more expensive programs offered in neighboring counties or at Fairland. As a City, we have to be at the forefront of supporting these causes.

4. What is your vision for Laurel 10 years from today?

I envision a place that while growing has managed to maintain its small town feel. The stability of Main Street is key to this. I grew up in a small town and every time I visit I feel the pulse of the City by stopping past our Main Street, looking for those unique shops to visit. Not everyone wants to shop at enjoy entertainment at an indoor or strip mall. I envision a City that is walk able, bikable and where sporting events at the local high school are well attended like those of typical great schools. We need to support our principals and educators. As far as I am concerned the success of a high school is equally as important to the viability of a Main Street. We can’t send a message to our kids as they are about to embark upon the biggest journey of their lives that we do not care.

Jhanna Levin - Candidate for Ward I

I've invited all of our 8 council candidates to answer 4 interview questions. Our next candidate response is Ward I challenger Jhanna Levin. Please feel free to use the comments section to ask additional questions.

1. Who are you?

To be somewhat brief, I am a Prince George’s County School teacher, former Main Street business owner (L & L Gifts and Gourmet) and dedicated resident.

I hold a Master’s degree in Curriculum & Instructional Development from Loyola College as well as a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

I am trained in group dynamics, mediation and developing learning communities to promote change. These are some of the vital tools that I can bring to the council.

I am energetic, full of ideas and backed with the knowledge and education to see many initiatives through to actual action. I have been studying our HDC guidelines since my father was the chairman. I have been actively engaged in the formulation of idea sharing with regards to our fair city (due to my mother’s involvement) for many years as well.

I am prepared for the opportunity to serve the needs of the city in all aspects of our livable, playable, and workable community.

2. Why do you want the job of Laurel council member at this time?

I believe that controlling change is the only way to ensure that what you care about remains safe. As Laurel moves into its next phase of change, we need a council that can change with it. A council that is accountable for their decisions now, not just “willing to fix it later”. We need a council that finds creative and new solutions to the issues that face us all throughout our culturally and historically diverse city by having done the research before coming to the table and knowing where and how to find out more. We need a council that hears and responds to citizens concerns with open and equitable minds, that has a proactive plan for the next two years, with both reservation and smart growth in mind and all the while comprehending that what we do now affects Laurel forever, a council that can work together as a team using the specific skills of each individual councilmember to write legislation, to interpret code and synthesize solutions, to make decisions that are the most fair, most knowledgeable, and most forward thinking possible.

I believe that I embody these attributes and will try my best to address the wide variety of issues that are at stake in a community filled with individuals, families, senior citizens, merchants, service providers, city employees, historical landmarks, and beautiful green space.

3. What are the three most important things you want to accomplish if (re)elected?

To start with:

Different Approach; Development: require more infrastructure upgrades and traffic/density projections. Careful consideration to resident concerns, environmental impacts and in places, our historical surroundings. We must utilize HDC & code enforcement appropriately. Look at the impacts to schools, roads, traffic, service (police, fire, rescue, public works) and existing neighborhoods. Only the most appropriate, best fit should be approved. Knowledgeable caution…………..

Police/Public Safety: Retain quality officers (experience and time to deal with public safety issues; without these officers we waste valuable time), recruit the finest, dedicated new officers (improved benefits, fixing flawed retirement program, collective bargaining), partner with federal agencies with crime – will increase resources. Inexcusable that we have ignored the inequalities within the system, projected loss of officers and failed to realize the severity of the situation.

Main Street: the current way is not getting the results possible. Hyper-focused, proven- to -show -results approach is what Main Street deserves. With strict code enforcement, a professionally managed program is an incentive that will foster good will across the community and increase revenue for the city/ business owners. Increased revenue to the city to increase output of parks and recreation, employee benefits, public safety, public works….. People respond to flourishing, vibrant economic areas filled with a good mix of shopping, eating, living and doing. Main Street has the potential of much more. This revitalization would serve as a catalyst for continued movement toward the walk able, playable, livable, work able, shop able, community centered Laurel that we all want to thrive.

4. What is your vision for Laurel ten years from today?

We have withstood the introduction of the ICC, BRAC and more Konterra. We have a flourishing Main Street served by a professional Manager whose salary is now funded mostly by grants. We see very successful businesses with both foot traffic and destination shoppers. We have a great variety of stores for customers from both Laurel and surrounding areas to come and shop. We have even more specialty shops, quaint cafes and local water holes. We have retrofitted what used to be the Laurel Mall into a mixed use property. MTA increased our train times. We are a walk able, eatable, livable, workable community that touts both a historically preserved area and a thriving commercial area. We have maintained green space and open space (allowing for parks to continually improved upon, dog parks, recreational initiatives to be improved upon and environmental concerns proactively). We have a new Senior Center and fixed/ improved upon our Boys & Girls Club. Our officers were successfully retained, causing us to show a record decrease in crime. Need I continue? However, with all that said, we are still Laurel. Still a great place to raise a family. We are still a city steeped in history and lore. We’ve ironed out more kinks and made good decisions that affect the years to follow. We took chances and tried new ideas. We are still a small town trapped in the body of a medium sized city, we just figured out how to finally be comfortable in our new clothes.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Main Street Manager Survey Interim Results

Please be sure to see the comments section for a simply amazing
dialogue. -grw 15 Mar 0845

WoW! The opinions are flying. This is obviously an important issue for many Laurelites. There has been so much activity that I can't keep up. Be sure to see the comments section of the previous post on the Main Street Manager. There is a rapidly growing dialogue found there.

I've included the survey results below from 33 people who took the time to participate. There is plenty of insight in the open essay answers below. Well worth the time to read through it all.

Please send the survey URL to your friends and neighbors: I'll leave it open for new folks to respond until next weekend.

Thanks to all the voters, merchants, public officials, candidates and everyone else that is participating in the Laurel Connections blog experiment. We have reached a milestone of over 1000 visitors this weekend and almost 2400 page views.

It is obvious that this kind of forum provides a new kind of front porch or back fence for us to discuss local issues. Thanks also to everyone who sent kind words. I'm very happy to facilitate, but it's all of you that are making this experiment so successful.

Best Regards,


Results as of 14March 2006 8:00 pm (41 participants)

Question 1: I am:
a Main Street business owner. 9.8% 4
a resident of the city of Laurel. 63.4% 26
both a business owner and a resident. 14.6% 6
neither a Laurel city resident nor a business owner. 4.9% 2
Other (please specify) 7.3% 3
1. curious person
2. former business owner, current resident
3. resident and a non-main street, non retail business

Question 2: Do you support the idea of a Main Street Manager for Laurel?
Yes 65% 26
No 35% 14

Question 3: How should the Main Street Manager position and operating expenses be paid for?
Laurel city taxpayers should pay for the manager. 16.1% 5
Main Street businesses should pay for the manager. 29% 9
The city taxpayers and the business owners should split the cost. 45.2% 14
Other. 9.7% 3
1. it should initially be rolled out by the city with a split as it progresses
2. City & business should split it but more like 75-25 at first.
3. don't need

Question 4. If you support the idea of a Main Street manager, please indicate your opinion about how they should spend their time.
The numbers below should be interpreted in this order:

Strongly Disagree/Disagree/No Opinion/Agree /Strongly/Agree/Average
Coordinating the Main Street merchant's opening and closing times.
8% (2) 23% (6) 27% (7) 35% (9) 8% (2) 3.12
Ensuring proper signage to simplify finding stores and parking.
0% (0) 4% (1) 7% (2) 56% (15) 33% (9) 4.19
Developing and distributing marketing and promotional materials.
0% (0) 0% (0) 8% (2) 38% (10) 54% (14) 4.46
Developing and coordinating a unifying brand identity for Laurel's Historic Main Street.
0% (0) 0% (0) 28% (7) 24% (6) 48% (12) 4.20
Developing and managing promotional events (festivals, sidewalk sales, ...)
0% (0) 0% (0) 4% (1) 48% (13) 48% (13) 4.44
Operating a Main Street information center.
0% (0) 12% (3) 20% (5) 44% (11) 24% (6) 3.80
Attending conferences and other venues to promote Laurel's Historic Main Street.
0% (0) 4% (1) 19% (5) 37% (10) 41% (11) 4.15
Writing grants for additional funding and resources.
0% (0) 4% (1) 4% (1) 26% (7) 67% (18) 4.56
Helping merchants successfully interact with city, county and state governments.
0% (0) 4% (1) 11% (3) 26% (7) 59% (16) 4.41

Total Respondents 27

5. (OPTIONAL) What other activities do you think are either important for or should be avoided by a Main Street manager?

1. The Main Street Manager should avoid City/County/State Politics entirely.

2. There could be a place in the manager office building or outside it to post jobs available, apartments for rent, real Estate for sale, Specials or sales going on on main street only.

3. The choices in #4 hit on many of the major duties of a Main Street Manager. The Manager should be the advocate for Main Street businesses and residents.

4. The Main Street manager program is not designed to impede on the individual business owners within there place of business. They are there as a resource, an advocate, a marketing/PR guru, a coordinator, a cheerleader, a guide..... They would be the "go to person" on all Main Street issues. They would be the lead on attracting new business to MAIN STREET. They would also be implementing the approach that is laid out by the Maryland Main Street Program to begin to return the economic viability that our street needs.

5. I don't feel like the businesses in Laurel need someone telling them how to run their business.

6. We DON'T need any more nail or hair shops, or thrift stores. We DO need shops and services that residents of the historic district would use weekly and can walk to, that would also attract shoppers from other areas. A video store, bakery, ice-cream shop, a coffee house that's actually open long enough for an after-dinner "night-cap," etc. The mangager should oversee a survey of residents to see what buinesses they would likely visit frequently, and then the CITY should PAY INCENTIVES (or rather offer tax BREAKS) for a few years to the top "most wanted" business that have user-friendly hours, using GRANT or TAX DOLLARS. Yes, we'd all be "eating" those costs for a little while, but a revitalized Main Street will make for a strong retail economy in the long run. Visit Ellicott City for a great example.

7. Bringing in new business that the community can and desires to support, but at the same time, businesses that preserve the 'old town' feel of the city.

8. Should serve on the Historice District Commission. Shouldn't micro-manage the businesses on Main St.

9. Absolutely NOT funded by any tax money

10. business recruiting and retention, dealing with our absentee landlords.

11. Help merchants when their business is in trouble. They should have suggestions for them, this is part of their job.

12. Make sure all the buildings meet the historic standards and that the businesses are appropriate for 'the historic' district. Clean up the appearance of Main Street and ensure that the area doesn't look shabby

Question 6. Why are you opposed or under what conditions would you support a Main Street manager?

1. Thank you for allowing me to take the survey.

2. This is the same thing that Sarich guy said last election and has done nothing about it.

3. The Main Street Manager should be reasonable local (not necessary Laurel Citizen). Will need to work well with City Departments and Agencies.

4. Main Street is doing fine without a manager, I know how to run my business.

5. Why Main Street and not the other commercial areas? Would the Mall have been saved if the City had paid for a Mall Manager?

6. I would support a Main Street Manager if the person and the program followed the tenets of the Main Street Program. Also, the Manager should be as impartial as possible. Although the Admin Asst for the Board of Trade does some work that is Main Street Manager-like, this person is an employee of the Board of Trade and is therefore in a position of real or potential conflict of interest in areas such as member recruitment and events and promotions. 18 Maryland communities and 1700 communities nation wide have figured this out- how to operate successful Main Street programs. Part of the process is change. Yes, so much is done well in Laurel, there is always room for improvement. On the matter of having a program such as this "forced" on the merchants; there is a need for everyone to become more educated on the program and why it succeeds. Yes, there may not be too many vacant spaces on or adjacent to Main Streets, but there are struggling merchants, some making it only from month to month. In addition, Main Street merchants are a more diverse group than ever before. Perhaps the old approach works well for Main Street of 3 or 5 years ago, but the merchants I have spoken with are ready for cooperation and collaboration with each other.

7. History of business owners on the street, particularly in self-management, strongly indicates that they may not be good subjects for "management." I agree with you that government has no business running private for-profit entities -- however, if it was going to try, the Mall might be a better place to start. Give the new owners time to renovate, then have the city take over management? Whadayathink?

8. No need

9. We have other areas of retail etc. in the City. Maybe instead of just Main Street we need someone to draw business to the whole area.

10. If you what real economic development the city should create a department that serves the entire city. The commercial areas need an aggressive plan to max out potential. What does not fit on Main St. might belong in another section of town or vice versa ,if the manager is only focused on Main St. opportunity will slip away quickly. Before any manager is considered the Main St. groups need to have their act togetherBy the way which group actually represents the businesses on the St and which group as the most Main St. investment??

11. will the manager unite the multitude of groups on mainstreet? why is it not the individual businesses that work to bring their customers to the street? why are you focusing on mainstreet and not including ALL small business in Laurel? (such as - "ma & pa" - qualify small business by number employees) mainstreet may be a nice historic draw - but it is the city's overall economy and IMAGE that is important to bring poeple to our fair locale. the energy and money spent working towards a manager would be better spent to clean and dress the city and portray us as THE place to be - despite the fact we are in PG county.

12. I like Main Street the way it is, I really don't want something new that doesn't fit in with the Historic feel of Main Street, and I'm afraid that's what a manager would push. I also don't think that the businesses should be told how to run their business.

13. For as little as $50/year, you can have a part-time paid employee of the Laurel Board of Trade do the majority of the duties of a M.S.M. Our Admin. already develops/distributes promotional materials/develops and manages promotional events/operates a Main St. info center in our office/acts as liason between government and businesses/we have a committee for grant research and one for business development. In essence, we already HAVE a Main Street Manager working within the Laurel Board of Trade.

14. Because there is nothing wrong with Main st. The businesses are doing fine. There is great mix of them filling many needs. Yes they are not open at night but that is because the owners want to go home after a hard days work. The new construction on the 300 block and parking problems are a testament to how well they are doing. A manager can only give suggestions and ask for help. A good business person can do that himself. We don't have a residential manager either. What we do have is a large, well run city government that is capable and equipped to help businesses and residents in any way they need. One more person at $ 5 0 , 0 0 0 per year is not needed. It is easy to say that it will work, but to me, it is a n expensive gamble. The four point approach says nothing. Design will only happen if the building owners want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their building. Organization is already in place (board of trade, friends, chamber of commerce, etc. Promotion, we have an information technology office , cable channel, festivals, and more. Economic Restructuring is already happening, just look at the many various shops and new construction. It might be a good idea, if it were needed.

15. Do you have any idea how much this would cost? Who is going to pay the bill? More taxes? A special assessment on Main Street property owners and business owners? Hasn't anyone noticed that real estate assessments have gone through the roof lately, as have other operating expenses such as insurance bills and utilities. Why is this an election year issue? How many successful Main Street business people support the Main Street manager concept? There are a lot more questions than answers. The current Mayor, key staff, and Council members have exhibited tremendous leadership in recent years to reinvigorate the entire City tax base in a responsible manner. A Main Street manager is not needed. Hopefully this idea will fade away again after the municipal elections.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

A Manager for Laurel's Historic Main Street?

The Main Street Manager idea is the hot debate around our fair city this weekend. There are strong opinions for and against it. The candidates gave their positions at last Wednesday's forum in two flavors; some were for it and others were "not opposed" to it. I'm not sure how they plan to vote "not opposed" on an ordinance.

I support a Main Street manager for Laurel. But I also strongly believe that the merchants should pay for it. There are just some things that governments are not good at, like managing for-profit commercial endeavors. Giving a government the responsibility for managing a commercial business district is like giving a case of beer and a Corvette to a group of teenagers. It might work out fine, but it's mighty risky for all.

But I'm much more interested in what you think, so I've created another quick survey. It should only take you two minutes and I'll post the results here for all to see.

Click here to take the Main Street Manager survey:

Friday, March 10, 2006

Mike Sarich - Candidate for Ward II

I've invited all of our 8 council candidates to answer 4 interview questions. Our next candidate response is two-term Ward II incumbent Mike Sarich. Please feel free to use the comments section to ask additional questions.

1. Who are you?

First, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to learn more about the candidates for Laurel City Council.

Briefly; I am a lifelong Laurel resident, a St. Mary’s and Pallotti alumnus, Gulf War era Veteran (first), and a small business owner. I hold a bachelors with honors coursework in Political Science and a Masters Degree in Public Policy from the University of Maryland. I’ve held internships in the Irish Parliament and US Government agencies. Currently, I am honored to be serving my second term on the Laurel City Council.

2. Why do you want the job of Laurel council member at this time?

While a great deal has been achieved over the last four years, much more work needs to be done. I believe the next Council will be a “Council of Change” by becoming more responsive to citizens and businesses needs. To make this happen, I need your support on March 20th.

3. What are the three most important things you want to accomplish if (re)elected?

a. Correction of the flawed DROP program (this is the program that in my view discriminates against police officers by making their eligibility date for participation 5 years after their regular retirement date). We can not afford to have a system that divides our City employees and creates ill-will among them.

b. The continuation & amplification of programs to return the Lakes to ecological viability. Over the last four years we’ve enacted shoreline stabilization, Geese Police, increased code enforcement, and other programs in order to help the Lake. More work is coming and the prognosis is promising.

c. I will work to bring a Main Street Manager to our historic Main Street. There seems to be consensus from all candidates (excepting one At-Large incumbent) that Main Street needs someone to “Live, Sleep, Eat, and Breathe Main Street Business.” It’s time to put the studies aside and take action. If I’m reelected, I will make sure that this next Council will be a Council of actions, not words.

For more information on any of these three core goals, please email me @

4. What is your vision for Laurel 10 years from today?

My hometown has grown dramatically throughout my life. In ten more years I envision a livable, more walkable community. Streets with bike lanes, a vibrant Main St., and a city filled with Smart Growth development are all realistic goals for the next ten years.

In my vision, Laurel will continue to be a place where people can live in affordable, high-quality housing. A place where people can work in high-quality, rewarding careers. And a place where people can play near a clean lake, participate in fun recreation leagues, and enjoy living in a historic town.

Of course, your support in the coming election is critical to helping me make this vision a reality. So please, come out and vote on March 20th, I’m looking forward to seeing you and remain grateful and humbled by your continued support.

Mike Sarich
Laurel City Councilman
Ward II

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Jan Robison - Council Candidate for Ward 1

I've invited all of our 8 council candidates to answer 4 interview questions. Our first candidate is two-term incumbent, Jan Robison.

1. Who are you?

Janis Robison
915 Montgomery Street
(H) 301-776-3026
(C) 301-580-2167

2. Why do you want the job of Laurel council member at this time?

This would be my third term on the Council. Experience at this time is so important and I have that experience. I’d like to see some of the programs we have started continue as well as see some of them finish, like the Senior Center. I’d also like to continue the work we have done on our emergency preparedness as well as continuing to educate our citizens on how they can help by being prepared themselves. The drop program needs some refining and I’d like to see an incentive program for the employees like the one offered to the Police.

3. What are the three most important things you want to accomplish if (re)elected?

Keeping our police force fully staffed and possibly adding some officers. Refining the Drop program. Preserve our Old Town area to show where we have come from and have the newer areas show where we are going. Neither area being more important that the other.
I’d like the neighborhoods to be safer by slowing the traffic down and finding a way to stop so much “cut through traffic”

4. What is your vision for Laurel 10 years from today?

I’d like Laurel to be what it always has been “The Jewel On The Patuxent”. I’d like Laurel to be the city that when someone’s says Prince George’s County they think Laurel what a great place. If a City or area has a problem I want them to think “let’s check with the City of Laurel” and see how they handled this we can’t go wrong following their lead. I want what I have always wanted; what is best for the City of Laurel and the people who live here.

Candidate Interviews

I have been disappointed in recent years at the meager turnout for city elections. The pace and complexity of modern living and working is grueling for many Laurelites. The local newspapers have limited space for campaign information. People are often too busy to get to know either the issues or the candidates well. We need a new kind of front porch or backyard fence to get to know one another and to learn what is going on around town.

I purposely set out during this Laurel election season to offer an electronic forum for discussing important civic issues. I hope that by using hyper local web technologies like this blog and wikis, we can more easily facilitate the conversation that is so important for candidates and voters alike.

I have invited each of the 8 candidates for city council to answer 4 open-ended questions. The only requirement I have is that they limit their response to each question to 250 words or less.

Here are the questions:

1. Who are you?
2. Why do you want the job of Laurel council member at this time?
3. What are the three most important things you want to accomplish if (re)elected?
4. What is your vision for Laurel 10 years from today?

I'll be posting the candidate responses to the interviews as I receive them. Be sure to add your own questions and comments. Hopefully the candidates will use this blog to continue the dialogue.

There is also a candidate forum tomorrow, Wednesday 8 March 2006, at 7:00 pm at City Hall.

The Laurel municipal election will by held on MONDAY March 20th, 2006 at the Phelps Center, 701 Montgomery Street from 7am to 8pm. See the city election page for voter information."

"Any man who knows all the answers most likely misunderstood the questions." -Anon.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Survey Says ...

The early results are in and you could knock me down with a historical feather. The survey is NOT scientific, however, it has generated some very surprising results.

The 59 people who responded were not interested in building swimming pools, senior centers, police stations or affordable housing. A whopping 82% were either not interested or had no opinion about reducing taxes! Among their top priorities were reducing crime, slowing growth, enhancing emergency operations/public safety, and ensuring quality commercial development. Reducing crime is by far your top concern with 92% of the respondents saying that crime is a high priority.

Here are the detailed results of the survey so far.

Ward 1 respondents dominate the survey in the same way they do in the election. 63% of the respondents said they live in ward 1. Only 4% live in ward 2. 15% aren't sure which ward they live in. 17% of the respondents live outside the city. 71% intend to vote in the city election.
N.B I hope the fine folks in ward 1 email the survey address to their friends in ward 2. You do have friends in ward 2 don't you? For those of you who are looking for a home in the city, see the Museum Row post below.

The numbers in () below show the number of respondents and first number is the percentage of respondents who answered the question. Red text indicates low priority, black text is for no opinion and green text is for high priority. The final number in each row can range from -10 to +10 and indicates the aggregate score combining the number of people and their scores together. Larger negative numbers indicate a lower priority response. Higher positive numbers indicate a stronger high priority response.

Updated Survey Stats Coming Soon. The highest and lowest priorities have not changed (59 Respondents so far!)

Building new city swimming pool:
60% (32), 30% (16) , 9% (5), -5
Building new senior citizens center:
42% (21), 26% (13), 32% (16), -1
Making Laurel more friendly for walking and biking:
15% (8), 10% (5), 75% (30), 6
Slowing growth -> improving infrastructure:
13% (5), 18% (7), 68% (26), 6
Cleaning up Laurel Lakes:
22% (9), 25% (10), 52% (21), 3
Increase delivery of services online (e-gov):
33% (12), 36% (13), 31% (11), 0
Attracting quality multi-family housing :
32% (12), 34% (13), 34% (13), 0
Stricter property code enforcement:
14% (5), 27% (10), 59% (22), 5
Enhancing public transportation:
32% (12), 32% (12), 35% (13), 0
Reducing crime:
2% (1), 5% (2), 92% (37), 9
Supporting Main Street businesses:
21% (8), 11% (4), 68% (26), 5
Enhancing municipal beauty:
19% (7), 28% (10), 53% (19), 3
Enhancing culture & arts opportunities:
32% (12), 24% (9), 45% (17), 1
Enhancing emergency operations & crisis mgt:
14% (5), 16% (6), 70% (26), 6
Increasing youth activities:
22% (8), 35% (13), 43% (16), 2
Enhancing parks and recreation opportunities:
14% (5), 38% (14), 49% (18), 4
Increasing opportunities for citizen involvement:
16% (6), 42% (16), 42% (16), 3
Reducing traffic congestion:
19% (7), 19% (7), 62% (23), 4
Enhancing road maintenance:
18% (7), 24% (9), 58% (22), 4
Building new police facility:
30% (11), 38% (14), 32% (12), 0
Attracting quality single family housing:
32% (12), 19% (7), 49% (18), 2
Preserving Laurel's historic structures & ensuring historically appropriate development:
23% (9), 15% (6), 62% (24), 4
Enhancing coordination with county, state & federal governments:
8% (3), 36% (13), 56% (20), 5
Creating stronger neighborhoods:
21% (8), 26% (10), 53% (20), 3
Reducing municipal property taxes:
47% (18), 34% (13), 18% (7), -3
Ensuring quality commercial development:
11% (4), 14% (5), 76% (28), 7
Increasing voter participation:
13% (5), 32% (12), 55% (21), 4
Enhancing public safety services:
8% (3), 22% (8), 70% (26), 6
Increasing affordable housing:
36% (14), 33% (13), 31% (12), -1

Some respondents offered their own issues for the candidates consideration as follows:

  • Attract store that sell the same products the same chain sells in other areas (Hechts, Giant, etc)
  • Community involvement within Laurel High School to improve safety and reputation.
  • They should follow policies already in place, or vote to change them. Ignoring them, and citizens who make comments to support them is less than impressive. There should be less kowtowing to developers. Just because somebody wants to build doesn't mean they should be allowed to do whatever he wants. Developers should be required to follow HDC guidelines, for example, instead of submitting plans that do not take them into account.
  • There is a huge drug and prostitution problem on the Route 1 corridor that no one seems to be looking at, I don't understand why the Laurel Police can't work with a Fed agency to take care of this problem. Also, Laurel Police are known for not showing up for court hearings, I would like the Council to make that a priority with the new Police Chief. I witnessed an accident showed up twice for the court hearing, but the police never showed up so the drunk driver got off on a technicality. Is that really the kind of police work we want in our town?
  • Don't let Verizon put ugly things on the telephone poles all over the city, especially in the Historic District.
  • Take a lead in giving our business and civic community a single voice - appoint a council member to act as a facilitator of the merging of The Friends of Laurel's Historic Main Street and the Board of Trade. Appoint a Main Street Manager. The time for a Main Street Manager (who could also focus on Rt 1) has come as well as participating in the Maryland Main Street Program. Code and sign enforcement should be a priority for the historic district. Owners complain about declining business but do little or nothing to improve the appearance of their property. The idea of treating every part of Laurel the same is just an excuse for not focusing on Main St and the historic district. Other MD towns have gotten past this excuse and provincialism and have decided to make preservation and their historic districts a priority. Yes, Laurel has its own identity and beauty and we should all be working hard to preserve it. Lastly, business groups in other municipalities have come together with the support of their Mayor and Council. It is also time for Laurel to have one united business group- speaking as one voice and working and planning to make Laurel a better place.
  • As citizens of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, City should be requiring use of Low Impact Development techniques in all new development/re-development projects to reduce run-off into the Patuxent and the Bay.
  • Integrated and Coordinated Transportation. -Pedestrian Safety crossing Route 1. Please don't wait for someone to be killed at the Main Street intersections, let's put in a pedestrian bridge or tunnel to the train station -A Riverfront Park System Coordinated with Howard and Anne Arundel Counties. Paths, bikeways to Patuxent Wildlife North Tract, etc.
  • Eliminate violent crime, but not creating hysteria about victimless business like the strip club. That's sensationalism in politics. Encourage citizen participation, and voting, but telling folks how to vote, but not by attacking those who exercise 1st amendment rights by speaking out. Round up the gangsters and lock them away! Zero toleration of governmental corruption.
  • Marketing the city within as well as outside the state perimeter as a great location to be in/repairing our educational system and dispelling it's bad reputation/
  • Find ways to increase local input for improving the quality of education for Laurel school students.
  • Revitalizing Laurel Shopping Center
  • Attracting high level experienced professionals and public safety people to work in the city.
  • A look at the retirement. There has not been a raise in over 10 years for those people who spent their whole lives with the City providing services.
  • Main Street, Quality shopping, movie theaters
  • Rectifying the imbalance of donations between the Laurel Vol Fire Department and the Laurel Vol Rescue Squad.

  • Saturday Afternoon Suggestions From the Survey Fill-in.
    Make the Laurel Volunteer RESCUE squad do their job.They were CREATED to run EMS transport, not to be a FIRE DEPT.The City would do well to divorce itself from pg county as much as possible. Schools and such would be better handled at the local level. Make Laurel like Balt city in this respect/
  • City has get Parks and looks very good around town the past several years. Current City Council is doing a good job.
  • Sunday Evening Suggestions From the Survey Fill-in. (We are now up to 52 respondents. The statistics have not changed significantly.)
  • Parking enforcement, people are parking any place they please and could care less about how other have to get around them. Parking Enforcement has been real bad for the last 10 years.
  • Tuesday Evening Suggestions From the Survey Fill-in Section (We are now up to 59 respondents. However the issue priorities have not changed significantly.
  • Voting in the *RESIDENT'S* best interests, not the *BUSINESS COMMUNITY'S* best interest. These are *NOT* the same thing. Businesses are here to make a *PROFIT*. Residents are here to make a *HOME*.
  • Giving Our Officiers who have been with the department for more then 7yrs a yearly bonus, not the ones who just started. We need to keep our expericenced officiers, not lose them to early retirement or higher paying departments. Where is the thanks to the officiers who have dedicated themselves to the city for say 10,15, 20 years......
  • Assisting the main street business organizations to combine to one and rename themselves so no feelings are hurt and create a united front for main street. How about the main street business association MBA?