SEABROOK — As the new year approaches and people being to reminisce on 2017, here is The Sentinel’s reflection on the Top five county stories of 2017.
- FBI Headquarters Project Cancellation
Dreams of bringing one of the largest federal government headquarters to the county came crashing down in July after the General Services Administration (GSA) cancelled the new headquarters project.
The search for a new headquarters was nearly 10 years in the making and was down to a final three sites, but concerns about funding for the project made the GSA slam the breaks. On June 29 a House Appropriations subcommittee met to discuss cuts to the 2018 appropriations bill. There, they announced a 6 percent cut, which would include reducing funds for the GSA’s new construction projects.
The decision to cancel the project stressed county leaders and Democratic leaders blamed the Donald Trump Administration and Republican congressional leaders.
However there may still be hope to bring federal agency to the county as the GSA works through a revised plan for the headquarters. County Executive Rushern Baker, III wants the GSA to pick up where it left off and said, after a recent meeting with officials from the GSA, that they are looking at all the options to move forward. The new plan is due Jan. 29, 2018.
- Liquor Board Scandal
2017 began two county liquor board officials, business owners, and legislative leaders were caught in an alleged bribery conspiracy.
Charges were laid out against William Campos, a former county councilman and General Assembly member, two liquor board members and two business owners for allegedly paying and soliciting cash bribes.
Initially just five were named in the bribery investigation and Campos pled guilty to the charges on Jan. 5. However, as the investigation continued, two more were named. Former Delegate Michal Vaughn resigned on Jan. 10 and was indicted on eight counts related to bribery conspiracy on March 8.
The liquor board scandal led to several efforts to reform the board and the appointment of Jazz Lewis to fill Vaughn’s seat. Three proposals for board reform made it before the House of Delegates and a bill passed on the last day of the session.
That bill gave the county executive power to make liquor board appointments with county council confirmation. The law also requires members to have professional experience in the field. County Executive Rushern Baker, III made his first appointments in November.
- Murder of Richard Collins, III
Lt. Richard Collins, III was with two friends on the University of Maryland (UMD) campus when a stranger attacked him. It was May 20th at around 3 a.m. and he was waiting for a ride. University of Maryland Police said Collins, III was approached by a UMD student who was screaming for the Bowie State University senior to move out of his way, but Collins, III refused. The student, Christopher Urbanski, allegedly stabbed him in the chest before fleeing. Collins, III died and County police apprehended Urbanski only 50 feet from the incident.
Collins, III was set to graduate from Bowie State just a few days later and Bowie State draped his graduation regalia over an empty seat at their graduation ceremony.
UMD police said they would work with the FBI to determine if Collins, III’s death was a hate crime due to Urbanski’s participation in a Facebook group called “Alt Reich Nation.”
Urbanski was indicted for murder on Jul. 18 and on Oct. 17 he was indicted by a grand jury for hate crimes. His trial is expected in early 2018.
- Purple Line Breaks Ground
For a while the Purple Line project in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties looked like it would never stop hitting roadblocks.
In the early 2017, state and local leaders were weary of possible federal budget cuts. In May, federal Judge Richard Leon reaffirmed the need for a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) to address the potential impact of the Metro ridership and safety issues on the possible Purple Line. The reaffirmation was a confirmation on the judge’s first decision in the civil case between a group of citizens and the Federal Transit Administration over the line.
However, in July a three-judge panel granted a stay in the case, clearing the way for the line to move forward with construction and in August federal, state, county and local leaders celebrated the ground breaking of the project and the securing of federal funds for the line.
The line will connect the New Carrollton Metro Station to the Bethesda Metro Station with 21 stops between Prince Georg’s and Montgomery counties and is expected to open in 2022.
- Graduation Rates Investigation
The high school graduating class of 2016 gave Prince George’s County Public Schools something to celebrate in early 2017. The class of 2016 marked the fourth-consecutive year of growth and a new all-time high in graduation rates for the county: 81.4 percent.
But some of the county board of education said they spoke to whistleblowers in the system that could prove graduation fraud.
In June, news of a letter from four county board of education members to the governor detailing concerns about possible grade tampering broke. They alleged widespread graduation fraud in the school system. PGCPS denied the allegations but school system quickly joined the call for an investigation.
The findings came out in November and while it found no evidence of widespread systematic graduation fraud, it did find the school system was not adhering to its own policies and did graduate ineligible students.