GREENBELT – Almost one year after being elected as the county’s first female county executive, Angela Alsobrooks released her priorities on Oct. 30 that her administration will hope to achieve within the end of her first term.
In front of an audience of 100 residents at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Alsobrooks outlined size policy areas that will guide the rest of the time in office, including education, youth development, economic development, safe neighborhoods, healthy communities and quality of life & high performing government.
According to Deputy Chief of Staff John Erzen, the priorities expansive and include how the administration plans to attack directly to the county council or the Prince George’s Delegation in Annapolis. All the county’s departmental leaders were also at the event, answering questions and concerns that residents had in a question-and-answer session.
“Generally, people only see this kind of engagement when you are running for office,” Alsobrooks said. “I feel they should see you all along the way, every step you take. We continue to come out to make sure the community holds us accountable. We want to make sure that we hear from the community and they and they are aware of what’s happening in their government.”
The majority of her proposed budgets will continue to focus heavily on education. Still, with the growing amount of funds coming from the Kirwin Commission, Alsobrooks said that she hopes she can focus on other county needs as well as making students “career and college ready.”
Alsobrooks’ goal since the start of her time as the county executive is to grow the county’s commercial tax base to increase the amount of money that can be invested within the region.
According to Alsobrooks, the growth needs to be “done the right way,” which starts with a focus on growing the downtown areas to attract more businesses to come to Prince George’s.
The county executive cited the downtown areas College Park, Hyattsville, New Carrollton and Suitland as examples the county looks to be flagbearers of growing the commercial tax base. New Carrollton has already begun its growth with the additions of a Kaiser Permanente administrative building and a new office facility for Metro.
“We need to continue spreading the investment around the county,” Alsobrooks said. “We also need to make key road improvements as well, so we continue to attract businesses.”
However, part of the growth is filling in gaps that are occurring in the marketplaces. Alsobrooks confirmed that county officials expect all 11 county Shoppers locations to close by the end of next year, and her administration has already started reaching out to companies looking to invest in the county moving forward. The owners of the grocery chain, United Natural Foods, have longed been rumored to sell all their retail assets and close their stories by 2020.
The county has slowly been going away from its status as a food desert with the introductions of Lidi, Good Food Market and Whole Foods in the area in certain years.
With Shoppers closing in the area, it is vital that the county stays in its current pace and have other grocers quickly fill in the void. The county has already provided grants to shopping center owners to improve their outside appearances to attract more investment.
“It does mean we have to put skin in the game,” Alsobrooks said. “It means that the government, where it is appropriate, need to offer financial incentives for people to come and add new grocers.”
Quality of Life was attacked on two different fronts: beautification and helping older residents. The county has spent $3 million on beautification projects, including more illegal sign pickup days and the addition of the opt-in food waste collection program, which will begin later this year.
However, more needs to be done to stop a problem with stormwater structures in the southern part of the county, Alsobrooks said. Several buildings have experienced flooding problems due to global warming in parts of Brandywine and Fort Washington, which have suffered substantial amounts of rain this year.
With the county being the home of 60,000 veterans and 20% of its residents’ population considered to be seniors, improving public transportation will also be important moving forward, Alsobrooks said.
In terms of safe neighborhoods, Alsobrooks addressed her support for Prince George’s County Police Department Chief Hank Stawinski following recent reports of officer abuse and the conviction for second-degree assault and misconduct of Cpl. Stephen Downey to six months in jail for punching a handcuffed man multiple times in the face. Alsobrooks touted the drop in violent crime in the past 10 years by 50%, stating the “numbers speak for themselves.”
After addressing a question about the police during the question and answer portion, a woman continued to speak out loud in disagreement of Alsobrooks’ answer. The county executive turned around and addressed the woman, asking her to be quiet and address her directly after the event. The woman, while holding a phone in the position of recording, responded by saying, “I’m speaking to my representative.”
The woman did not address Alsobrooks after the event, but the county executive said she is not afraid to address the problems and successes of the police department. Stawinski was in attendance and sat with the rest the administration officials. Alsobrooks said that she set up the Special Prosecution Unit during her time in the State’s Attorney’s Office used to prosecute officers and was proud to see Stawinski at Downey’s conviction hearing.
“We are here because we are unafraid to address any concern that a citizen has,” Alsobrooks said. “This is a person I have worked with for eight years, and I am ready to address these concerns … He did not shy away from it, and that is how we will continue, so if there is a problem, I am accountable, and response and we are going to be transparent and honest in whatever we find.”
While the majority of the audience left satisfied with what they heard, there were still concerns. Luis Sarmiento, 18, appreciated Alsobrooks’ focus within the county’s needs. However, as a Latino resident in the county, very few topics addressed his needs and hope that moving forward, the administration does not forget the county’s Latino community.
“She is very genuine in what she is trying to accomplish in a short amount of time,” Sarmiento said.