SEAT PLEASANT — Seat Pleasant resident and former administrative assistant for the city’s police department Jaquita Riley announced her intent to run for mayor in the next election citing mishandled funds and lack of programs for residents are her reasons for wanting to make changes in the city on July 23.
“While the City of Seat Pleasant is headed in a great direction, there is definite room for change,” she said during her announcement in a Facebook Live video.
Shortly after she made the announcement, she was fired from her job at the Seat Pleasant Police Department. However, Riley said that while she worked there, she saw things happening within the city’s government that made her want to take action.
“Me being a resident here, I haven’t seen much change within the community,” she said. “That money should be focused more on giving back to the community as opposed to your personal gain of taking trips and using this smart city platform as a reason for that.”
She alleged that taxpayer dollars were being misused for personal gain, including Mayor Eugene Grant taking personal trips and flying first class with city funds.
She further criticized his management of the city, alleging that he has been mean to employees and that most of the people who work for the city are friends of his and are inexperienced, leaving no room for progress.
The City of Seat Pleasant has taken on initiatives in recent years to become a smart city through various technology implementations. Riley disagreed with the claim that the city is a “smart city of excellence” due to the lack of programs in the city to benefit its residents.
Most of the programs within the city are done by the county’s parks and planning department, she said, but they are not expansive enough to meet everyone’s needs. She said there should be more programs for women, children and seniors.
“He may sponsor a trip to a museum or may give a senior tea every year,” Riley said of Grant’s outreach to Seat Pleasant’s seniors, “but that doesn’t benefit the community at all. He does little things as gifts for the senior citizens, but it doesn’t benefit the community as a whole.”
Instead of complaining, Riley decided she wanted to make changes within her city. However, her first intention was not to run for mayor. Not a politician in any form, she met with other residents to find out if they were interested in running but no one was willing to take on the mayor who had run unopposed for the last three terms. With that, she decided to give it a shot.
She expected there to be backlash for her decision, but she did not expect it to come so soon.
“I’m been very vocal at work, or I was very vocal at work, about things I did not approve of that the city was doing and that the mayor, particularly, was doing,” she said.
After making her announcement, she came to work the next day and found that her key did not work. The police let her into the building but said she was not allowed on the premises and escorted her back to her car.
“It was a horrible experience, I knew I was going to receive some level of backlash for it but I didn’t know it was going to be that serious,” Riley said.
“Human resources, the COO, no one contacted me to say why I was terminated. All they did was escort me to my car and said nothing. It was horrible I didn’t learn until the following Wednesday that I was terminated.” She added that no one would give her specifics as to why she was laid off.
The situation with her job has not slowed Riley down. As mayor, she said she would like to services in place in the city for women, children and youth. She would like to see outreach to men getting back into the workforce and economy, programs for young girls and boys and computer literacy for seniors.
Until then, she is starting a nonprofit called Social Butterfly to achieve some of these goals whether she becomes mayor or not.
“Change is coming,” she said. “It must come from us. I used to hear a lot of people complaining at these board meetings and stuff. No one was deciding to do anything. We as a people must step up.”
Grant did not respond to requests for comment before deadline, however, Seat Pleasant’s Intelligence Operations Center (IOC) Lead Mohamed Abdelhameid said the city is working to address some of the shortcomings Riley brought up through their smart city initiative.
“I know the community has got a 16% unemployment rate and 17% are below poverty,” Abdelhameid said. “So I do agree with that part of the assessment but that is why we are putting a lot of these programs in place to help address that.”
That includes a partnership with Prince George’s Community College for a smart cities curriculum, the implementation of 5G and a municipal broadband network and initiatives to spur investment and economic development within the city.
“The Public Engagement Department is consistently going out to engage residents to see what type of job opportunities they would like to see,” said Director of Public Engagement Sharron Lipford. “So finding the right partners in order to get them the opportunities they are specifically looking for is something that we are consistently doing as well.”