Smalls Shows Off Experience, Charges Lehman on Discrimination Case

After Mary Lehman, I approached the other leading County Council primary candidate Fredrick Smalls, the four term council member of the Laurel City Council.

In addition to answering my questions, he also added comments on his opponent Mary Lehman’s earlier response on a Laurel Church discrimination case. Please see that additional response at the end his interview.

As always, if you have further questions or comments on Mr. Small’s responses, please feel free to post them in the comment section at the end of the article.

I thank Mr. Smalls and other candidates for taking the time from their busy campaign schedule and responding to interview questions.

(1) There are five council candidates running in this year’s council election for District 1. Why do you think you are the best candidate in this crowded race?

A) I have the experience to lead; a strong desire to move the County forward; and the ability to make things happen for District 1. For more than 15-years I have been involved as a civic and community leader.  I began that service as president of my homeowner association and PTA president.    My service to the community broadened when I was elected to the Laurel City Council where I have served four two-year terms; two years as council president.  I have supported all aspects of public safety and helped bring Laurel to the forefront with my support of the first Emergency Services Commission.  I understand the priority of full staffing and modern training to ensure first-rate public safety capabilities.

Additionally, my hands-on experience with a tax-payer supported budget gives me direct experience managing tax-payer dollars.  I know the difficulty in stretching the dollar.  It is important to note that the City of Laurel has survived the weak economy better than most – and without furloughs or layoffs. I feel my experience is in areas the County needs most:  budgeting, emergency services, land use planning, and general management will contribute greatly to the future success of District 1 and our County. 

(2) One of your opponent candidate Mary Lehman enjoys strong endorsements from MD Delegate Joscelin Pena-Melnyk and Councilman Tom Dernoga. Do you feel that your campaign is weakened by these endorsements?

No.  I have equally strong endorsements from 21stDistrict Delegates Barbara Frush and Ben Barnes.  Additionally, I have been endorsed by the Washington Post, the Prince George’s County Gazette, the Prince George’s County Professional and Volunteer Firefighters, the Prince George’s County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association, and the African Leadership Empowerment Council.  All of these organizations understand my commitment to public service, my experience as an open, honest and hardworking municipal legislator and they support my vision and plan to move our county forward.

 (3) The City of College Park does not have a police service. The city residents pay nearly $1 million to hire 6 contract police officers (3 P/T and 3F/T)from the county, because the police service from the county’s regular police PGFD is not enough. If elected, what will you do to help offset such extra cost of law enforcement from local municipalities?

The real concern I have heard has been that residents feel they are paying the additional money and they are not getting the level of service they expect.  I will focus on improving communication so the police service College Park receives is more effective.   Additionally, I will work with the mayor and council to obtain Federal Homeland Security funding and use the money for additional officers.

I think the bottom line is residents and business owners want to see that the police service is effective and responsive.  If the level of service meets the needs of the community, people may not have serious issue with the cost.

(4) The current councilman Mr. Dernoga has been criticized by some for his strong stance against redevelopment in North College Park. The implementation of “form-based codes”  in the North College Park area, north of Greenbelt Road (Rt 193) has recently been blocked as part of Rt 1 sector plan. If elected, will you continue to support Mr. Dernoga’s position?

I am committed to community conscious development where the objective is to help make what lies ahead more satisfying for people living in the community. I bring 8-years of planning and zoning experience as a member of the Laurel Planning Commission.  As a commissioner I have been involved with many development and redevelopment projects and have always encouraged community input and listened to community concerns. 

I see form-based codes as one of the tools in a planning toolbox. The quality of development outcomes are dependent on the quality and objectives of the community plan that a code implements.  The US 1 Corridor Plan has very positive aspects and since it just went into effect in July I would like to give it a little time to see if it helps brings redevelopment to US 1 Corridor.

(5) Your opponent Crystal Thompson charges against you saying “Fred Smalls experience, as a city councilman, resulted in Laurel Mall and Main Street becoming run down ghost towns instead of vibrant areas that residents want to frequent.” Any comment?.

The Laurel Commons Mall is a very important project for the City of Laurel and the surrounding community.  The City has worked extensively with the Mall owners and their attorneys to assist in advancing the project.  For example, the City approved a TIF, tax increment financing,  a public financing method that is commonly used for redevelopment and community improvement projects in municipalities, to help the owner obtain needed bank financing.  Unfortunately the instability of the financial market has made it difficult for the project to move forward.  The City has and will continue to work to see this project completed as proposed.

The City has made several streetscape improvements to Main Street and will continue to work with the Laurel Board of Trade,  business and property owners to make Laurel’s Main Street a true destination stop.

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My comment re. Mary Lehman’s response to the following question– As a West Laurel resident you (along with Mr. Dernoga) strongly opposed the construction of an African American Church in your neighborhood. A Federal Judge later awarded the Church $3.7 million in a lawsuit against the county. Critics such as State’s attorney candidate Angela Alsobrooks cite this as a discrimination case. Do you regret your opposition in the case? Please explain.

First, if there were environmental concerns, those issues were addressed at the time of subdivision.  The church’s application was for a water/sewer category change and all of the requirements to attach to public water and sewer were met and there was no reason to deny the application.  It should be noted that the County Executive and the county’s Department of Environmental Resources recommended that the sewer service category for the property be changed so the proposed church could connect to existing public water and sewer lines. The County Council voted to approve the change, but later reconsidered the request and rejected it after receiving comments from councilman Dernoga.

There were statements made by the community groups in public hearings specifically saying that the community did not want this African American church coming into the community.  The Washington Post reports that “The lawsuit alleges that Dernoga acted because of pressure from constituents who “wanted to keep the perceived majority-African-American congregation” out of West Laurel. “

The Post adds, “The jury in federal court in Greenbelt that granted the multimillion-dollar award found that the county’s actions in barring the building of the sanctuary were motivated at least in part by discriminatory intent against a religious institution.”

The court correctly ruled that the actions of Chairman Dernoga and the council was illegal and biased, and if Mary Lehman supports the county in their actions then her attitudes and motives speak for themselves.