Tuesday, August 4, 2009

More than halfway through her term as chairman of the Prince George’s County Council, Marilyn M. Bland, a Democrat, has ruffled a few feathers in the county.

Within the first two weeks of her chairmanship, the county’s police union accused the council, under Ms. Bland’s leadership, of violating Maryland’s Open Meetings Act by conducting closed meetings on Jan. 13 and Feb. 17.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89 filed the complaint on March 12, but a ruling issued June 25 by the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board disagrees with the local police union and concludes that no violation of the act occurred.

The law requires that public business be discussed in an open and public manner, allowing county residents the opportunity to observe public officials and the public policy process. Though the board’s ruling found the council to be in compliance, others still take issue with Ms. Bland’s leadership style.

Prince George’s County Real Estate Professionals for Change (PGCREPC), a relatively new and loosely knit group formed in September 2008 in the wake of the housing crisis, has butted heads with Ms. Bland in recent months over the same issue of inclusion.

“We have an issue with the direction Marilyn Bland has taken the council,” said Carl Allen, vice president of PGCREPC. “They have cut out a lot of the public-comment portion of the council meetings, and now Bland schedules and cancels meetings without giving the public proper notice. The council may abide by the Open Meetings Act in theory, but I think they certainly manipulate it.”

Ms. Bland defends her leadership style, calling herself the best chairman the Prince George’s County Council has ever had.

“I have done a superb job as council chairperson,” Ms. Bland said. “As the chairperson of the council, I understand the importance of public participation. I served on the Prince George’s County School Board, and I was one of the greatest advocates for public input. I am going into my seventh year of the county council, so I always welcome public input.”

Ms. Bland has the task of navigating the county through one of the most challenging economic times in its history. With a $2.6 billion budget for fiscal 2010 that includes an $18 million 10-day furlough for county employees, she anticipates making some “tough and unpopular decisions.”

Just as her critics are quick to speak out, her supporters are vocal as well.

Paul P. Robinson, pastor of Salvation Ministries in Brandywine, who has lived in Ms. Bland’s District 9 for 62 years, says she is doing a great job.

“She is a first-class lady as far as what she is doing with the community, especially meeting with the churches,” Mr. Robinson said. “You can really get access to her when you want or need something. That’s an important part of being a good leader.”

“I recognize the important role that I play and the impact it has on my colleagues and Prince George’s County as a whole,” Ms. Bland said.

At one point, PRGCREPC called for Ms. Bland to step down as chairman, criticizing her backing of a plan by County Executive Jack B. Johnson to build a soccer stadium using county funds for D.C. United. She eventually withdrew her support. D.C. United is considering other locations for a new home.

Mr. Allen said Ms. Bland’s initial support of the stadium was one in a string of bad decisions by her. The group maintains a presence at all open council meetings.

“I think that it is important to understand that there is a process for public participation,” Ms. Bland said. “The council has an established structure and process, and that is what we follow.”

Renee Tinsley is a writer living in Prince George’s County.

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