Over the past few months, Howard County Councilman Guy J. Guzzone has been staging neighborhood walks in southeastern Howard, listening to residents' concerns and pledging to have them addressed in a timely fashion.
The Democratic councilman, who represents North Laurel and Savage, came up with the idea after he was elected last November.
"I've been talking about the importance of maintaining our older neighborhoods for some time," Guzzone said. "I thought that the best way was to pull people from the county departments to meet with residents. It just made sense to me."
Since July, Guzzone has called on representatives from many of the county's departments, such as public works and licenses and inspections, to join him and a small group of residents on foot as they navigate neighborhoods looking for problems that need fixing.
Five "walk-arounds" have taken place, with another planned for the near future.
Residents said they are impressed by Guzzone's initiative.
"I think what Guy is doing is a very good idea," said William B. Waff, president of the Savage Community Association, who has participated in one of the walk-arounds.
"A lot of people don't know who to call to get something fixed or done. Government can sometimes be this big thing floating out there somewhere -- so I know a lot of people are pleased with what's been happening."
Donna Thewes, a North Laurel activist, said: "I think it's great that Guy is getting the people to North Laurel that really have the pull. I am thrilled that we can point these concerns out to the appropriate people so that our needs can be better served."
The problems in the residential communities that border U.S. 1 are numerous.
In addition to cracked sidewalks and speeding, residents have complained about public safety issues such as the escalation of drugs and prostitution along the U.S. 1 corridor, near Whiskey Bottom Road.
Overgrown tree trimmed
And when someone informed officials that an overgrown tree was limiting the sight distance of Gorman Road in North Laurel, the tree was trimmed days after the walk-around. New street signs were installed on roads after it became apparent during a walk-around in North Laurel that many of the older signs had fallen into disrepair.
"I didn't want people to have to fight to get things done," Guzzone said, describing his role as a liaison between the community and government. "I want there to be a clear and easy way for residents to express their concerns."
Savage residents who have been aggressively battling speeding in their neighborhood had traffic-calming devices installed recently to force motorists to slow down.
"We were surprised at how fast things got done," Waff said. "But it's great."
Tom Flynn, president of the North Laurel Civic Association, agreed. "Apparently, he's [Guzzone] been able to get the easier things fixed up pretty quickly and has started the process of working on some of the more difficult things," Flynn said. "Things are getting done."
County officials said they relish the opportunity to meet citizens and hear from them firsthand.
"The one good thing about this is that residents get to know who we are, and they can contact us in the future if they have other problems," said Jim Rawle, a housing code administrator for the Department of Licenses and Inspections.
Unlicensed rental properties
During one of Rawle's walk-arounds, he said, residents told him about specific unlicensed rental properties in the area. He said his office is in the process of contacting the owners to ask them to register the properties.
"It's always helpful to see how things are out in the field," said Joseph W. Rutter Jr., director of the Department of Planning and Zoning. "It's good to have someone pointing these things out to us."
Guzzone said county officials have agreed to keep him and residents updated on community problems, such as prostitution and drug-dealing, that have not been resolved.