Council members, mayor sworn in at Laurel City Council meeting

Laurel Mayor Craig Moe was sworn into a third term, and newly elected and re-elected City Council members officially took office during the Monday, Nov. 28, City Council meeting.

After a formal swearing-in ceremony, presided over by Laurel resident and Prince George's County Circuit Court Judge C. Philip Nichols, the new city administration wasn't much different from the old. The council added only one new member, H. Edward Ricks, who joined re-elected Council members Frederick Smalls, Donna Crary and Michael Leszcz, and sitting Council member Valerie Nicholas, who had been appointed to her seat in June but now holds it by election to office.

Crary was elected council president, and Smalls agreed to be president pro tempore.

Ricks was elected to the Ward 1 council seat vacated by four-term Council member Janis Robison, who decided to not seek re-election because of health problems (see story, Page 4). Getting young adults involved and "interested" in city issues, and even running for office, is something Ricks said he wants to start on right away as a new council member.

"I'm excited," he said before Monday's meeting and swearing-in. "To me, it's bittersweet in a lot of ways; some things came up during the campaign and, knowing they exist in my district, I need to solve the problems," he said.

Ricks said the physical condition of the Laurel Boys and Girls Club, which came up during the contested races for mayor and at-large council seat, is one such problem.

"I'd like to work with state and county officials, who got them into this, to solve some of the problems," he said.

Ricks served on the council from 1980 to 1988, and had chaired the city's Emergency Services Commission.

"I've been there, I know what it's about, and I'm looking forward to the challenge," Ricks said.

After serving for nearly six months in office, Nicholas was equally excited at being elected to continue as a Ward 1 council member.

"It's been a wonderful experience, making things better for the citizens," she said.

In her short time on the council, Nicholas has already spearheaded legislation passed by the council that calls for the city to vigorously enforce laws that pertain to bullying — particularly among students.

At Monday's meeting, Laurel's Prince George's County school board representative Rosalind Johnson and county schools Superintendent William Hite Jr., praised the city for condemning bullying and other forms of physical abuse in schools and presented the council with a certificate.

"Schools alone can't address all issues affiliated with bullying," Hite said, adding that city governments were among stakeholders that need to "come together" to make sure students aren't victims of bullying.

New look at issues

As he begins his third, four-year term as mayor, Moe said he is driven to act on some of the issues he heard while on the campaign trail. One of the top issues is better communication between the city government and residents.

"People still aren't getting the message," Moe said.

He said he would like to mail newsletters to residents, but that it is too costly, so instead he is beefing up the city's use of technology to get the word out. Since the election, Moe has started the Laurel Mayor Journal website, which brings together news feeds about issues that affect Laurel. He also plans to have his administration hold more community meetings, at which he and various city department heads would be able to meet with community groups to address their concerns.

"I plan to look at all our current communications and make some changes," Moe said Monday before the meeting.

Moe said he also plans to look at collective bargaining for Laurel Police, something he said his administration also explored in 2009, and to have the city act more aggressively on requiring that property standards be met. The city will likely work with homeowners associations, Moe said, to help pinpoint where properties are not being kept to acceptable standards, and admits some of the problems are found in properties that have undergone foreclosure.

Moe said some of the new election laws might need tweaking, such as the number of days of early voting, and the city will keep an eye on whether the 2010 census figures will reveal a need for more wards to keep balanced demographics.

During his remarks at the council meeting, Moe listed some of the things he plans to work on during his next term, including reviewing the city's overlay zoning process; making the redevelopment of Laurel Mall "a reality"; reviewing and making necessary changes to his business grant program and working to get more shops on Main Street and the Route 1 corridor; and increasing youth programs and creating partnerships for programs with others "when it is in the best interest of those involved."

"I'd like to get more people involved in government; get others to join," Moe said.

At Monday's meeting, Moe also announced the re-appointment of city department heads, including Police Chief Richard McLaughlin; and recommended city Solicitor Robert Manzi be approved to continue in that position, which the council carried out.

Moe said the city is in pretty good health as he starts his new term, although things are still pretty tough financially. He said there is money for roads and equipment, and the city's undesignated reserve is still OK.

"We are running the government as efficiently as possible and will continue to do that," he said.

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