Roughshod, self-serving redistricting in Prince George's -- followed by silence

ballot_box.jpgA Prince George's resident writes: "I was appalled on Nov. 16, 2021, as I watched the Prince George’s County Council approve the Davis/Franklin map (CR-123-2021) for the new Prince George’s County redistricting lines. I watched the session late into the night as over 100 people spoke against CR-123-2021 and NO ONE spoke in favor of it (over 150 people had signed up to speak but not all of them were able to stay on the line for hours and hours).

"I was shocked that the council could so blatantly ignore the will of Prince George’s residents.

"What has also been shocking is the silence from our county executive, Angela Alsobrooks."



 

Opinion: Why Is the Prince George’s County Executive Silent About Redistricting?

By Tracy Thompson <> Maryland Matters

The writer is a resident of Prince George’s County.

I was appalled on Nov. 16, 2021, as I watched the Prince George’s County Council approve the Davis/Franklin map (CR-123-2021) for the new Prince George’s County redistricting lines. I watched the session late into the night as over 100 people spoke against CR-123-2021 and NO ONE spoke in favor of it (over 150 people had signed up to speak but not all of them were able to stay on the line for hours and hours).

I was shocked that the council could so blatantly ignore the will of Prince George’s residents. What has also been shocking is the silence from our county executive, Angela Alsobrooks.

Let’s review the events leading up to Nov. 16. Prince George’s County had created a redistricting commission to propose new redistricting lines for the county. The Prince George’s 2021 Redistricting Commission proposed its map to the council, and council members had over 10 hours to review and discuss the commission’s recommended map. In addition, there were two public hearings on the commission’s map. The county council did not complain about, or object to, the redistricting commission map which led me to believe they were satisfied with it.

On Oct. 14, County Councilmember Derrick L. Davis introduced an amended map that was a surprise to some council members and a complete surprise to the public. If you watch the video of the session, you can hear the protests and pleas from council members begging for time to review the new amended map (let’s call it the Davis map) and trying to ask questions about it.

I am embarrassed at the sneaky and disingenuous way the Davis map was introduced and how Council Chair Calvin S. Hawkins II ignored other council members’ objections and questions. During that same meeting, Chair Hawkins clearly stated that public input is an integral part of the redistricting process. I was shocked when Hawkins later called for a vote on the Davis map and it advanced 6-4 and was put on the Oct. 19 agenda with NO public input whatsoever.

The council’s actions felt shady, and they made a lie of Hawkins’ statement about how public input is integral to the redistricting process.Prince_George's_Deserves_Better.jpg

The council’s tight scheduling only gave five days (over the weekend no less) to get the word out about the new Davis map. The public barely had any time to even see the Davis map, let alone have time to study it, compare it to the commission map, see how it would directly affect their communities, and communicate their opinions to council members before the Oct. 19 session.

How was the public supposed to give feedback in just one weekend? Why were they in such a hurry to push this along so quickly? It certainly appears that they rushed the Davis map through to avoid any public input.

During the Oct. 19 session, council members spoke of receiving hundreds of emails from the public complaining about the Davis map, and there were protesters outside the College Park city hall. Despite the large volume of emails, phone calls and protests calling for the vote to be postponed so that the public could review the map, they did not postpone the vote.

Not only did they NOT postpone it, Councilmember Mel Franklin introduced an amendment to the Davis map. How can the public’s input be “integral” if our complaints and protests were acknowledged and then blatantly ignored?

The newly amended map Davis/Franklin map looks like it was a direct effort to gerrymander districts. The Davis/Franklin map gave District 1 a very unusual shape — it narrows down and looks like a leg sticking down into District 3. The Davis/Franklin map smacks of political maneuvering, and it seems like some county council members were actively interfering with candidates Eric Olson, Krystal Oriadha and Tamara Brown by moving them out of their current districts.

Based upon some council members’ actions, it seems like there were secret meetings with select council members to create maps to protect certain members from potentially difficult races. During the Oct. 19 session, the Davis/Franklin map was voted on, passed and became CB-123-2021.

Throughout this whole process, I had emailed all of the council members numerous times, but I also emailed County Executive Alsobrooks multiple times. I asked her, how was this fair? And I told her that I was confused about how elected council members could so clearly ignore the will of their constituents. I implored Alsobrooks to do something, anything, to protect the Prince George’s redistricting process.

The only responses that I got from Alsobrooks were automated emails acknowledging receipt of my emails. I also did not see any public comments from Alsobrooks against what the county council was doing; not one public statement against this surprised and rushed map.

I was confused by her silence — did that mean that she approved of the Davis and the Davis/Franklin maps? How can that be when the following statement can be found on Alsobrook’s Prince George’s County webpage: “I am committed to bringing you a government that is transparent, easily accessible and accountable to you.” How could Alsobrooks remain silent about our redistricting that was not transparent, not accessible and clearly not accountable?

The only time that the public was allowed to speak about the Davis/Franklin map was on Nov. 16 — the very same day that the county council voted on it and approved it.

County Executive Alsobrooks, my county government was NOT transparent. Having one meeting for public input does NOT equal transparent or accessible. And on Nov. 16, my county government was NOT accountable when they completely ignored the will of the residents.

I am ashamed of the new redistricting map, and it makes Prince George’s County look bad. I am disappointed that our county executive did not make any public statements about the redistricting fiasco that just occurred in our county. I am shocked that she wasn’t opposed to CB-123-2021 considering that every aspect of it violated the commitments posted on her webpage.

Her silence makes a mockery of her stated desire for a transparent, accessible and accountable government.


Published by Maryland Matters