From the Editor: Looking back while moving forward

May 20, 2013

Photo courtesy Rebecca Bennett.

- SUSIE CURRIE -

BY SUSIE CURRIE — Between the ceiling rafters and the fresh drywall of Franklins’ new toy room lies a strip of history. The addition shares a wall with the general store, once the former home of the Hyattsville Hardware Co., and owner Mike Franklin has left exposed traces of that long-ago past: ghost signs, those fading advertisements painted on the side of a building during a  former use.

“We try to preserve whenever it makes sense,” said Franklin.

It’s a visible reminder that the future builds on the past — especially as it coincides with another sign of revitalization. The May 7 city election, as you can read in our cover story, was a watershed event that will bring six new councilmembers to the dais after the swearing-in ceremony on May 20. If their campaigns were any indication, they will bring much-needed enthusiasm, energy and engagement to council chambers.

Those who can’t remember the past, the saying goes, are doomed to repeat it. But maybe the key is deciding what to remember; perhaps it’s best for all involved if we draw a veil over the public bickering, power plays and empty chairs of the city council’s last two years.

It shouldn’t be too hard for the incoming council to make a fresh start; five of the six winners on election night were first-time campaigners, and most have lived in Hyattsville for less than five years. (The exception, Ward 2’s Robert Croslin, has amassed a variety of civic experience in his 24 years here, including two previous runs for city council.)

With Ruth Ann Frazier’s retirement, Paula Perry becomes the most senior member of the council by 10 years. She was first elected in 1999. Tim Hunt took office in 2009, then won another four-year term in the 2011 election. Candace Hollingsworth and Shani Warner were both elected in 2011.

Given that so many of the councilmembers are new to the job and many are fairly new to the city, it seems essential that the city continue the tradition of offering to send them to the annual four-day Maryland Municipal League convention, held each June in Ocean City. Yes, it’s at the beach and yes, there are plenty of evening dinners and receptions, but there are also workshops that often constitute the only training our councilmembers get. This year, for example, topics include the limits of municipal enforcement, the problem of blighted or abandoned properties, an orientation for the newly elected, and my personal favorite:  “Most Information is Public … Don’t Think It’s Not.”

Certainly no conference or workshop can transfer instant experience, but it may give attendees the tools to gather it more quickly.

Nina Faye, chair of the code enforcement advisory committee, has been civically active since she moved to Hyattsville in 1989. “Over the last two elections, we’ve lost a lot of people with deep backgrounds, who know the people and the players and the sides, who know what’s worked and what hasn’t.”

This is not to say though, that experience alone is critical.  Faye, for one, was relieved when she actually heard what the crop of candidates had to say at an April forum sponsored by Hyattsville Aging in Place. “I was very impressed with how they answered the questions,” said Faye. “I thought, ‘Now this is a great group of people.’ ”

Since many of the new councilmembers are (or soon will be) parents of young children, they are bound to visit the newest toy room in town sooner or later. Maybe, seeing the story written on the century-old wall above the clean slate of new drywall, they will remember that they, too, can keep the best of what they have inherited while building a legacy for the next generation.