After more than year closed, Mount Rainier’s little library branch has re-opened. During a standing-room-only grand-opening ceremony held Jan. 27, 2020, city officials hailed the library – officially named the Karl A. Young Library after a longtime local fire chief who died suddenly – as an essential, beloved public space for the community. “This represents what we are striving for in Mount Rainier,” said Mayor Malinda Miles during the ceremony. “It speaks volumes to what a city and staff and mayor and council can do when they have partnerships.”
The library is unique in Prince George’s County that the building is owned and maintained by the city of Mount Rainier, which allows the library system to operate within.
Mount Rainier City Council approved a measure declaring county laws banning pit bulls to be the ‘lowest law-enforcement priority’ for its city police officers. The measure, approved by a vote of four-to-one at Mount Rainier’s Jan. 14, 2020, meeting, instructs the police department to “deprioritize, to the greatest extent possible” enforcement of the pit bull ban. The measure is the brainchild of freshman City Councilor Scott Cecil, who introduced the resolution in late 2019. He said the measure does not prohibit city police from taking action against an individual harboring a pit bull if a situation warranted such a citation.
Hyattsville officials now say they cannot yet share with Mount Rainier officials body camera footage its officers recorded during the events that led to the fatal 2019 police shooting of Leonard Shand.
In a statement read during Hyattsville’s Jan. 21, 2020, City Council meeting, City Administrator Tracey Douglas said she had been advised against releasing additional information on the incident until after Prince George’s County police completed its investigation into the shooting. Douglas’ statement was a response to a Jan. 6, 2020, request from Mount Rainier City Councilor Scott Cecil to see video from Hyattsville police officers on the scene of Shand’s death. Shand, 49, died after 11 officers, including six from Hyattsville, opened fire him at the end of a half-hour early-morning walking standoff that started Sept.
An internationally-renowned sculptor plans to build a unique art studio, built partially from shipping containers, in Mount Rainier. When complete, the facility will have 10 small studios for artists, gallery space and will provide access to 3D printers and laser engravers. The project, dubbed the High-cube Art Incubator Community, is the vision of Davide Prete, an Italian sculptor now living in Washington, D.C. His work has been shown at the Louvre and has been featured on PBS’ Craft in America series. The proposed studio will be located at 3602 Oak Lane, a small strip of land on Mount Rainier’s southern border. According to state property records, Prete bought the land back in 2014 for $37,500.
For the better part of a decade, Mount Rainier missed out on revenue it could have earned from the solar panels topping its City Hall, city officials revealed in passing Tuesday. That’s because the energy broker – or “aggregator” – the city worked with to sell the solar power generated from those panels didn’t have an up-to-date email address to communicate with city officials.
Hyattsville city officials say they are open to allowing Mount Rainier city officials to review video from Hyattsville police body cameras showing the events leading up to the fatal police shooting of Leonard Shand. The move comes after Mount Rainier City Councilor Scott Cecil, speaking during public comment at Hyattsville’s Jan. 6, 2019, City Council meeting, complained that Hyattsville officials had not responded to earlier requests from himself and Mount Rainier Chief of Police Anthony Morgan to review the footage, which had already been screened by Hyattsville city officials to members of Hyattsville’s City Council and to the president of the Prince George’s Count NAACP.
“Many local residents were horrified, confused and concerned by this incident. They’re looking for transparency, which is rooted in civilian oversight from each of us,” said Cecil during the meeting. “I’ve reviewed the body camera footage from our officer on two occasions and I’m left with many questions.
New revelations include confusion over the city’s administrative check-signing and credit card policies, allegations of improper credit card spending, proposals to freeze hiring or impose salary caps, and new wrinkles in the ongoing saga of the city’s now-three years of delayed audits.
Mount Rainier is planning a food truck event, perhaps as early as spring. The idea is to use the event to test demand and operational burdens for a potential food truck hub in Mount Rainier. However, the city is still working through the logistics involved with hosting a food truck hub. City officials first toyed with the idea in December 2018, but there remain significant logisitical, procedural and political challenges to address before Mount Rainier becomes a destination for vehicular restaurateurs and gormands.
Politically, the city’s brick and mortar restaurants aren’t exactly wild about the idea of a food truck hub. Representatives of the Mount Rainier Business Association aired concerns that a food truck hub could bring a competitive burden for the city’s restaurants.
“We’ve had five restaurants that have failed in Mount Rainier in the last five years, and we have three new restaurants coming up,” said Jimmy Tarlau, representing MRBA, during a discussion of food truck hubs at Mount Rainier City Council meeting Nov.
Mount Rainier has hired an interim city manager to head up the town’s administration as it looks for a full-timer to take on the role. The new city manager is Latasha Gatling, a former town councilor and, later, a town administrator for the city of Seat Pleasant and a former liason with the Prince George’s County Council. Gatling’s first day on the job is Nov. 19, 2019.
The hire was announced by Mount Rainier Councilor Celina Benitez in a Facebook post Nov. 14, 2019.
In part because the city’s financial audits are late, plans to renovate a Mount Rainier-owned building, Potts Hall, into a civic center still seem to be a long ways off, with city officials saying it will be an uphill battle to assemble the millions of dollars needed for the project.
During its most-recent City Council meeting Mount Rainier council members discussed the proposed renovations. A key focus of the discussion was efforts to solicit funding for the project from state agencies and officials. Mayor Malinda Miles has approached the governor’s office for funding, while Councilor Luke Chesek discussed his outreach to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development for funding. But during the discussion, it became apparent that the piecemeal approach to funding the project likely won’t add up to the amount necessary to begin work.
“When I hear you guys talk about all those buckets, to me none of those things add up to the $5 million to $8 million,” lamented Councilor Luke Chesek during the meeting. Instead, according to Chesek, the city will likely be pushed by DHCD and other officials to go after low-interest loans for the project, which is estimated to cost between $5 million to $8 million (with the significant caveat that those estimates are several years old by this point).