Candidates for the College Park’s District 3 city council seats discussed their positions on the council term referendum on the ballot, affordable housing, business retention and public safety during a debate Thursday.
District 3, the most student-heavy district in College Park, has three candidates running in the Nov. 5 elections for its two seats. Newcomer Perez Abbott participated alongside incumbents John Rigg and Stuart Adams in the debate held by the Yarrow Civic Association.
The candidates expressed their views on the advisory referendum on the ballot concerning two or four year terms for council members and mayors.
Adams supports the idea of two year terms, believing it supports increased civic engagement from residents. Encouraging as many candidates as possible to run for city elections is healthy for the city, Adams said.
Abbott argued that two year terms are needed to hold elected officials accountable.
“It’s your voice to determine that. If I’m elected, and whatever I’m doing within the first two years if you’re not okay with it, then I should feel as though the voters have spoken,” Abbott said.
Rigg supports four year terms and said that council members having to run in elections every other year has caused burnout.
“This is a part time job, it is an extremely demanding part time job,” Rigg said. “When you pile on top of that extremely demanding part time job the need to knock on 2,000 doors every other year … you burn people out.”
Mayor Fazlul Kabir, who is running for reelection unopposed, said he believes that two year terms give a crucial chance for council members to figure out the priorities of their residents.
“Our residents are very busy,” Kabir said. “The election time is a major opportunity for us to get in touch with them and … get their ideas.”
Candidates also discussed affordable housing and how it could be incorporated into the city’s newer developments.
Abbott is confident that partnering with developers is a good first step. He also would like to see the city take steps to increase home ownership.
“Creating a pathway for home ownership is something that would really inspire not only temporary residents, students, but people who choose to come here for work,” Abbott said. “There’s a huge population of staff at the University of Maryland that could [benefit from] accessible housing.”
The debate on business focused particularly on how to retain the city’s local and minority-owned businesses.
Rigg spoke on the need to give more resources, such as micro credit and low- or no- interest loans, to small business owners, minority-owned businesses or University of Maryland students who wish to operate businesses in College Park.
Adams said that the city needs to be willing to work with both the county and state to protect small and minority-owned businesses.
“We need to work with our county and our state delegation to make sure that minority and small businesses are not entering into leases that are unfair and unethical,” Adams said.
Candidates also debated public safety, including the question of whether or not the city should have an independent police force or continue relying on the Prince George’s County Police Department.
The Police Foundation contracted the most recent study in 2018 on College Park’s direction in building a police department.
Adams said that societal changes, like those in mental health awareness and housing and food security, have mandated a re-evaluation on the public safety issue.
“We need to revisit what we went through five years ago and put it in today’s lens,” Adams said.
Rigg said he believes the city’s current partnership with the county is a net positive for the city, as an independent police department could require increased taxes for residents.
“I would much sooner rather invest those funds in things like parks and recreational programming and additional programming for youth and seniors,” Rigg added.
Kabir, who answered questions about his adjustment to the mayoral role, encouraged residents to be more involved in city affairs.
Although he said it’s been difficult to navigate the circumstances of his election after the sudden resignation and arrest of former mayor Patrick Wojahn, Kabir said he’s done his best to reassure the community of the city’s strength.
“Get involved, and get in touch with the community and also your leadership and elected officials,” Kabir said to the attendees. “Most of the things we do in the city council comes from our residents.”