Forest Heights looks to future to shed past political ghosts
New mayor, residents hope new attitude under way for town
The town of Forest Heights is looking to begin its 2009-2011 political cycle with a clean slate, as a newly elected mayor and optimistic residents are poised to move the town forward after years of scandal.
Mayor Andrea McCutcheon said she is hoping to balance the town's budget, hire a new town treasurer and introduce "green" initiatives that would lower energy cost and reduce pollution.
"There's nowhere [for the town] to go but forward," said McCutcheon, who was elected to office in March. "I'm confident that we can move forward successfully."
Town residents are also hopeful Forest Heights can move beyond its past, which has been peppered with mismanagement, infighting among the Town Council and lawsuits.
"We've been very disappointed up until recently," said Forest Heights resident Frank Prather, who is particularly interested in the town's finances. "I really hope we will see a budget so we know where we stand."
The town, one of the few municipalities in southern Prince George's County, had become known more for its troubles than its productivity.
"Forest Heights is the only municipality in the eighth county district — surely we would like to see it succeed," said County Councilman Tony Knotts (D-Dist. 8) of Temple Hills during McCutcheon's March 18 swearing-in ceremony.
Up until 1949, the town had been a part of the broader unincorporated Oxon Hill, when the civic association began acting as a municipality and became an incorporated town that ran relatively smoothly up until about 2000.
That's when the town's treasurer, a certified public accountant, retired, and at about the same time, the town's 25-year mayor left.
According to George Wiggers, the town's unofficial historian and editor of the Forest Heights News Report Web site, in the years that followed, the town's finances began circling the drain, and a colorful cast of characters began rising to office in the town.
In 2005, former Mayor Joyce Beck was charged with two counts of assault for an alleged altercation with a town police officer. Though charges were later dismissed, relations between the town and Beck worsened when she said during a September 2005 meeting that the town was operating in fiscal chaos and the town looked like "trash" and acted like a "ghetto." She then said she wanted the state to revoke the town's charter that would have effectively dissolved the town back into an unincorporated community. Beck was removed from office in January 2006 by a charter amendment proposed by the Town Council.
In September 2006, then-Mayor Myles Spires was suspended from mayoral duties until December of that year amid allegations he misused and mishandled funds from the town. While his successor, former Mayor Larry Stoner, who served from summer 2008 until McCutcheon was elected in March, kept the town out of legal trouble, infighting among him and council members left the town in a political stalemate.
It had become common for Stoner and the council to argue for hours during meetings before making any progress on the agenda, causing residents in the audience to throw their hands up in the air and storm out of the meeting.
"Forest Heights is not your average town," said Councilwoman Jacqueline Goodall (Ward 1), adding that she was hopeful the town has reached a new era of transparency and accountability.
During the March 18 swearing-in ceremony for McCutcheon and the council members, residents and state politicians packed into the town municipal building, urging the town to progress.
"What we don't need is a municipality that's not moving forward," said Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Dist. 26) of Fort Washington as he addressed the town during the March 18 ceremony. "It's a different day. It's a new day. Forget about anything else."