When Irvin Peterson of Cottage City attended town meetings in the past, he said, he would leave angry and frustrated because of the yelling, screaming and overall dysfunction among the town commissioners.
“Citizens just want to get up and walk out,” he said.
Tension within the commission has led to governmental instability; four different commissioners have sat in the chair position since May 2012 due to infighting.
Concerned residents such as Peterson now have a new outlet to discuss town matters — the Cottage City Advisory Group.
Launched in August, the group meets monthly at Town Hall to express concerns and offer ideas to improve the town. The purpose is to gather residential feedback and provide it to the commission, according to group co-founders Joan Copeland and Ann Young of Cottage City, who declined further comment for the story.
About 25 people attended the inaugural meeting. Although attendance at the third meeting, on Oct. 28, was about 10, it still outnumbers Town Council attendance, said Donna Hayes, a resident who takes part in the meetings. About five to seven residents have attended the last few town meetings, she said.
At the 90-minute October meeting, residents tackled multiple topics, including the city commission form of government and the town’s budget.
Residents said ineffective governance has led to inefficient budgeting and cost the town grant funding. They said the city commission form of government is ineffective because having commissioners with all equal power, there is no single leader to be held accountable.
In response, the group created a committee to examine different forms of municipal governments.
Former Commissioner Demetrius Givens, who leads the committee, said the group’s goal is to educate residents about the different structures of government.
Givens — who did not seek re-election in May, citing the contentious nature of the commission — said he has had disagreements with commissioners, but has been willing to discuss issues in a civil manner.
“Of course, we can have differences in opinion. But we can be amenable to those differences in opinion. Ultimately, we’re all trying to achieve the same goal,” Givens said.
Jim Peck, director of research and information management for the Maryland Municipal League, said residents rarely form advisory groups; they are difficult to run and organize.
“This is highly unusual territory for municipal governments,” Peck said.
Commissioner Richard Cote (Ward 1) lauded the group and said it gives residents an additional outlet to discuss community matters. He said the commission has been receptive to the group’s feedback and is optimistic that improved communication will lead to legislative action.
“It’s got the commission’s ears. That’s for sure right now,” Cote said.
Commissioners have not attended since the first meeting, following the group’s request.
“It makes people at ease when they don’t have that authority figure,” Cote said.
Peterson said the advisory group meetings are more constructive than town meetings.
“People are actually listening to each other. Just that much is improvement,” Peterson said.
The next Cottage City Advisory Group meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Nov. 25 at Town Hall, at 3820 40th Ave.