Capping off what was, at times, an acrimonious year, the Prince George’s County Council elected Jolene Ivey to take over as chair in 2024.
The longtime Cheverly, Maryland, resident vowed the county would meet the tough budgetary challenges it’s facing, while pledging she would help lead the council into a year of “unity.”
In fact, that was the word she kept returning to in her maiden speech as the council chair, where she won votes from all 11 members of the council to succeed outgoing chair Tom Dernoga.
“This council will work to ensure that the county addresses the increasing needs of the citizens, especially the most vulnerable,” Ivey said. “We will prioritize policies that diversify revenue sources, make the best use of those resources and distribute them equitably. We understand that we need new development, smart development and we need to continue the leadership that solidifies our standing as the economic engine of the state. Unity will get us there.”
Ivey’s speech included calls for higher teacher salaries and more resources in schools. And while she said crime in the county wasn’t as bad as it is in D.C., it’s “still higher than any of us can tolerate,” and so she also declared the full funding of public safety agencies another priority.
But she also noted that property tax rates are already “maxed out” in the county.
“We need to support our local business community so it can grow and thrive. Diversifying our tax base will relieve homeowners from continuing to shoulder the county’s budgetary burdens,” she said.
After her speech, she said the county’s financial picture has worsened, which will lead to some difficult choices in the upcoming year.
“We have some serious challenges ahead and we’re going to have to really band together tighter than ever, all of us, in order to get things done,” Ivey said.
At the start of the meeting, Dernoga reflected back on his tenure as chair over the past year.
“In total, we’ve passed over 180 bills and resolutions this year,” Dernoga said. “We’ve focused on the needs and concerns of the people.”
High profile legislation that moved forward included a cap on rent hikes around the county, as well as a new tax on plastic grocery bags that takes effect at the start of the year.
“Now, there is still much to be done,” Dernoga said. “But we can close out this year knowing we worked to bring meaningful change to our county.”
At times, the change, led by a progressive faction elected to the council at the end of 2022, led to clashes with other members of the council. Frustration occasionally spilled over into public view. Ivey said she’s expecting more harmony among the council this year, though acknowledged “perfect harmony” won’t be attainable.
The new council vice chair will be Sydney Harrison, who has made budgetary and economic growth his legislative focus, while also pleading for his colleagues to get along. He edged out Wala Blegay, who served as vice chair this year and had support for another term in that role, though a substitute motion to nominate her again fell one vote short, clearing the way for Harrison.
Montgomery County’s new leadership
There are also new leaders on the neighboring Montgomery County Council, which unanimously elected Andrew Friedson as president and Kate Stewart as vice president. Both will serve one-year terms.
Friedson just completed a one-year term as vice president and also chairs the Planning, Housing and Parks Committee. He said his priorities for the coming year include addressing the housing and climate crises and bolstering economic development.
Council member Stewart is the first woman of the all female majority elected to the council in 2022 to serve in council leadership, according to a news release from the council. She chairs both the Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee and the Audit Committee.