‘Toxic’ Leadership Has Toles In Trouble
When Karen Toles rode support from labor unions and single women to election in Prince George’s County District 7, she was viewed as rising star in the Democratic Party establishment which was seeking new blood to replace its aging leadership.
Today, much has changed as Toles has become a polarizing figure whose “toxic and divisive leadership style” as well as a number of legal and personal problems has placed her reelection in serious jeopardy and called into question whether widespread dissatisfaction from the grassroots community will overshadow her undying loyalty to and support from labor organizations and major corporations who support her.
“She has got to go,” said an Prince George’s County elected official who has supported her in the past. “There is too much drama; too much confusion; too much betrayal. Her word is never her bond. She has no loyalty to anyone except the Unions. The people in the community mean nothing to her. She punishes her enemies and rewards a few friends. She is dependent upon voter ignorance and apathy to stay in power, but even Stevie Wonder can see she is destroying our community.”
Those comments are symptomatic of what is heard from voters, small business owners, civic leaders and residents. Toles, they say, is engaging and friendly in public, but aloof and distant privately and when challenged she uses her office as council representative and head of the Public Safety Committee as a bully pulpit to get her way.
In the past 45 days:
· Toles allegedly steered $150,000 in grant money away from the Biz Center in Camp Springs, after Prince George's County Department of Housing and Community Development selected their proposal through a fair, transparent and competitive process to receive funding, Ms Toles improperly argued with other council members that the organization was in her District 7, when in fact the organization had been re-districted into Council 8. Her actions killed funding assistance to hundreds of minority businesses within the County.
Voted to allow the MGM Casino to break ground and begin construction without a negotiated community benefits agreement. Many small and local businesses believe the project will lock out local, small and minority businesses despite assurances from the county council. She also supported a law to extend the community impact area from a 10 mile radius from the National Harbor to 20 miles, effective killing state mandated employment for hundreds within the directly impacted areas.
Ms, Toles along with the county council and county executive Rushern T. Baker III is the subject of a $10 million Class Action lawsuit filed Tuesday May 13 in Prince George’s County Circuit Court by independent music promoters, musicians and nightclub owners for violating their first amendment rights because of her signature CB-18 Law which prohibits dancing and cabarets unless $1,800 Dance Hall permit is secured. The law has resulted in more than 20 small restaurants/nightclubs being closed and community venues such as the Glenarden Gold Room and Christian Based Clinton Center losing customers and being severely impacted along with other community groups who used cabarets to fund scholarships and other philanthropic activities. At least two churches had outdoor events halted because of law. Many of the club owners were further offended by her placing a large sign supporting her re-election on the grounds of the old Legend Nightclub which she fought to have closed after the owner supported her campaign financially during her first run for office. Many believe if CB-18 were in force 20 years ago, Chuck Brown and Go-Go would have never become a staple of the DMV Entertainment scene.
In addition Toles recently voted for Project Labor Agreement that has locked out non-union businesses on several county projects, including Brandywine Fire Station. The law requires that Union personnel be used on all contracts above $1 million. She also is helping with support of County Executive Rushern T. Baker III, $1.3 million no-bid contract to CMT to provide small business assistance to clients in the county. Toles also is sponsor of Green Line DDOT bill that will force certain types of businesses – car washes, beauty salons, cemeteries, tow truck companies, check cashing places within one half mile of the Metro to be closed along Southern Avenue, Naylor Road and Branch Avenue Stations. Toles also refused to support $100 million Green Building Project in Seat Pleasant because of fear that Mayor Eugene Grant might run against her.
Toles, who caused a community uproar after driving more than 100 miles per hour on I-495 before trying to use her position to avoid penalties, also was cited recently for refusing to give an officer her registration following a stop last month during a traffic stop in Charles County.
“It’s time people stepped up and use the vote to remove people who don’t have our best interests of small businesses at heart,” said a county official speaking about Toles at a recent meeting of a business group. “It’s obvious through the legislation she supports that she knows nothing about how a business works.”
According to EDTI President Joe Gaskins, Toles used her position as the council representative to deny the funding which was to be used to help EDTI provide technical assistance and office space to more than 400 county businesses in their incubator. Gaskins, who runs EDTI and President of the Prince George’s Contractors Association, says he believes Toles retaliated because he is not supporting her reelection.
He says earlier this year Toles also stepped in to strip the organization of another $200,000 in funding which caused the organization lay out several members of its administrative staff and stop providing free classes on subjects such as grant writing, business plan writing and minority certifications. He is contemplating a lawsuit against Toles and the county council. He also is asking the U.S. Attorney for Maryland to investigate her contract relationships.
“She definitely overstepped her bounds,” Gaskins said. “It’s one thing to have political differences, but it’s totally something else to stop funding that was legitimately awarded and steer it to another business or organization. This is what sent Jack Johnson to jail. This is the same kind of behavior that was prevalent during the last administration. Now it is rearing its ugly head again in the person of Karen Toles.”
Several Civic Association leaders say they were denied grants because of political reasons. Several nonprofits say they too have been denied funding and even access for Toles, who often sets meetings and then breaks appointments. One group said shortly after being told Toles wasn’t available they listened in disbelief on the phone and she talked negatively about their Forestville-based organization.
“It was shameful,” said the leader. “That was no way for an elected official to act. I don’t know how anyone could support her this time after all the dirt she has done.”
Said local business owner and DJ Dan Richardson, who had his business closed by Toles: “This election isn’t business or civic,” he said. “This is personal. I want her to get her out of office by any means necessary.”