Prosecutors won't be used as contacts in outreach

McCrone hires PR expert to be community liaison

April 11, 2003|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

In a sharp turn from the previous use of prosecutors in a nationally praised outreach effort, Howard State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone has hired a public relations specialist who also acted as treasurer and an adviser in his political campaign to be a point man for the office's community prosecution program.

T. Wayne Kirwan, 51, who runs a consulting business, has been working part time with the office for the past few weeks and will handle public relations while also working with the office's community justice coordinator on the state's attorney's outreach efforts.

Under McCrone's predecessor, Marna L. McLendon, the state's attorney's community outreach program relied heavily on the involvement of the office's assistant state's attorneys, each of whom was assigned to an area of the county and required to make community contacts, attend meetings and submit monthly reports.

That effort was criticized by Howard Police Chief Wayne Livesay who complained that it too closely mirrored his department's efforts.

Instead of requiring such intense involvement by prosecutors, McCrone said, he will rely on Kirwan and Kim Charity, the office's community justice co- ordinator for nearly three years, to be the outward face of the program. Neither is a lawyer.

Prosecutors will still be assigned neighborhoods to provide more technical support, said McCrone, who has said he wants to return his lawyers' focus to the courtroom.

Kirwan, who lives in Columbia, and Charity will also replace the efforts of the two prosecutors who focused exclusively on four Columbia communities during McLendon's tenure.

One, Sue-Ellen Hantman, who worked with the HotSpots communities in Long Reach and Harper's Choice, left the office a few months ago after being appointed to a District Court judgeship. The other, Lara Weathersbee, who worked with Owen Brown and Oakland Mills through a federal grant that has run out, has shifted back to the courtroom.

Community leaders said this week that they are adopting a "wait and see" attitude as McCrone refines his community prosecution plans. What they are hoping for, they said, is the same sort of interaction and attention they got during McLendon's administration.

With prosecutors in place, there was someone who could help troubleshoot when a neighborhood had a problem, who could provide legal information and would regularly update residents on the status of cases affecting their communities, they said.

Residents don't need a public relations adviser but rather "somebody they can call who has inroads into the system and can get information back to them," said Neil Dorsey, chairman of the Owen Brown Village Board.

"I think the community needs a link with the criminal justice system," he said.

David Hatch, chairman of the Oakland Mills Village Board, said he could think of a handful of times - "three big ones" - when Weathersbee was called on to intervene on problems and was able to help craft a solution by talking to all the parties involved.

Not only was the discussion helpful, he said, but there was also a threat of prosecution if problems were not solved, he said.

"It's not something that matters every day, but when we had problems it's been there," he said of the community prosecution program.

The program is not going away, but the faces are changing, McCrone said.

"I think [community leaders] are going to find that there's a high level of commitment and dedication from a very talented twosome who will be a very valuable presence in the community," he said.

The change will mean one less lawyer position in the state's attorney's office.

While Kirwan is working part time - he also runs a business that concentrates on marketing communications and public affairs - McCrone said he is planning to ask the county to convert the vacant HotSpots prosecutor job to a full-time nonattorney position that would focus on community outreach and public relations. McCrone would not say whether he plans to offer Kirwan the full-time job, saying he does not want to "commit to any particular individual."

McCrone said that the way the HotSpots job was designed, Hantman was "infrequently required to be in court."

Kirwan, who holds a master's degree in public relations from American University, has spent his career in public information and community information jobs, including 11 1/2 years as vice president of the Maryland Bankers Association. He and McCrone met during the waning days of McCrone's failed 1998 bid to unseat McLendon, and Kirwan took the more active treasurer role in McCrone's campaign last year. McLendon did not run for re-election.

"I have seen firsthand the talent and energy and commitment that he's brought to bear on other issues," McCrone said this week. "With these skills, he'd be perfect for this responsibility."

For Charity, who has a psychology degree and was hired as a clerk in the office in 1995, the change adds to her role in the communities.

Charity, 32, was already attending meetings, keeping prosecutors up on the issues in their neighborhoods and gathering neighborhood impact statements about the effect of crimes. Charity initially held office hours in a few communities, taking Weathersbee's place, but she had so few visitors that she has since scaled back to visits by appointment.

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