In Prince George’s County, Maryland, Todd M. Turner ’89 is the county’s legislative officer. He is also serving his third term on city council in Bowie, where he became the first African American to be made mayor pro tem.
When he ran for council in 2005, Turner won 70% of the vote against the incumbent. He attributes that success to his previous work as constituent services director for County Councilman Douglas J.J. Peters (D-4th District). “If someone had a problem, whether it was at the city, county, state, or federal level, it eventually came through his office,” says Turner. “So people got to know me through my role in assisting them.”
Turner’s numerous public service roles began with a two-year stint as a paralegal for the Legal Aid Society and serving as assistant corporation counsel for the City of New York after obtaining his J.D. from City University of New York School of Law at Queens College. “What I learned from the individual case work is that you don’t have a chance to deal with systematic problems,” says Turner. “The only way to do that is to change law or change policy.” And the litigation work showed him that the “courtroom is not for me.”
Turner became legislative counsel to New York City Council Committee on Economic Development, and also served as director of Staten Island community relations for New York State Senator Vincent J. Gentile.
Turner’s passion for governmental involvement began the summer after graduation from Lafayette when he was a government scholar and fellow for the assistant to New York City Mayor Ed Koch.
“Here I was, straight out of college, and within two or three weeks, I’m sitting in city hall providing an overview of a program to the mayor of probably the largest city of the world,” recalls Turner, a government and law graduate. “I got hooked on public service.”
Upon moving to Maryland, Turner first worked for Maryland State Senate President Mike V. Miller Jr. (D-27th District) as a legislative analyst with the Senate Committee responsible for oversight on education, health, and environmental legislative issues before the Maryland General Assembly, and then for Peters. “The more involved I got in public service, the more politically active I became,” says Turner, who worked on the campaign of Mayor David Dinkins in New York and later with City Councilman Jay O’Donovan.
Meanwhile, Turner was involved in a recent tough decision that the city had to make.
For the last 32 years, the municipal employees worked in an architectural relic: a one-story, red-brick former elementary school with thin vertical windows. Four years ago, the seven-member city council voted to build a new facility at a projected cost of $25 million, necessitating a $12 million bond issue.
It was a major expenditure for the city of 55,000, which lies about halfway between Washington, D.C. and Annapolis. But the new three-story building, a graceful, glass-walled structure with a majestic council chamber and facilities for the five-year-old, 50-member police department, signifies that Bowie, incorporated in 1916, is coming of age.
Turner explains that part of the budget difficulty that any municipality faces is decline in revenue. “In Maryland, we assess property every three years. When Bowie’s was done this past year, we found a 25 to 30 percent decrease in property values. So, the last time we were in a boom, and now we’re in a gully. That’s going to substantially impact revenue, to the tune of about $1.5 million less this upcoming year and subsequent years until we reassess.”
So how will that affect city government? Since Bowie is primarily residential, Turner says, the council has few options for raising revenue other than increasing taxes. Though Bowie has socked away a substantial cash reserve over the past few years—close to 50 percent of the budget as opposed to the standard 5 to 10 percent most other municipalities save—the council will most likely look at cutting municipal labor costs, about 65 percent of the budget.
“One thing I’ve learned working at the local government level–the budget is no different from the budgets we have for our own households,” Turner says. “You’re getting only so much revenue in, and you have so many expenses, so you have to find balance by increasing revenue or reducing services or some combination.”
Turner is deeply involved in many other ways in the community. He is council liaison to the Community Recreation Committee and represents the city on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s Transportation Planning Board, where he serves as the second vice-chair.
Turner is a member of the planning and development board of Prince George’s County YMCA and the advisory board of Prince George’s Progressive Institute, Inc. He is also a member of the Heather Hills Elementary School PTO, Greater Bowie Chamber of Commerce, Sons of the American Legion, Post 66.