Ethics crack­down

Baker’s for­mi­da­ble task of end­ing cor­rup­tion in plagued county be­gins

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY MI­RANDA S. SPI­VACK

The newly cre­ated in­tegrity panel for Prince Ge­orge’s hopes to bring govern­ment trans­parency to a county tainted by cor­rup­tion scan­dals.

Even be­fore Prince Ge­orge’s County Ex­ec­u­tive Jack B. John­son and his wife, County Coun­cil mem­ber Leslie John­son, were ar­rested late last year on fed­eral cor­rup­tion charges, Rush­ern L. Baker had been rail­ing against pay-to-play govern­ment.

Now, Baker (D), who suc­ceeded John­son (D) as head of the $2.7 bil­lion county govern­ment, is tak­ing the first steps to­ward stamp­ing out cor­rup­tion and end­ing back­room deals in the county.

Baker’s panel con­vened Satur­day to ex­am­ine ethics in govern­ment, launch­ing an ef­fort that one panel mem­ber likened to un­ty­ing a Gor­dian knot.

“We have to show peo­ple this is re­ally a new di­rec­tion,” said re­tired Cir­cuit Court judge Wil­liam D. Mis­souri, the panel’s vice chair­man, who used the mytho­log­i­cal anal­ogy.

The Ac­count­abil­ity, Com­pli­ance and In­tegrity Ad­vi­sory Board, headed by Howard Uni­ver­sity Law School Dean Kurt L. Schmoke, a for­mer Bal­ti­more mayor, will ex­am­ine govern­ment pro­ce­dures, the op­er­a­tion of the county ethics com­mis­sion and whether a per­ma­nent in­spec­tor gen­eral is needed.

“It is very im­por­tant that we should fo­cus in on these con­cerns, not only what is go­ing on, but how cit­i­zens feel about what is go­ing on,” Schmoke said as the group, which met at Prince Ge­orge’s Com­mu­nity Col­lege, con­sid­ered how to go about its work.

Al­most im­me­di­ately, the panel iden­ti­fied a de­fi­ciency that in­hibits root­ing out waste, fraud and abuse: There is no county hot­line for res­i­dents and govern­ment em­ploy­ees to anony­mously re­port al­le­ga­tions of malfea­sance.

Nor­man Os­lik, for­mer cochair­man of Pro­gres­sive Chev­erly, a com­mu­nity group, urged the panel to push for more trans­par­ent govern­ment — ev­ery­thing from plac­ing more doc­u­ments on­line to pro­vid­ing meet­ing min­utes to pub­lish­ing de­tailed agen­das for county agen­cies.

“It is the pre­ven­ta­tive,” Os­lik said. “An in­spec­tor gen­eral is al­ready deal­ing with what has hap­pened. There needs to be more vis­i­bil­ity about how govern­ment is func­tion­ing.”

Mis­souri said res­i­dents are more likely to re­port sus­pected cor­rup­tion to the po­lice than try to fig­ure out who in county govern­ment might pay at­ten­tion to their claims.

The County Coun­cil has a 16-per­son of­fice of au­dits and in­ves­ti­ga­tions that looks at govern­ment op­er­a­tions. Mis­souri said the Baker ethics panel needs to ex­am­ine the staffing and work man­age­ment of that of­fice and of a sep­a­rate ethics com­mis­sion.

“Are they sup­ported? Is there in­ter­fer­ence in the way they do their jobs?” he asked.

For­mer County Coun­cil mem­ber Peter Shapiro (D-Hy­attsville), di­rec­tor of the Ch­e­sa­peake Cen­ter for Pub­lic Lead­er­ship, said the ethics panel needs to be care­ful not to press for too much reg­u­la­tion, which could de­ter eco­nomic devel­op­ment.

“ The flip side is that if we don’t find ways to clean things up, then we haven’t done our job,” he said.

The panel also in­cludes Pa­tri­cia Adams, a mem­ber of the state’s Work­ers’ Com­pen­sa­tion Com­mis­sion. Linda Botts, a lo­cal busi­ness­woman and for­mer top aide to for­mer county ex­ec­u­tive Wayne K. Curry (D), with­drew from the panel Fri­day, cit­ing fam­ily com­mit­ments, Schmoke said. Botts’s ap­point­ment to the panel had been crit­i­cized by some lo­cal ac­tivists be­cause she had re­ceived a no-bid con­tract shortly af­ter leav­ing the Curry ad­min­is­tra­tion in the mid-1990s. Botts could not be reached to com­ment.

Baker has also pro­posed re­stric­tions on the County Coun­cil’s role in ex­am­in­ing devel­op­ment deals, which will be aired in An­napo­lis at a House del­e­ga­tion hear­ing Thurs­day evening.

spi­vackm@wash­post.com

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