Rushern Baker

When the County Executive Rushern Baker recently introduced a reform bill to “clean up county council”, most councilmembers started criticizing the bill. Members became worried about potential loss of vote for several years on development projects requested by campaign contributors, as the Gazette reported.

Baker introduced the bill after the former county executive  Jack B. Johnson was arrested on a series of dramatic corruption charges. His wife and a current council member Leslie Johnson was also arrested after her husband was recorded by the FBI telling her to flush a $100,000 check down the toilet and hide $80,000 in suspected bribes in her bra.

Baker’s first reform bill would ban council members from voting on any project request from a developer who has contributed to their campaign or slate in the past three years.

The second bill would prohibit council members from calling for review of a development site plan unless a developer or resident calls for the review. According to a news release from Baker, the second bill was drafted “to address prior instances of ‘pay to play’ where council members have ‘called’ up cases for purposes to seek concessions from developers.”, according to the Gazette.

Councilman Will Campos (D-Dist. 2) of Hyattsville and Councilman Mel Franklin (D-Dist. 9) of Upper Marlboro have opposed the proposed bill.

Others also have criticized Mr. Baker for his “lavish spending” during his inauguration sworn-in ceremony as county executive.

Council members’ opposition to Baker proposed reform plan however drew a sharp criticism from the Washington Post. In an editorial last Friday, the Post wrote:

The truth is that Prince George’s recent ethics record is so horrendous – and the resulting failures of economic development have inflicted such long-term damage – that radical surgery is required. Prince George’s needs to go the extra mile to prove, most of all to its residents, that it’s cleaning up its act. And yes, it needs to go further than its neighbors. If the council blocks Mr. Baker’s reforms, it will have itself to blame for the county’s continued second-class status and subpar economic performance.

The “call up” issue in the bill would prevent the tactics council members used to use to stymie projects. There are many different kinds of “pay to play.” Some for campaigns, others to make politicians look good to their constituents. Critics say such tactics ultimately harm the development review process.

State Delegates will be voting on the proposed bill. So far. Dels. Justin Ross (D-Dist. 22) of Hyattsville and Barbara Frush (D-Dist. 21) of Beltsville have both expressed support for the legislation. A public hearing on the bill will be held on the bill coming this Saturday (Feb. 12).