Put the Pride Back in Public Service
Buried under the recent scandal of Jack and Leslie Johnson’s arrest in Prince George’s County is another stunning story of public servants forgetting who they should serve. Yesterday, Fox News released a story about a lengthy investigation they conducted regarding reported abuses within the Human Relations Commission in Prince George’s County. It’s unfortunate that to my knowledge, only one news outlet has covered this story so far, because I think it deserves a wider audience.
Fox News reported that James Grier, Deputy Director of the Human Relations Commission, was caught by their cameras marketing real estate while he was technically on the clock for Prince George’s County government, and while driving a county vehicle. And that’s not all. Several employees reported that Jamilah Adams, the Executive Director appointed by Jack Johnson, rarely came to work and on three days that Fox News visited her home, her county vehicle remained at her home and she never left her residence to go to the office.
I have some insider knowledge of the work of the Human Relations Commission, and these allegations are not surprising to me. The agency was dysfunctional long before Ms. Adams and Mr. Grier took over, and Peggy Magee was certainly no better at the job than Ms. Adams. For the record, however, I must state that the employees who conducted investigations of discrimination complaints, and the volunteer commissioners who hold hearings to make judgments on appeals, do commendable work to ensure that the residents of Prince George’s County are treated in a just manner.
The reprehensible behavior of these county leaders reveals why the appointments process should be reviewed. While Magee’s appointment raised concern among Council members, her appointment was still approved and her performance was never evaluated, as far as I know. Ms. Adams may have been more qualified for the job, as she previously worked as a County attorney and was appointed to her position by Johnson after Magee was elected Clerk of the Circuit Court. Ms. Adams kept busy this summer as an active volunteer for the campaign of Angela Alsobrooks, States’ Attorney-elect, so maybe that’s part of the explanation about why she allegedly couldn’t make it to work very often over the past few months. To my knowledge, Mr. Grier had limited or no legal background, which I believe is essential when you are investigating discrimination complaints.
In all of these cases, appointing highly-qualified, ethical individuals to these positions could have helped avoid the problem. However, the County needs to address accountability issues more thoroughly too, by conducting thorough performance evaluations and reviews of County leaders’ work so that they may have uncovered the problem before the media exposed it. A trustworthy grievance process within the County could have also allowed employees to report and resolve it internally instead of feeling like they had no other choice but to expose the problem through a news tip to the media. The political patronage of the appointments process, combined with ineffective human resources policies to address internal issues, partially led to the demise of these two public servants.
As a public servant, I am disheartened that those like Ms. Adams and Mr. Grier have once again tarnished the reputation of thousands just like me, who possess extensive education, a wealth of experience, and a spirit of dedication that we bring to the workplace every day. I take immense pride in my work, and know that I make a valuable contribution to the community where I serve. I hope this is another case that County Executive-elect Baker will carefully consider as he makes important decisions about who will be appointed to critical leadership positions, so that he does truly lead us on the “path to greatness.”