Evaluating County Council’s Promises
On March 8, Council Chair Ingrid Turner issued a statement (via press release) reviewing their progress on promises they have made to “provide more information and greater accessibility to government processes for residents.” I’m not sure the County Council has quite lived up to the press release, or their promises. Let’s do a quick review.
- Enhancing the County Council website: user-friendly online citizen sign-up for public participation in Council meetings (Comment: not done, and took City Clerk 44 days to respond to message I sent in January 2011, requesting to speak at a public hearing) and to receive agendas (done); posting of Council meetings five days in advance (done); and online access to Zoning Hearing Examiner and District Council decisions (done).
- Encourage greater public participation in Council meetings and activities with offsite, evening, full Council Meetings throughout the County and offsite Council Committee meetings. Comment: Only one town hall meeting has been held, on February 28, to discuss the budget. No full Council or Committee meetings have been held outside Upper Marlboro or during evening hours. I cannot locate any record of greater public participation in Council meetings, outside of taxicab drivers appearing at a meeting last week to protest a specific agenda item.
- We support the efforts of the County Executive to establish the ACI Task Force and improving accountability with the establishment of an anonymous County Hotline and Website for Fraud, Waste, and Abuse. Comment: How have they supported the County Executive’s work? The hotline and website appear to be active, but I’m not sure Council had anything to do with it. I have not seen any evidence that Council members have attended meetings of the ACI Task Force.
The Council is also working for YOU in Annapolis, promoting the following initiatives by working with the County Executive and Prince George’s County Senate and House Delegations:
1. Create an Executive Director position for the County’s Board of Ethics, and require the board to meet at least twice a year.
2. Require the registration of lobbyists, developers, and their agents with the Board of Ethics, and post the information on the Board’s website.
3. Address conflict-of-interest concerns with the prohibition of credit card use by County officials, including Board of Education members, and ensuring that lobbyists cannot receive contingent compensation.
4. Prohibit County officials from soliciting to enter business relationships or anything of monetary value in return for supporting specific County legislation, County contracts, County permits, or State and Federal funding use decisions.
Comment: County Council is indeed supporting legislative reforms to ensure elected officials are behaving in an ethical manner. However, they initially pushed back at the County Executive’s rather limited ethics legislation, and their proposal for a compromise did not go nearly far enough in closing ethical loopholes that currently exist. The even more unfortunate part of the message in the press release is that ethics reform should even be necessary. In my opinion, our elected officials should be held to an even higher ethical standard, and the fact that past leaders have not possessed the moral compass to uphold the law is a disgrace to Prince George’s County. Legislating ethical behavior for our elected officials does nothing to diminish our pitiable reputation.
Years ago we did not push for the type of quality development that we see in the County today. Developers need a more predictable process, and citizens need to be represented as we continue to push for more quality development for the County. Our reform measures also include:
1. Changing District Council procedures to establish a definitive timeframe for review of site plans from unlimited to 160 days, and Council Members would need to state a specific reason for reviewing a case.
2. Extending the prohibition on developer contributions to slates that include the County Executive or Council Members during the pendency of a development application.
Comment: I’m not sure why this even merits a mention in this press release. Quite frankly, the local media has already reported the Council’s position, which we know does not go far enough in ensuring that the development process is open and transparent. County Council will have to get out of the development approval process entirely, at this point, to ensure that this goal is achieved.