What Mainstream Media Reports Didn’t Say This Week
Lots of news has been coming out of Prince George’s County this week, and I didn’t want you to overlook critical pieces of information that the media has been reporting over the last few days. I do not have time to provide extensive commentary on every issue that has emerged, because like many of you, I am a senior government professional who works full time, runs a household, parents two small children, and participates in a myriad of activities related to these responsibilities.
Here’s my quick take on what the mainstream media did not discuss about the headlines over the past week, and if you’d like more of my quips on a regular basis, follow me on Twitter:
- Transition Team Submits Report to County Executive: Last Friday, the Transition Team submitted a 185-page report to the County Executive, with detailed recommendations for improving County government. While I have not read the entire report (but will do so with a comprehensive blog post to come soon), the transition team emphasized the importance of developing a more streamlined, open government. One tiny problem that conflicts with that message, as initially reported by Miranda Spivack’s blog in the Washington Post, is that former transition team leader Wayne Curry stepped down earlier this year to become President of the Michael Companies, one of the leading real estate firms in the county. I read this news in an earlier version of Ms. Spivack’s blog, but it’s no longer there. Maybe the information was inaccurate, or not yet ready for public announcement, but I found it odd that she removed it. Nevertheless, given that Curry encouraged Baker to make several key appointments from his former administration, it seems to present an immediate challenge to Baker’s ethics as Curry will now be representing a major developer’s interests within the county and directly to many of his appointed leaders who owe him. Stay tuned, and if you can, help me figure out why this has not been covered within the mainstream media yet.
- Baker’s Appointed Leader to Housing Agency Has Troubled Past: One of the most important appointments Baker had to make was selecting a qualified, ethical leader who could lead the Housing and Community Development Agency out of the disgraceful shadows of its past. Chief among its dirty laundry were millions of dollars returned to HUD from unspent grant funds and a former director who is now implicated in Jack Johnson’s alleged bribery scandals. So, given these circumstances, one would think that he should conduct an extensive background check of any individual’s history before deciding on an appointment of a new leader. However, it’s clear from reports earlier this week that Eric C. Brown had a checkered past. Out of 860,000+ talented residents living in one of the wealthiest, most educated counties in the country, I’m shocked that we couldn’t find any homegrown talent with a clean work history and outstanding record of accomplishment to lead this agency. What’s worse, Baker’s own spokesman attempts to dismiss it by simply saying they had conducted an extensive search and he was the best candidate. Really? I’m sure it was no accident they moved the budget announcement up a day once they heard that the Post was reporting this poor decision by Baker.
- Jack Johnson Arraigned: Johnson’s speech to reporters on Tuesday, following his arraignment, proves that he is in serious denial about the criminal activities he was engaged in. And yes, I’m not saying “alleged,” because his attorney’s intent to throw out evidence from federal wiretaps just proves to me that it presents facts that will surely lead to Johnson’s conviction. Regardless of what you think you’ve done for county residents, Mr. Johnson, you have no business believing it was okay to accept bribes in return for providing help to your buddies. What’s even worse, I think Billy Martin, Johnson’s attorney, may have had a “Freudian slip” regarding Michael Jackson’s possible ties, given he mentioned defending “Jackson” in the press video before quickly correcting himself by saying “Johnson.” Big “oops.”
- Mug Shots of Jack and Leslie Johnson released: It’s at a time like this that I sure wish I had the services of Cal’s team from the popular Fox series Lie to Me. Let’s just say Jack’s face speaks “defiance” and “anger,” while Leslie’s face says “shame” and “despair.” Enough said.
- Jack Johnson’s Son Gets Job During Hiring Freeze: Anyone who is involved in politics knows that family and friends stand to benefit when one of their own gets elected. That’s nothing new. What’s really filthy about this story is the timing of Johnson’s son getting hired (the day before the September primaries); mixed messages from County staff about how Jr. managed to get hired during a freeze, and at $20,000 more than advertised; and most disconcerting, Baker’s unwillingness to do anything about it. For the second time this week, Baker addresses a human resources issue by stating that all procedures were followed and there’s nothing more he can do about it. My message to Baker is that if the buck stops with you as County Executive, you need to show some leadership. It’s perfectly legal to get rid of an employee for almost any reason during their probationary period, and it’s just fine to admit your mistake with hiring Eric C. Brown and rescind the appointment. He was offered an “at-will” position so if he didn’t disclose his problematic past employment, then you need to cut ties and move forward.
- Baker Announces New Economic Development Team, $50 Million Fund: The headlines are (1) Kwasi Holman out, three new team members in, and (2) $50 million economic development fund to lure new businesses to the county. I need to research the new team members before I can weigh in on their qualifications, but I will say the economic development fund seems like a good idea as long as the process for distributing funds is open and transparent. Otherwise it might just be another “slush” fund for developers to tap. What reporters already forgot to talk about is how it aligns with Baker’s Pledge for Prince George’s County. Just about one year ago, Baker promised that within the first 100 days of the new administration he would deliver a comprehensive job creation, competitive housing market, and economic growth plan. Hiring three people and setting aside money is not a plan. I will need to review budget documents to see if I can learn more specifics, but so far nobody in the media has discussed how Baker’s press release matches up with the promise for a plan.
- Baker Announces FY 2012 Budget: Baker made the rounds to several media outlets to present his FY 2012 budget. He was aggressive in pitching his plan to television, radio, and print reporters who all stuck to his message that he is adding money for schools and public safety and making cuts to all other areas of the government. I generally agree with these principles, but the budget in brief does not provide enough details for me to dig into so that I can provide constructive feedback to his team and County Council. I suspect Baker was extra motivated to stay on message regarding the county and its great potential given the stream of negative reports coming out of Prince George’s County this week.
Let me know what you think, provide comments and feedback, and stay tuned for the big announcement of our first public forum on the PGCPS budget feedback, which will be held in Laurel one week from today!