Friday, January 14, 2011

Status of Rushern Baker's 30 Day Plan for Ethics Reform

During his campaign for Prince George's County Executive, without Republican opposition, Rushern Baker said "I have also released a comprehensive list of initiatives I will take in my first thirty days." (Gazette voters guide)  Although we are now into day forty, Mr. Baker has not issued any formal report on his progress in achieving the initiatives.  He has not accomplished what he promised.  And, unfortunately, there does not appear to be any Republican effort to hold him accountable. Here is a copy of the plan (from a 17 May 2010 Post story) with my comments on the apparent current status of the action items:

RUSHERNBAKER2010
RAISING OUR STANDARDS
The First Thirty Days as County Executive Thru:
Executive Order
Introduction of Legislation to the County Council
Introduction of Legislation to the House of Delegates

Prohibit County Credit Cards for Elected Officials

Elected officials, including Members of the County Council, the County Executive and members of the School Board would be prohibited by law from having county credit cards. Instead, elected officials would be required to submit their expense reimbursements like other government employees. All elected officials' expenses would be reviewed by the Office of Finance. Although the County Council suspended its usage of credit cards after irregularities were revealed, this proposal would codify the ban on credit cards and apply to all of these elected officials, including the County Executive.

[County cards can be prohibited by executive order, School Board by state legislation]
No executive order has been issued. No bill has been introduced in either house.
Prohibit Gifts, Meals and Beverages for County Officials

Executive Branch members would not be permitted to knowingly accept a meal, beverages or gifts, directly or indirectly, from a person or entity that does business with the County government, is a regulated by the County government, has a financial interest in the performance of the official's duties which is distinguishable from the public generally, or is registered lobbyist. Ceremonial gifts and gifts of a nominal value would be exempted, as well as meals in which all council members and members of the public are invited. State legislators are already subject to these restrictions.

[Executive branch members can be prohibited by executive order. A County ordinance would be necessary to govern the legislative branch.]
No executive order has been issued. No proposal has been submitted to the county council.
State Ethics Law Loophole Closed

The loophole in the State ethics law which allows development interests to contribute to county council members through artificial "slates" would be closed. This proposal would prevent the artificial pairing of county council members with other elected officials solely for purposes of evading the requirements of the State ethics law. The intention of the ethics law was to prevent developers from excessive influence over council members who enjoy regulatory authority over them in land use cases.

[Requires state legislation.]
A January 8 press release "County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III, Introduces Ethics Legislation" included this as a highlight of the proposed legislation.  Despite the title of the release, no bill has been introduced, no proposed text has been made publicly available, and my inquiry about the text has not been answered.
Campaign Loans Restricted

Non-personal campaign loans would be limited to the amounts allowed by law for contributions, rather than the current unlimited loans allowed by law. Loans to slates and candidates are capped at the same out as contribution limits.

[Requires state legislation.]
No bill has been introduced, not mentioned in the January 8 press release on ethics legislation.
County Council Interference with Planning Board Decisions Prohibited.

County Council members would be prohibited from "calling up" decisions of the Planning Board. The Council would be limited to hearing legitimate appeals from citizens and interested parties from Planning Board decisions. This change to state law would prevent Council members from interfering on their own in uncontested decisions by the County's professional planning agency and still preserve the rights of citizens and civic associations to appeal decisions when necessary.

[Requires state legislation.]
The January 8 press release "County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III, Introduces Ethics Legislation" included this as a highlight of the proposed legislation.  Despite the title of the release, no bill has been introduced, no proposed text has been made publicly available, and my inquiry about the text has not been answered.
Full Disclosure

Any person receiving lobbying fees or holding any interest in the outcome of a decision before the Council, including interests in real property or entities holding real property, would be required to fully disclose such interests before the Council takes action.

[Requires state legislation.]
No bill has been introduced, not mentioned in the January 8 press release on ethics legislation.
Transparent Government Online

Prince George's County government must become transparent to its citizens. The County Web site must open government to the public. The current Web site does not meet modern standards of accountability and transparency. All county contracts will be placed online. All County salaries will be reported online. The County budget will be placed online, as well as all federal, state and private grant money. All zoning cases will be placed online.

[Can be accomplished by executive order.]
No executive order has been issued.  Moving in the opposite direction, the electronic archives of pre-Baker press releases have been purged from the County Executive's press release page.
Inspector General

The County will create an office of Inspector General to investigate waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement and conflicts-of-interest in the County government. The Inspector General must be professionally qualified with a background in auditing and public financial management. The Inspector General must be selected based on ability and integrity, without regard to political affiliation. The Inspector General will be appointed by the County Executive and confirmed by the County Council for a fixed term of office that is staggered and non-concurrent with the Executive and Council. The office of inspector general will have its own staff and will enjoy subpoena power. The Inspector General will conduct investigations, review financial managements, examine potential conflicts-of-interest, conduct performance audits and similar reviews, make recommendations, public findings, and make referrals to law enforcement agencies. The Inspector General will also conduct annual ethics audits of locally elected officials and make results public.

[Can be accomplished by county ordinance.]
No ordinance has been introduced and no proposed text has been made public.

A December 13 press release announced the establishment of a panel charged to "Focus on the establishment of an Office of an Inspector General or a similar government 'watchdog' position."

A January 7 press release "County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III Announces First Accountability, Compliance and Integrity (ACI) Advisory Board Meeting" announced the membership and meeting date for the panel to make recommendations.  The meeting was canceled.  At least one member of the panel has been the subject of past news reports about questionable contracts and practices.
County Council Slates

Council members whose individual and slate committees have received contributions from firms with business before the council and exceed the sum of $5,000 must recuse themselves from any vote or debate on any pending funding, permit, or project.

[Can be accomplished by county ordinance.]
The January 8 press release "County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III, Introduces Ethics Legislation" included this as a highlight of the proposed legislation.  Despite the title of the release, no bill or ordinance has been introduced, no proposed text has been made publicly available, and my inquiry about the text has not been answered.
County Council Lobbyists

Lobbyist must file a contribution summary of their clients to elected officials in Maryland, which is posted on the internet prior to each council session; Lobbyist are to be prohibited from fund raising for candidates for any locally-elected office in Prince George's.

[Can be accomplished by county ordinance.]
No ordinance has been introduced and no proposed text has been made public.
Contractors

Respondents to Requests for Proposals must submit a summary of their contributions in the last 36 months to campaign committees, slates, candidates, political action committees, and special event committees, or charities on which a Council member or County Executive sits on a board or governing body.

[Can be accomplished by county ordinance.]
No ordinance has been introduced and no proposed text has been made public.

2 comments:

Jason said...

"And, unfortunately, there does not appear to be any Republican effort to hold him accountable."

I wish that I could say that you were wrong, but I can't. Our central committee has been largely ineffectual in challenging Democrats and holding our elected leaders. Sadly, I think that this blog has done more to ensure accountability than we have.

Disclosure: The commenter is the Executive Vice Chairman of the Republican Central Committee of Prince George's County.

D. C. Russell said...

I'd be inclined to question my Republican Central Committee member if I had one.

Unfortunately, nobody ran for the position in the last election.

I thought about trying to write to central committee members from adjacent districts.

But when I went to the PGGOP website, all I found was one graphic file pushing a meeting.

No contact information.

No list of central committee members.

No news.

No comments on anything the Democrats are doing.

Essentially, no nothing.

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