Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III nominated new leadership for three key departments on Monday as part of his effort to transform often cumbersome permitting and inspections procedures and step up code enforcement of everything from overgrown lawns to vacant houses.
The nominations come as Baker continues to seek ways to reorganize county government so that it provides faster and more efficient service to businesses and residents. In his $2.7 billion budget approved May 30, Baker provided the fiscal framework for a new permitting and inspections agency, which will draw staff from both the public works and environment departments.
Baker nominated Haitham A. Hijazi, a Syrian-born engineer whose career in Prince George’s County government has spanned 20 years, to head the agency, known as the Department of Permits, Inspections and Enforcement.
The agency, which is expected to have an annual budget of about $7.8 million, will be headquartered in Largo near the public works department and the environment department.
Baker (D) also tapped Darrell B. Mobley to replace Hijazi as director of the county’s $36 million Department of Public Works and Transportation. Since August, Mobley has been Maryland’s acting transportation secretary.
And Baker nominated Adam C. Ortiz, acting head since October of the county’s $145 million Department of Environmental Resources, to be the environment agency’s permanent director.
The nominations are subject to approval by the County Council, which could act before recessing in early August for its annual summer break.
“These three individuals are leaders with stellar careers and track records of success, recognized for their innovative management and community engagement,” Baker said in a statement.
The nominations and agency reorganization are part of Baker’s long-promised plan to make sweeping changes to the permitting and inspections procedures that have made Prince George’s legendary for red tape.
The reorganization, which Baker had pledged during his 2010 campaign for county executive, comes after more than a year of study and consultation with community and business groups.
Baker hopes his plans will help the county attract and keep businesses and help clean up neighborhoods. That, in turn, he hopes, will help the county expand its tax base and help underwrite key Baker administration objectives, including funding improvements in the schools and enhancing public safety.
Whether or not Baker’s nominees are approved by July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year, the restructuring already has begun. There is a redesigned permitting office to review applications and issue permits. Plans are in the works for a new schedule for code enforcement inspectors to include evening and weekend shifts, when violations often occur but rarely is anyone on duty. And many functions, long reliant on paper, soon will be automated, officials have said.
The environment agency will be remade into a slightly smaller organization that will focus on enforcement of environmental regulations, trash collection, recycling and clean water. It no longer will manage permits or be required to ferret out illegal nightclubs, which will become the responsibility of the new Department of Permits, Inspections and Enforcement.
“We will be able to have a fresh, stronger focus on our core environmental mission,” Ortiz said. “Over the decades, the Department of Environmental Resources has become a Frankenstein agency, taking on building permits, inspections, code enforcement, animal management, taxi regulation, tow truck regulation, water quality and environmental enforcement, trash and on and on and on. Because we have had such a sprawling mission, we haven’t been able to focus on our core mission effectively.”
The public works department also will undergo changes, including transferring some engineers and permitting experts to the new permits department. That will leave public works with responsibility for snow removal, road maintenance, the county bus system and traffic lights, among other items.
M.H. Jim Estepp, head of the Greater Prince George’s BusinessRoundtable, lauded the appointments and the reorganization.
“The message . . . is that the executive is . . . serious about cleaning up this permitting process,” he said. “One of the reasons the system was so ripe with various schemes is that some people were just frustrated with the lethargy built into the system, not that that is an acceptable reason to bypass it.”
Brad Seamon, Baker’s top aide, said the administration had sought out the three nominees for their expertise and their varied experience.
Hijazi, 54, of Mitchellville, previously was head of public works in the administration of County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D). He was the one of only two department heads that Baker retained from Johnson’s administration. His salary is $180,000.
Mobley, 45, of Lutherville for several years was the state’s district transportation engineer for Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. In early 2012, he was named deputy secretary for the state Department of Transportation. In August, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) named Mobley acting transportation secretary and recently asked him to become the Maryland Transportation Authority’s executive secretary. He will begin serving on July 3 as acting director of public works until his confirmation hearing. He will be paid $175,000.
Ortiz, 39, the former mayor of Edmonston, previously headed Baker’s CountyStat program to track and analyze government spending. Since October, he has been acting head of the environment agency. His salary is $150,000.