The bill expands the ethics office’s responsibilities, beefs up its staff and creates a tipline for whistleblowers. It does not include an independent inspector general as some had urged and Baker had originally promised. The budget for the office will be about $375,000. Baker said he would look for an expert such as a former prosecutor or judge to head the expanded office.
The vote came two years after a widespread corruption scandal under Baker’s predecessor, Jack B. Johnson (D), erupted into public view with the arrests of Johnson and his wife, then-County Council member Leslie Johnson (D-Mitchellville).
The expanded ethics office was approved even though David VanDyke, head of the council’s audits and investigations office, and council administrator Robert J. Williams Jr. had raised concerns about cost.
“We were able to work out our differences,” council Chair Andrea Harrison (D-Springdale) said.
The farmers market bill, sought by Baker, would begin to unravel the complex regulatory scheme that farmers markets say have discouraged their expansion in Prince George’s. The bill would make it easier for the markets to set up shop in the county by allowing them on private as well as public property, as long as they have the proper permits.
Previously, the markets could locate only on publicly owned property. Baker’s administration, which has been trying to offset the recent closings of Giant and Safeway grocery stores, has sought to attract new vendors and locate them in areas of the county where residents lack easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Environmental issues took up a substantial part of the agenda. The recycling bill, introduced by council members Eric Olson (D-College Park) and Mary A. Lehman (D-Laurel), would bring the county closer to the practices of many of its neighbors, where extensive recycling has been in place for two decades.
Prince George’s, which has not updated its recycling policies since the 1990s, will require recycling in all county-owned or occupied facilities, and would use financial incentives to encourage more recycling in apartment buildings, where recycling is not now mandated.
The county’s goal for recycling would increase to 60 percent of trash by 2020. The state is requiring 55 percent by 2020, and the county’s recycling rate is now about 42 percent.
Lehman also successfully sponsored a bill that would expand a property tax credit of up to $100,000 for users of geothermal or solar energy devices to includes those who lease them. Owners already are provided a tax credit.