There is no online database of county salaries, although contracts are online and the county Web site is undergoing a redesign that should be completed later this year.
And the council still plays a major role in reviewing development projects and can drag cases out much longer than in many neighboring jurisdictions, making developers leery of the possibility of pay for play.
While focusing on ethics, Baker also has juggled an ambitious agenda: school reform, a neighborhood improvement program for six high-poverty areas, seeking funding for a new hospital, and trying to establish a regulatory system more welcoming to businesses and residents. He helped orchestrate a political campaign that could bring a resort casino to National Harbor.
But recently, a losing bidder on a major county contract accused Baker’s administration of using pay-to-play tactics, an allegation reminiscent of the corruption under Johnson.
In a formal complaint filed with the county’s procurement department, the company, AST, based in Naperville, Ill., alleged that politics caused it to lose out on the $42 million contract to overhaul the county’s financial records and payment system. Specifically, the company alleged that several people affiliated with what became the winning bid from LSI Consulting of Sudbury, Mass., threw a fundraiser for Baker in January. LSI chief executive Mark J. Schexnaildre did not respond to requests for comment.
The fundraiser was attended by Vennard Wright, the county’s information technology chief. Wright was part of a panel examining the bids.
“We believe that this fundraiser, topic of discussion, hosts and attendees compromised the integrity of the county’s selection process,” wrote Rick McGaughy, a regional sales director for AST. “It presents a clear conflict of interest for the county and LSI Consulting and/or its subcontractors to have participated in this event.”
But an internal review led by the county’s procurement chief, Monica J. Johnson, found no wrongdoing, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.
“The conduct of a political fundraiser during a competitive solicitation does not present a compromise to the process,” wrote Johnson, whose Office of Central Services handles purchasing and contracting for the $2.7 billion county government.
Still, the circumstances of the fundraiser and the bidding process create, at minimum, the appearance of a conflict of interest, said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland.
“This is a big issue,” she said. “Procurement is where conflict of interest and campaign expenditures have a huge potential for undue influence and in a very insidious way. . . . We would call on County Executive Baker to say, ‘Here is my donation history,’ and give out some specifics of the contract, show that there was a best bidder and that there isn’t any malfeasance.”
Baker said he was unaware of the dispute and had purposely insulated himself from issues involving contracting and procurement to avoid any suggestion that he is directing awards or rewarding campaign contributors.
“We are going to do everything that is within our ability to make sure we are as ethical as humanly possible,” he said.
M.H. Jim Estepp, who heads the Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable, said Baker’s efforts to instill a more ethical culture in government have begun to take hold.
“For the most part, he has fulfilled his campaign promises with respect to ethics. He has sent a very clear message that it is not ‘business as usual’ in Prince George’s County and that projects are going to be judged on their merits and the value they bring, and on need . . . not on who you know.”
Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Prince George’s), a close Baker friend, said the sense of change is palpable.
“When you look at everything that is going on, he is just one person doing all he could. Even what he has done so far, it has made a difference. I think the climate has improved,” she said.
“I just have the sense that we have a new sheriff in town,” Ivey said.
Alice R. Crites and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.