Several prospective changes have emerged so far from the hearings:
l Creating a public watchdog office.
l Setting up an anonymous tip line.
l Examining official spending in real time, not when officials leave office.
l Mandating annual ethics training for all county employees.
l Increasing independence for the county auditor.
Although Baker readily acknowledges that few county workers have done anything worse than misappropriate a government pencil for personal use, he has said the county suffers from a long-standing reputation that to do business in Prince George’s, companies must “pay to play.”
In a recent appearance before the task force, former Prince George’s state’s attorney Glen F. Ivey (D) told the group what it had already figured out.
“I think you have a daunting task ahead of you,” Ivey said.
For Baker, this has been a longtime crusade, and one that he championed during his campaign for executive last year. But in a county sensitive to its reputation, Baker’s efforts have not been universally embraced. Some residents and local politicians have complained that by talking so much about ethics, Baker has left the impression that corruption is widespread among the county’s nearly 6,000 employees.
Nevertheless, Baker has pressed forward, even as he avoids almost any mention of the Johnsons, who were arrested Nov. 12 after federal agents said they heard the couple plotting to destroy evidence, including a $100,000 check from a developer.
Along with creating the accountability task force, Baker turned to the Maryland General Assembly for approval of measures that restrict the ability of his office and the County Council to review developments and to accept campaign donations from developers.
As much as the Johnsons’ arrests have drawn the spotlight, the task force’s discussions have focused on bread-and-butter issues that arise in the daily operations of local governments, such as who is required to file a financial disclosure report.
State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks (D), who was elected in November to succeed Ivey, told the panel that a lack of integrity in government is “systemic,” though it is not limited to Prince George’s.
“There is a mind-set that has existed for a while, not just in this jurisdiction but in others as well, that public officials don’t understand what their role is,” said Alsobrooks, a former top aide to Jack Johnson.