Under a bill approved Friday by the county’s House delegation, County Council members and the county executive would be barred from acting on development proposals if they are on political slates that accepted donations from the developers.
The measure, similar to a proposal originally submitted by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), had earlier been endorsed by the county’s Senate delegation and is likely to be approved by the General Assembly.
“Today’s actions are a good-faith effort to our citizens and the entire region and the business community at large that our county is committed to wholesale changes in the political culture,” said Del. Justin D. Ross (D-Prince George’s), who shepherded the bill through the House delegation.
Del. Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s), chairman of the House delegation, said the legislation is a strong sign that “there is a new day in Prince George’s.” But she said she worried that the measure could stall the development-approval process if a majority of the nine council members are on affected slates and can’t cast votes.
Earlier this month, Prince George’s House and Senate delegations approved a bill that would limit the council’s ability to delay development approvals. It also limited county credit card use and strengthened the county’s ethics commission.
And a special panel convened by Baker, and chaired by former Baltimore mayor Kurt L. Schmoke (D), is holding a series of meetings, including one Saturday at Prince George’s Community College, to examine ethics practices in county government.
While the county’s “pay to play” reputation has been around for decades, that image was compounded last year by charges against Johnson (D) and his wife, County Council member Leslie Johnson (D-Mitchellville).
Federal prosecutors allege they conspired to hide $79,600 in cash in Leslie Johnson’s underwear and to flush a $100,000 check from a developer down a toilet.
Jack Johnson was indicted in February on bribery and other charges, and is accused of accepting more than $200,000 in bribes from a developer. He has pleaded not guilty. Leslie Johnson was arrested in November on charges of witness and evidence tampering. On Friday, prosecutors filed papers linked to those charges.
Del. Barbara A. Frush (D-Prince George’s) said lawmakers needed to act. “It’s all about perception. If the public respects us, then we are doing a good job. If the public thinks we are crooks and criminals, we are doing a lousy job.” She said the council should have taken strong steps on its own but did not, leaving an opening for the General Assembly to step in.