December 7, 2012

IN RECENT YEARS, politicians in Prince George’s County have displayed a knack for self-inflicted wounds, often abetted by self-righteous complaints about unjust treatment in the media — even as their wayward leaders tromped into court and were led off to prison.

County residents surely hoped that era was dead and gone when they elected a new crop of leaders two years ago, and for the most part things have gotten better. But now the County Council seems intent on a bit of backsliding.

In a move that has triggered a cascade of mockery on the Web — most of it richly deserved — the council is considering the appointment of Karen R. Toles, a freshman Democrat, to chair the council’s Public Safety and Fiscal Management Committee.

Until now, Ms. Toles has been known mainly as a menace to public safety. This is the very same Ms. Toles who was clocked this year doing 108 mph at midday on the Beltway while she weaved between lanes and ignored a police cruiser, siren blaring, that tried to chase her down. It’s the same Ms. Toles who so alarmed the pursuing officers that, when they eventually managed to pull her over, they approached her car with guns drawn. And it’s the same Ms. Toles who, when she deigned to speak with the officers, gave them a piece of her confused mind, ripping into the cops and telling them indignantly, “This is why people don’t like P.G.”

Is it possible to imagine a less suitable head of the public-safety committee, which, among other responsibilities, oversees the police?

Incredibly, that committee post is the prize Ms. Toles is reported to have extracted in an internal leadership tussle on the council. Shuttling between rival factions, each of them vying for the council’s chairmanship, Ms. Toles demanded the title of committee chief in return for her support.

In the end, Ms. Toles backed the incumbent chair, Andrea Harrison, for a second one-year term leading the all-Democratic council. And while Ms. Harrison isn’t saying so publicly, several council members believe that the fix is in and that Ms. Toles will take over the public-safety panel in January.

Let’s hope not. In addition to her spree behind the wheel, which could easily have ended in carnage, Ms. Toles has hardly distinguished herself on the council. Her colleagues say that she is regularly unprepared for meetings.

Ms. Toles, who received probation, attended driving classes and paid hundreds of dollars in fines for the reckless-driving charge, insists that she has paid her debt and made amends. In fact, her public apology was cursory; in private, according to people who know her, she is unrepentant.

The back-stabbing, double-crossing and dirty dealings of local politicians may often escape the public’s notice, particularly when nothing more crucial than their internal squabbles are at stake. But when the maneuvering enters the realm of farce, voters take notice. And that’s exactly what Ms. Toles’s appointment as public-safety chair would be: a farce.