Prince George's County Executive Aids Friends

By Cheryl W. Thompson and Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 6, 2006

Since Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) took office four years ago, 15 of his friends and political supporters have been awarded 51 county contracts totaling nearly $3.3 million, according to records and interviews.

In several cases, Johnson awarded county contracts to supporters after he failed to persuade the County Council or others to place them in county jobs. He has also created at least a dozen high-profile positions and filled them with supporters, including fraternity brothers. Some of those who received contracts or jobs had no expertise in the field, and others did not produce written reports required by the county.

In one case, Johnson hired a friend's company, which produces a local cable show, to write a report on school construction financing and then gave him two more contracts to evaluate economic trends. He gave a similar contract to his campaign chairman. He hired a golfing buddy to advise him on pension matters and a law school friend to sit on the redevelopment board.

Johnson does not dispute that he has hired friends and given them contracts.

"What I do is . . . hire first-class people," he said in an interview. "That means they have to be smart, . . . intelligent, and they have to be people of integrity." He prizes commitment to the county, he said, and he does not consider relevant experience to be a requirement.

Johnson, 57, is in the midst of a campaign for a second term, facing former Maryland legislator Rushern L. Baker III in the Democratic primary Sept. 12. A former state's attorney, Johnson has remained highly popular since he took over as county executive, despite chronic crime in some neighborhoods and criticism of the performance of county schools, where his control is limited to determining the budget.

He cites as his accomplishments the county's improved financial stability and beefed-up staffing for police, fire and homeland security. He also closed a deal to build the $2 billion waterfront development known as National Harbor, where upscale residential, retail and office space is expected to lure more high-end development to Prince George's.

County records for Johnson's first term, obtained by The Washington Post under state public records laws, show that he began awarding contracts to people close to him the day he took office in December 2002.

Michael Arrington, 50, the son of Johnson's former campaign chairman, received a $132,000, one-year contract Dec. 2, 2002, to "provide technical advice to the county regarding government affairs," records show. Arrington's father, Henry, also worked for Johnson when Johnson was state's attorney from 1994 to the end of 2002.

In January 2003, Perry Paylor, 37, a former assistant state's attorney under Johnson, won the first of four contracts to act as counsel for the county redevelopment authority, records show. The contacts totaled $397,500 over 42 months. Johnson said Paylor was "just outstanding."

Paylor, who contributed to Johnson's campaign, works for Marcell Solomon's law firm. Solomon is Johnson's former personal attorney and longtime friend.

Even before Johnson was sworn in, Solomon received a three-month, $40,000 county contract to help with the Johnson transition into office. On Feb. 1, 2003, one day after that contract ended, he was given the first of several more contracts totaling $331,250, to serve as Johnson's representative on the board of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which oversees the region's mass transportation system. Solomon is paid about five times as much as any other WMATA board member.

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