Residents ask Pr. George's, Md., council to block Byrd appointment

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dozens of Prince George's residents told County Council members Tuesday that County Executive Jack B. Johnson's plan to replace the county's top planning official would be unfair to the next executive.

During a public hearing, the residents asked the council to oppose the appointment of David J. Byrd, a county deputy chief administrative officer, as chairman of the Planning Board and to allow Samuel J. Parker Jr. to remain in place. Johnson nominated Byrd last month.

The council, which will hold a committee hearing to discuss the selection Wednesday, must vote on the nomination by March 19.

At Tuesday's hearing, Byrd thanked Johnson for his "continued confidence" in him.

"I am asking you to have confidence in me as well, and for you to consider my skills, talent and 22 years of executive experience," Byrd said, addressing the council. "I am asking that you allow me to lead an organization that will become, under my leadership, more diverse in its personnel, more transparent in its operations and more conscientious in its spending."

Byrd has held federal, state and county posts, including as chief of staff to then-Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R).

The chairmanship of the Planning Board is one of the most critical appointments the county executive can make. The chairman has a role in approving much of the county's development and also alternates as chairman of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

Many of the residents who spoke said they did not question Byrd's qualifications. Others said their testimony was not a referendum on Parker's tenure. Rather, they said, they opposed an appointment process that would allow an outgoing county executive to tie the hands of a new one. If confirmed, Byrd's term would expire in 2013.

Several residents asked why Johnson was replacing Parker now. And some raised concerns about Parker learning of Johnson's decision secondhand. Johnson has not responded to requests for comment on the matter.

"He is just following the procedures that are in place," said James Keary, a Johnson spokesman.

Parker's term ended in June, and he is involved in implementing several initiatives, including Envision Prince George's, which seeks to involve the community in crafting plans for the county's future.

"It is bad public policy and would short-circuit the public process," University Park Mayor John Tabori said. "Whether intended or not, it also smacks of cronyism and backroom politics of its worst kind."

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