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Jack Johnson administration accused of not cooperating with transition

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 24, 2010; 8:19 PM

Top officials on the transition team of County Executive-elect Rushern L. Baker III (D) say the outgoing administration of beleaguered Jack B. Johnson has not been cooperative, even failing to help with customary procedures.

Despite early discussions predating the Nov. 2 election, Wayne K. Curry, chairman of Baker's transition team, told The Washington Post that the Johnson administration has not delayed hiring, promotions, bonuses or nonessential contracts. Curry said that expected resignation letters from Johnson's political appointees have not been offered, as usually happens at the end of an administration.

"Many of the things that normally attend a transition have not been done," said Curry (D), a former county executive. "So far as I can ascertain from officials we have spoken with, they were never even given the instructions. So obviously they haven't responded to the instructions."

It hasn't helped that departing Johnson (D) and his wife, Leslie Johnson (D), newly elected to the County Council, were arrested two weeks ago on charges of evidence tampering and destruction of evidence. But even before the Johnsons were allegedly overheard on a wiretap plotting to get rid of a $100,000 check from a developer and hide $79,600 in Leslie Johnson's bra, several key procedures typical of changes in government apparently had not been put in place by the Johnson administration, said Curry and Baker's transition chief, Kenneth Johnson.

Jim Keary, Jack Johnson's spokesman, said he was surprised to hear of Curry's concerns. "I have not heard of any problems. If there were, I would think they would complain to us," said Keary, who added that Johnson budget chief Jonathan R. Seeman has met with the transition team and provided information, as have others in the Johnson administration.

Concerning the resignations, Keary said those that have been asked for have been submitted. "That's a personal thing," he said.

Seated with Kenneth Johnson at a conference table in the transition team's Largo office, Curry held up a thick briefing book that his administration prepared in 2002 for the incoming Jack Johnson administration.

"We summarized the activities of all agencies," said Curry, adding that his staff provided a fiscal snapshot and other details. "To date, that has not been done" by the Johnson administration, Curry said.

Curry said the Baker administration's best hope will be to dig deeply into the 6,000-person bureaucracy after Baker is sworn in Dec. 6 and take charge of the $2.6 billion government.

For now, the Baker transition team said it is gathering information the old-fashioned way - by talking to as many people as possible with insight into the government's inner workings.

Elected officials, business leaders and educators on the team are meeting with mid-level staffers, trying to piece together a sense of how the government is working.

Curry acknowledged that some people in the county's bureaucracy have been helpful, especially career professionals who he said are providing the transition team with an idea of what the Baker administration will inherit.

"We have to do what we can do to have an effective transition. And I think that part of the job is getting done with the help of a lot of people. The pieces are coming together, but it's not comprehensive," Curry said. "When [Baker] takes the stick on the 6th, we will get more authoritative information."

Kenneth Johnson, an attorney who plans to return to his post at Sodexo in three months, said it would have made for a smoother transition had the Jack Johnson administration been more cooperative. "Part of the challenge, quite frankly, is timing," he said.

Meanwhile, pressure on Leslie Johnson continues to mount. Prince George's County Council member William A. Campos (D-Hyattsville) has become the fifth member of the incoming council to urge her to skip the oath of office.

"Clearly, you don't want to accuse anybody before they have due process, but on the basics alone, this does not look good. Not just for the council, but for the county in general," Campos said.

Campos joins Mel Franklin, Andrea Harrison, Mary Lehman and Eric Olson in a coalition opposing Johnson.

"There have been unfortunate events in the history of the county, and this is just not helping at all. We are trying to enhance our image as opposed to potentially damaging it even more," Campos said. "I think that this is something that, at minimum, should be requested. . . . I would not want the council to take any hits."

Nothing in the county charter or state law prevents Johnson from taking her seat. If she decides to serve, her council colleagues could limit her influence by denying her staff, committee assignments and other perquisites of the office, according to informal legal advice recently provided to the council.

Maryland does not have a recall law, and the Prince George's County charter bars council members from holding office only if they are physically or mentally unable to serve. Conviction of a felony would cost a council member his or her seat.

If Johnson does not take her council seat, the panel would be deadlocked 4 to 4 in a leadership battle for council chairman - between Ingrid Turner (D), who had Johnson's backing, giving Turner a crucial fifth vote, and Andrea Harrison (D), who has four votes. Campos, who wants to be vice chairman on the Turner ticket, said he realized that by urging Johnson to step aside he was giving up that coalition's majority in the leadership fight.

"The important thing is the county first," Campos said.

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