Prince George's considers establishing watchdog office
Sunday, December 19, 2010; 6:43 PM
Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III has taken the first steps toward establishing an inspector general's office, a move that would help satisfy his campaign promise to stamp out corruption and end backroom deals in the county.
The proposal comes after years of swirling allegations of corruption and complaints about lack of transparency in Prince George's government. And while it's unclear how the county would pay for the office, attention to such efforts was renewed by the Nov. 12 arrests of former county executive Jack B. Johnson and his wife, new council member Leslie Johnson, both Democrats. The Johnsons are charged with tampering with evidence and destruction of evidence in an ongoing federal corruption probe.
Baker last week asked two highly regarded attorneys - former Baltimore mayor Kurt L. Schmoke (D), now dean of Howard University Law School, and retired Prince George's Circuit Court judge William D. Missouri - to lead a task force examining government procedures, the county's ethics board and the prospect of a permanent inspector general's office.
If Prince George's establishes the office, it would become one of only a few local governments in the nation to have its own internal watchdog agency.
Determining the basics
A key question for the task force, whose other members have not been named, will be figuring out how a county watchdog would function.
"What do you want this person to do, who does the office report to, and what kind of authority do you want the office to have?" said Fred Palm, executive director of the Association of Inspectors General.
Missouri, who is scheduled to meet with Baker and Schmoke on Monday to iron out the details of how the task force will operate, said he welcomes the idea of setting up an inspector general's office. County residents need assurances "that there is no favoritism and that everything the government handles is above board," he said.
"Right now, citizens are really disappointed in how our government has been allowed to move away from what it should be, that there is clarity and transparency," he said.
Schmoke declined comment for this article.
In a statement announcing the task force, Baker said that it was "imperative that Prince George's County immediately reviews its internal procedures, and that we do so with the right model from the start."
He said he picked the task force leaders for their "integrity and character."
Missouri said an inspector general could have a higher profile than the Office of Audits and Investigations, which reports to the County Council. An inspector general could give residents a higher-visibility place to report problems in county government, he said.