Johnson Plans to Oust Fiery WSSC Member

Miller at Heart of Disputes, Critics Say

Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 20, 2009

Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson has asked the County Council not to reappoint Juanita D. Miller, a member of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission who, critics say, has been at the root of squabbles on the often dysfunctional bi-county board, she and a county government source said yesterday.

Miller said a member of Johnson's administration confirmed to her that Johnson planned to replace her.

"No one called to tell me that this was going on," Miller said. "I was not given a call of professional courtesy. . . . If it's the desire of the county executive for me to leave, I'll leave."

Depending on her replacement, Miller's ouster could mark a change of course for the six-member WSSC board, which has stalemated along county lines on a variety of important issues and the agency. The WSSC supplies water and sewer service to 1.8 million people in Montgomery County and Prince George's.

Her departure also will end the tenure of one of the board's most colorful appointees.

Miller, an instructional specialist for the Prince George's schools and a former Democratic state delegate, was first appointed to the WSSC board in 1996 by then-County Executive Wayne K. Curry and served until 2002. She was appointed by Johnson (D) in 2005. Her term expired May 31.

The council does not have the authority to keep her on the WSSC board, but she will continue to serve until a replacement is named and council members confirm that person. Joyce Starks and Prem Agarwal, the two other commissioners from Prince George's, remain on the panel even though their terms ended two years ago.

Miller, who plans to run for County Council, said she is happy with the choices that she has made at the WSSC. "I feel that I've accomplished a lot there," she said. "The people in the community have been supportive."

During her first stint on the board, Miller was in the middle of the agency's frequent battles over how to give minorities a bigger stake in the more than $100 million in contracts it awarded each year.

The highest-profile conflict in that term involved an $11.5 million sludge-hauling contract and the commission's 1997 decision, overturned in court, to bypass the white-owned firm that was the low bidder. The third-lowest bidder, MTI Construction, which Miller supported, was a minority-run company whose owner had contributed to her campaigns.

Miller is well-known for a sharp tongue, which she occasionally uses to dress down WSSC employees at public meetings.

She also was known for sending e-mails, including some critical of individual WSSC officials, to the agency's 1,500 employees. She has said that she thinks of herself as a champion and protector of WSSC employees and that she sends mass e-mails as part of an effort to remain "transparent."

Some critics blamed Miller for the board's divisiveness, including the 15 months it took to choose a new general manager. The board selected former D.C. Water and Sewer Authority chief Jerry N. Johnson on Thursday.

A Washington Post review last month showed that Miller spent much more of the WSSC's funds than her fellow commissioners to attend political, charitable and business events over the past three years.

The spending of $29,600 from 2006 to last year was legal but came as the WSSC was clamoring for more money to inspect and replace its antiquated water pipes and as she was organizing a run for office.

In a letter to Johnson this week, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) cited the spending as part of recent events that he said "confirm that the WSSC has sunk to levels of incompetence that we should all be embarrassed to see." He called on Johnson to undertake a "massive overhaul" of the WSSC before January, when, he said, the General Assembly would step in.

The two Millers have a history of bad relations that date to her challenging him for his Senate seat in 2002, several people said.

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