Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening sent the County Council a package of proposals yesterday that he said is designed to restore "faith and trust" in the integrity of county real estate transactions.
Glendening also ordered his staff to defer action on any pending land sales or purchases until the council acts on the measures -- a move he said was intended to speed up passage of the legislation.
"It is essential that our citizens have confidence in the integrity of the process used by the county government to conduct its business transactions," Glendening said in a letter sent yesterday to Council Chairman Jo Ann T. Bell.
Glendening's action comes after a year in which the county's relationship with developers has come under heavy scrutiny. A county grand jury has criticized the way the county buys and sells land, and state legislators tried to ban council members from voting on zoning cases involving campaign contributors linked to development.
If adopted, Glendening's four-point proposal would:
Forbid the County Council's use of so-called "emergency legislation" to authorize capital improvement projects, a procedure it has frequently used to speed land transactions.
Require the County Executive's Office to get approval from the council before granting tax breaks to developers.
Call for public hearings before the County Board of Ethics for any land transaction involving the county and elected officials or their relatives.
Require public hearings before the county disposes of surplus property or agrees to swap or sell any county-owned land.
Bell and most other council members were en route to Miami yesterday for a National Association of Counties convention and could not be reached. Council member Floyd Wilson, who is trying to unseat Glendening in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary, called the proposals "window-dressing."
But Glendening said he has discussed the proposals with some council members and expects quick passage of the measures. "How could anyone who's concerned with the integrity of the county not be supportive?" he asked.
Glendening's action comes after The Washington Post published articles about several county land transactions that were scrutinized by a Prince George's County grand jury. The grand jury returned no indictments but issued a report in March criticizing the County Council and Glendening's office for their handling of land purchases and swaps. Jury members said later that their suggestions for reform appeared to fall on deaf ears.
Since then, U.S. Attorney Breckinridge L. Willcox in Baltimore has begun a preliminary review of materials related to the transactions.
While the review has not reached the state of a formal investigation, his office also is examining a detailed citizen complaint alleging improprieties in the county's land sales at the Collington Center, an industrial park on Route 301 near Upper Marlboro. Lawyer James Casey has alleged that land was sold for bargain prices to developers, many of whom contributed to Glendening's reelection campaigns.
Two of the transactions examined by the grand jury involved the county's purchase of properties owned by former Maryland secretary of state Fred L. Wineland, the father of council member F. Kirwan Wineland.
The grand jury also investigated a land swap negotiated by Glendening's office in which the county traded a $1.1 million commercially zoned property for a $300,000 strip of highway median owned by developer Robert W. Douglas Jr. As part of the arrangement, the county agreed to undervalue its own property to give Douglas a break on federal income and state and county real estate taxes.
Revelations about the transactions -- and the prospect of a federal inquiry into the matters -- come at a sensitive time for Glendening, who is seeking reelection in the September Democratic primary.
Although Wilson has been given little hope for election, he has seized upon the land transactions as a campaign issue and held a news conference yesterday partly to criticize Glendening for "back room deals" with developers.
Glendening's little-known Republican opponent, Charles Sherren Jr., has said he will concentrate on the Collington Center transactions throughout his long-shot campaign.
Glendening said yesterday that he believes many of the allegations about county land transactions were generated by his political enemies. He said Wilson "sat there and voted on" many of the transactions while serving on the County Council.
Glendening's proposals deal specifically with several issues raised by the grand jury, which criticized the county government for giving an "appearance of impropriety" by often conducting its business without public hearings.
He called for a prohibition on the council's use of "emergency legislation" to enact capital improvement projects, such as the acquisition of land from private owners.
Glendening also proposed public hearings by the county's Board of Ethics on any business matter in which elected or appointed officials or their relatives stood to benefit.
He also called for the county to institute new procedures to advertise and hold public hearings on all dispositions of county surplus property as well as the sale or lease of county-owned land.
Finally, Glendening proposed a restriction on the authority of his own office in granting tax waivers, reductions or adjustments. The measure calls for the County Council to approve any tax breaks negotiated by the County Executive's Office.