Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson said yesterday that he's seeking to repair his relationship with the county's police union, which was strained by his prosecution of officers during his tenure as state's attorney.
A day after his swearing-in as the county's top leader, Johnson (D) said he hopes to meet this week with union President Anthony M. Walker. "We have a unique opportunity to go forward in a positive way," Johnson said as he settled into his new Upper Marlboro office.
During a wide-ranging interview, Johnson said that he would ask all county agency chiefs to resign as he assembles his Cabinet and that he would take the next month to evaluate whom to rehire.
Johnson also said he would decide by early next month whether to retain Police Chief Gerald M. Wilson, who was appointed this year by Johnson's predecessor, Wayne K. Curry (D). Johnson declined to indicate whether he was leaning toward choosing a replacement.
"That position is being evaluated. I will make a decision soon and not before I speak to the chief," he said.
During the campaign, leaders of the Prince George's chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police accused Johnson of presenting weak cases against officers to ingratiate himself with voters.
The union, which supported M.H. Jim Estepp (D-Croom) in the Democratic primary, aired radio ads during the campaign deriding Johnson's record as a prosecutor.
After his victory last month, Johnson hired Patrick V. Murphy, the District's former public safety director and former New York City police commissioner, to review the department and recommend reforms.
But in his inaugural speech Monday, Johnson emphasized crime fighting and made no mention of reform.
During yesterday's interview, Johnson said that police reform remains at the top of his priorities and that the purpose of meeting with union leaders is to talk about Murphy's evaluation of the department.
"We should all agree that his recommendations will be accepted, and we will move forward to get them implemented," Johnson said.
Walker said he's eager to meet with Johnson, in part because the union's contract is to expire in June. "We don't have to be friends, but we have to have a working relationship," he said.
Walker said the union would have difficulty forgetting Johnson's prosecutions of police officers. "I still would like Jack to explain why he ruined those officers' lives," he said. "Maybe this will be the last time we talk about it. There will be a need to move on."
Seated behind his bare desk in his office, Johnson said that he plans to take his time assembling a government and that he expects to be fully staffed by mid-January.
He wasted no time in setting a businesslike tone. After Monday's swearing-in, Johnson held a 3 p.m. Cabinet meeting for more than two dozen directors of county agencies.
The handful who arrived late -- each of them Curry holdovers -- were greeted by two police officers who informed them that the meeting was closed.
The message, Johnson said, is that "government has to run efficiently."
Johnson said that he's mulling a number of high-level appointments but that he has decided on several key players, including two from the state's attorney's office.
Michael Herman, a former assistant state's attorney, will serve as Johnson's chief of staff. David Whitaker, former head of the civil trial division, will become county attorney.
Johnson has also tapped Michael Arrington, a lobbyist and former state delegate, as the Prince George's liaison in Annapolis during the legislative session.
And he has hired Iris Boswell, a colleague when he was a lawyer at the Internal Revenue Service, as a special assistant.
Johnson has announced the hiring of Jacqueline Brown, an educator, as the county's chief administrative officer.
The flurry of activity in his opening hours, he said, has left him with no time to decorate his new office.
One thing is certain: The paintings of birds that adorned the walls through the Curry years will find a new home.
"We're going to get the birds down," Johnson said. "We got enough birds in here."