Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) hopes to wrap up debate over ethics reform by Friday and shift public attention to an economic development plan that he says is critical to the county’s fiscal health.
Whether he will be able to do so remains uncertain.
Baker, who took office Dec. 6 a few weeks after his predecessor Jack B. Johnson (D) and his wife Leslie Johnson were arrested on federal corruption charges, has been embroiled in efforts in the General Assembly to clean up the way the county government conducts business.
But after his plans encountered resistance from the County Council, whose members were unanimous in complaining that he was going too far by limiting their ability to review development plans, he agreed to a compromise that would set a fixed timetable, rather than the current open-ended system, for the council to review developments.
That plan is expected to come to a vote Friday in the county’s House delegation. It is similar to a plan approved last week by the county’s state Senate delegation. But some delegates say it doesn’t go far enough, and they are planning to try to amend the proposal.
In the meantime, Baker has moved to put the finishing touches on his $2.7 billion budget proposal for the county government, which he is planning to unveil Monday. Included in that plan will be a $50 million economic development package that could revamp the way the county issues permits, potentially speeding up the process and centralizing it in one government agency, similar to a plan implemented several years ago in neighboring Montgomery County. Baker is also expected to outline a series of incentives to attract development to the county, particularly to its Metro stations, which have not ridden the boom that transit-oriented development was supposed to produce throughout the Metro system.
County Council Chairman Ingrid M. Turner (D-Bowie), addressing a luncheon meeting of the Prince George’s Business Roundtable on Wednesday, said Baker is looking at several ways to attract businesses to the county, including the possibility of a rolling loan system that would help businesses receive financing for new projects. She declined to offer further details, saying she did not want to step on Baker’s message, which is expected to be outlined Monday when he releases his budget.
Former County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D), who headed Baker’s transition until he left late last year to become president of the Michael Cos., a major player in Prince George’s real estate, told the gathering that the ethics debate had “discouraged” businesses from coming to the county.
“The newspaper ... and some zealots have seized the microphone to say that Prince George’s County is not a good place to do business,” he said. “We have to change the conversation.”