A task force to help Prince George’s County shed its reputation for government corruption is urging county officials to create an independent government watchdog, set up a hotline for tips, strengthen the county’s ethics board and augment protections for whistleblowers who find abuses in government.
The proposals from the Accountability, Compliance and Integrity Task Force, if implemented, could make the county a national leader among local governments. Only a relative handful of jurisdictions outside the federal government have their own inspectors general, and many lack incentives for government workers to help ferret out corruption or propose ways to save money.
The task force was set up by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), who ran on a platform of cleaning up government and helping the county shed its reputation that companies had to “pay to play” to do business in the county.
That image was exacerbated with the arrests on Nov. 12 of then-County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), and his wife, current Council member Leslie Johnson (D), after federal agents said they heard the couple plotting to destroy evidence, including a $100,000 check from a developer, and to hide $79,600 in cash in Leslie Johnson’s bra.
“I think the strong message the executive and the County Council would like to hear from us is that ... we believe it is in the best interest of the county to have an independent inspector general,” said Howard University Law School Dean Kurt L. Schmoke, who chaired the panel for Baker.