Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III’s choice to lead the county’s troubled housing department was suspended from one job for submitting a grant application with an unauthorized signature and fired from another.
But Eric C. Brown, whom Baker named Monday to head the county’s Department of Housing and Community Development, said both actions were politically motivated.
In 1993, Brown was head of the housing authority in Meridian, Miss., when he was suspended for submitting a grant application that contained the mayor’s unauthorized signature. Five years earlier, he had been fired from his job as deputy director of housing in Birmingham, Ala.
Brown most recently worked as executive director of the Annapolis Housing Authority.
Baker (D) said Monday, after announcing plans to hire Brown, that he was unaware of the suspension or the dismissal. The county executive said that his team “ran [Brown’s] name by folks atHUD” — the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development — and that he was told of laudable work Brown had done in Annapolis and in Baltimore, where he was deputy director of the housing authority.
“I feel confident in this choice,” Baker said after he was told of the suspension.
Scott Peterson, a spokesman for Baker, said Brown was chosen after an extensive search by the transition team and human resources officials. “In Annapolis, he took that agency” out of having “a troubled agency status,” Peterson said.
Both Peterson and Brown characterized the suspension in Mississippi and the dismissal in Alabama as politically motivated.
“Some places play politics dirtier than others,” Brown said.
Brown said he had squabbles with Meridian’s mayor at the time, Jack Kemp. His staff submitted a grant application that included a prior year’s certification containing the mayor’s signature, and Kemp alleged that Brown forged his signature, Brown said.
Brown said he was suspended for 90 days without pay, but he said an investigation found he had not forged the signature.
Baker is being watched closely as he figures out how to deal with the county’s housing department, which has been at the center of the alleged pay-to-play scandal involving former County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D).
According to the indictment against Johnson, he and another public official accepted things of value — including money, trip expenses, airline tickets, rounds of golf, mortgage payments and in-kind campaign contributions — from business owners and developers in return for official favors, including housing grant funding. The indictment doesn’t name the other official, but it says he was Johnson’s housing director. The housing director at the time was James Johnson, who is not related to the former county executive.
The department has also been criticized by the federal government for the way it has handled a program that distributes federal money to create affordable housing in the county.
Last year, the county was forced to return $2 million to the federal government after failing to meet a five-year deadline for spending the money. And in October 2008, the county nearly lost $5 million funds from the federal HOME program after failing to meet a deadline for earmarking the money.
Brown, whose appointment is subject to confirmation by the County Council, said he looks forward to turning around Prince George’s housing department.
“Everywhere I have gone I have made a difference,” he said. “And one of my tasks is to bring this agency on a better footing.”