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Prince George's waits for sweeping ethics reform

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Local,Maryland,Ben Giles
Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker said an inspector general's office may not be necessary to help the county clean up its ethics lapses, and instead favors cheaper approaches to government oversight through better employee training and established bodies such as the defunct Board of Ethics.

While some progress has been made to achieve more accountability and openness a year into Baker's first term, more sweeping changes outlined by his transition team and ethics task force, from strengthening the Board of Ethics to exploring the benefits of an inspector general's office, await action.

Examiner Coverage
  • Ethics bill set to be passed by Prince George's council (10-31-11)
  • Pr. George's Council backs watered-down ethics bill (2-27-11)
  • But budget constraints could keep the county from implementing all the measures, said Council Chairwoman Andrea Harrison, D-Bladensburg, particularly a recommendation as expensive as an inspector general.

    Baker's staff last year estimated a budget shortfall of about $113 million heading into fiscal 2013.

    "Money may be a hindrance, because what we're talking about is establishing a new office, which means hiring additional personnel and all the resources to go with it," Harrison said. "Do we want to do that at the risk of not being able to provide some other services? I don't know what it would cost."

    The county must look to maximize the potential of oversight tools and processes already in place, Baker told The Washington Examiner in an interview.

    "We're more concerned with the overall approach to transparency, waste, fraud, abuse, and how we make sure we're handling those issues throughout Prince George's County," Baker said.

    Harrison and Baker asked for residents' patience as they try to earn back the county's trust by weeding out shady dealings such as the pay-to-play schemes uncovered by a U.S. Attorney's Office investigation of former County Executive Jack Johnson and his wife, former Councilwoman Leslie Johnson. Federal investigators are still looking into corruption in the county.

    "It's not going to be as simple as an overnight remedy to rectify this," Harrison said, "because quite honestly, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office, we don't know how far this has gone."

    bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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