Ethics bill set to be passed by Prince George's council

Local,Maryland,Ben Giles
The Prince George's County Council is poised to pass ethics reform that would open the county's financial records to the public, but some say the legislation falls short without more comprehensive reform.

A new spending disclosure bill, introduced by Council Chairman Ingrid Turner, D-Bowie, and Councilman Mel Franklin, D-Upper Marlboro, requires county officials to develop a website providing data of county expenses greater than $25,000.

That includes loans and other expenses from County Executive Rushern Baker's $50 million economic development incentive fund. The council is expected to pass legislation establishing the fund Tuesday, in addition to the ethics bill.

But without complementary recommendations made by Baker's ethics task force, not much may come of the county opening its books.

"If you find something, who do you turn it in to?" said Bob Ross, president of the Prince George's County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "That's why we need an inspector general's office to get it resolved."

All payments, grants or loans made by the county must be included on the website, other than any information deemed confidential by county, state or federal law, as well as the salaries, benefits and pensions of county employees - the only exception to the rule specified in the bill.

Prince George's officials modeled the legislation after a similar website operated by Montgomery County, which allows residents to search through a database of county expenses by payee, county department or ZIP code. Montgomery County's database also excludes employee salary and benefit information.

If passed, the legislation requires Prince George's County officials to have the website up by Jan. 1.

"There's generally cynicism about how money is spent," Franklin said. "[This bill] is an effort to make sure residents have all the tools they need to hold their local government accountable for the money they're spending."

The website initially would contain information about fiscal 2012 expenses. Data would be updated quarterly.

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