P.G. Council, businesses question administration of economic fund

By |
Local,Maryland,Ben Giles
Prince George's County Council members and business leaders are questioning why the county executive's office, rather than one of the county's financial institutions that already distribute grants, would run a proposed economic development incentive fund.

The $50 million fund, Rushern Baker's first major initiative as county executive, would shell out millions of dollars to businesses in an effort to keep them from leaving the county, as well as to attract new developers to Prince George's.

Baker shelved the legislation establishing the fund earlier this summer after a failed attempt to pass the bill before the council's recess. Council members have sparred with the executive over whether the fund includes proper checks and balances to prevent abuse -- fears warranted by the recent pay-to-play scandals that ensnared former County Executive Jack Johnson and his wife, former Councilwoman Leslie Johnson.

Baker hired a team of three economic experts -- Carla Reid, Aubrey Thagard and David Iannucci, who managed a similar fund for the city of Baltimore -- to help draft and establish the fund.

While the credentials of Baker's economic team are unquestioned, county business leaders say those positions may not have been necessary given the presence of other county agencies, such as the Prince George's Economic Development Corporation or Financial Services Corporation, that already manage grants and loans to local businesses.

"If you're talking about streamlining the process, rather than creating a new position, why not place it in the hands of an entity that already has grants in the scope of their business," said Octavia Caldwell, chief executive officer of ROC Consultants and chairwoman of the Prince George's Chamber of Commerce's legislative committee.

By bringing the fund under the executive's purview, Baker has added new items to the county budget, positions that will have to be filled each year even after Baker's term expires.

"It seems the county executive's office is not the place to administer economic development incentive funds," Caldwell said.

According to Baker's economic team, consolidating power with the county executive's office is essential given the nature of the Prince George's County government. The two financial programs will have critical roles

in administering the fund, but so will a host of other county agencies, Iannccui said -- as many as 15 agencies could be part of the funding process.

"In Baltimore, I was able to run a similar program with essentially all the tools under one roof," Iannccui said. In Prince George's County, "power is not consolidated under one economic function."

Members of Baker's economic team have been meeting this summer to iron out the details of administering the multimillion-dollar fund.

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

View article comments Leave a comment
Author:

Ben Giles

Staff Writer - Crime Beat
The Washington Examiner