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Prince George's council to decide on new ethics office

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Photo - Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker (Examiner file photo)
Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker (Examiner file photo)
Local,Maryland,Matt Connolly

Prince George's County could have a new ethics office next year if County Executive Rushern Baker's plan passes council scrutiny Tuesday.

The Office of Ethics and Accountability, first proposed in July, would handle tips of illegal activity or unethical conduct by county employees, conduct any investigations and oversee ethics training for other agencies. It would start out with a $376,000 budget and include an executive director appointed by the county executive and confirmed by the County Council along with two investigators.

Baker campaigned largely on ethics reform in 2010, saying he would create an inspector general's office to investigate waste, fraud and abuse in county government. Baker's predecessor, Jack Johnson, was sentenced to more than seven years in prison in 2011 for taking more than $1 million in bribes. His wife, County Councilwoman Leslie Johnson, pleaded guilty to conspiring to tamper with witnesses and evidence after she was caught by FBI agents stuffing $79,600 in her bra and underwear and flushing a $100,000 check down a toilet.

Adding an inspector general was recommended in a 2011 report from the county's Baker-convened Accountability, Compliance and Integrity Advisory Board, which was headed by former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke.

According to Brad Frome, Baker's deputy chief of staff, an inspector general isn't necessary because some of those duties are already undertaken by other departments, including the Office of Audits and Investigations and CountyStat. The new ethics office, he said, can do the rest.

"If you look at inspector generals, they traditionally cover waste, fraud and abuse," Frome said. "We're focused on the fraud and abuse part."

The county has a Board of Ethics appointed by the county executive and approved by the council. Under the legislation, the new office's director would head the board, which investigated one complaint in 2011 and never met in 2010.

The new office would remain separate from the Office of Audits and Investigations.

"Audits and Investigations is more the financial side - 'Do these numbers add up?' " Frome said. "This would be more conduct-based."

If approved by the County Council, the office would likely open in the spring, Frome said.

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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