Prince George's ethics board investigates one complaint

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Local,Maryland,Ben Giles

Up from zero examinations in 2010

Prince George's County's ethics board investigated just one complaint in 2011, a year after the board handled no complaints and never met in 2010.

The four-person panel charged with enforcing the ethical conduct of government employees and elected officials received eight complaints during the year, but determined that only one fell under its jurisdiction, according to the board's annual report.

County Council Chairwoman Andrea Harrison had not seen the report, but said it was clear the county must do a better job to boost the ethics board's productivity while informing county employees and residents about the board's purpose.

County Executive Rushern Baker wants to overhaul the agency as part of his promised ethics reform for Prince George's. He gave the ethics board a $166,500 budget in fiscal 2012, the first funds allocated for the panel in more than four years.

Baker has suggested the board be reorganized into a new Office of Ethics and Accountability to investigate fraud, waste and unethical behavior, in light of the troublesome behavior of county officials in recent years.

Former County Executive Jack Johnson pleaded guilty in 2011 for his leadership role in an extortion conspiracy involving shady development deals that lasted the length of his eight-year administration.

Also caught in the scandal were Johnson's wife, former Councilwoman Leslie Johnson, and the county's former housing director, James Johnson.

The County Council is reviewing Baker's ethics recommendations.

"County Executive Rushern Baker's administration has been engaged on this issue since taking office," said spokesman Scott Peterson. "That money is a sign of commitment the county executive has to making sure the ethics board fulfills their mission."

But the money can cover only the cost of two part-time employees, and the ethics board remained mostly inactive for the second consecutive year.

Neighboring Montgomery County's ethics commission received and investigated an estimated seven complaints in fiscal 2011. However, Montgomery also has an inspector general's office to investigate fraud and waste, as well as a fraud hotline.

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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