Prince George's ethics group wants reform plan in place by spring
Panel pushes for spring report on investigating complaints about government
Members of a new task force studying ethics reform in Prince George's County say they hope to come up with a way to investigate complaints of government "shenanigans" by late spring.
"An aggressive schedule conveys that this is important to us," said retired judge William D. Missouri at the first meeting of the Accountability, Compliance and Integrity Advisory Board on Saturday in Largo.
The four-member panel was created by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) to study ways the county will investigate complaints of potential fraud, illegal activity and expand oversight of the government.
Ethics and transparency in the county have taken on new urgency in recent months following the arrest of former County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), who is under investigation for allegations that he took payments from an unnamed developer in exchange for help securing U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding allocated to the county.
"There's lots of evidence to support that there is a pay-to-play culture," said Peter Shapiro, a former County Council member appointed to the panel.
Former Baltimore city Mayor Kurt Schmoke and Patricia Adams, a Riverdale attorney who serves on the state's Workers' Compensation Commission, are also on the panel, which plans to meet on nights and weekends at Prince George's Community College. The next meeting had not been set as of press time.
Members said they are trying to find out how the county handles complaints before proposing any solution.
"If there was an employee in central services who thought there were some shenanigans, is there a number they can call?" Schmoke asked.
"I've been a judge here for years," Missouri replied. "I'm not aware of there being any line where a citizen can call."
Group members said they are likely to propose creating an independent investigator for the county who could interview witnesses and check into complaints from whistleblowers. Though the county already has an Office of Audits and Investigations, its investigators report directly to the County Council.
Members said they plan to interview county employees and investigators as well as outside government agencies for the best recommendations.
"We have to investigate where the problems are, and then from there, look to see what takes place in other jurisdictions," Adams said.
About 25 residents attended Saturday's meeting. Some urged panel members to push the county to conduct its business more openly.
"The people are as eager to escape the stain of negative appearances as anybody else," said Andy Carruthers of Greenbelt.