Baker, council negotiate compromise on ethics reforms
Proposed modifications to be discussed with state senators Thursday afternoon
Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and the County Council have reached a tentative agreement on ethics reforms intended to improve transparency in government business dealings.
Last month, Baker proposed legislation to prevent County Council members and the county executive from receiving any campaign contributions from developers through slate accounts.
The revised deal will prevent council members and the county executive from receiving slate contributions from developers who have a project pending, but allows contributions to be made before the project is submitted and after it is approved. Though elected official cannot accept developer donations directly now, developers have been free to give to slates that council members share with other politicians.
Baker's original proposal also would have prevented council members from holding up development projects, a practice with no timeframe that is often used to review projects or discuss ways the developer could contribute to the community before approval.
Under the deal announced Wednesday, council members would be required to make a decision within 180 days and post the names of campaign contributors connected with the development project online.
"All their architects, engineers, all of them would have to be posted on a website," said Lisa Jackson, Baker's director of intergovernmental affairs. "People will be able to see all the monies, the contributions that have been made, and by whom. It's a transparency provision."
Council members had opposed Baker's initial legislation, which they said limited their role in shaping development. The bills still must be amended and approved by county delegates and senators before going to the full legislature for passage.
Baker was unavailable for comment Wednesday. He is scheduled to discuss the compromise with county senators Thursday afternoon.
The deal came after weeks of private negotiations between Baker and the council.
"We're all on the same page," Council Chairwoman Ingrid Turner (D-Dist. 4) of Bowie told Prince George's delegates Wednesday, when the changes were presented. "I'm delighted that the county executive and the council are working together in a collaborative manner. Like you all do, we want Prince George's County government to always work better."
Developers have complained that the council gives few reasons for holding up projects, at times up to a year. Council members have now agreed that the council must hold a hearing on any development they hold up within 120 days. The group then has another 60 days to vote whether the project can go forward.
"It provides clarity and a time certainty," Turner said. "You will have an action."
Council members will still be allowed to ask developers for "public benefits," such as funding for schools, investments in nonprofits and other "community benefits" while a site plan is being reviewed by the council.
The original ethics bill Baker proposed had prevented members from soliciting "anything of value" from a developer seeking county site plan approval.
"Anything of value should really mean [demand for] something unrelated, a pay-to-play kind of thing," said Del. Aisha N. Braveboy (D-Dist. 25) of Mitchellville, adding that banning legislators' ability to demand community benefits "would actually do a disservice to the residents."
All sides agreed to a rule barring county elected officials and school board members from having government-issued credit cards. That practice was ended in 2006, after past boards and councils were discovered using the cards to pay for personal expenses.
"We don't do it now, but we'd like it in so if there's another superintendent or county executive, it would be codified," Turner said.