Prince George's delegates support ethics bill described as not strong enough'
Lawmakers say they are backing plan to show support for county executive's effort
Lobbying by Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III helped persuade county delegates to support an ethics bill he championed, despite criticism from lawmakers that the proposal avoids "meaningful" reforms.
"I don't think it's strong enough. I really don't," said Del. Anne Healey (D-Dist. 22) of Hyattsville, who voted in favor of supporting the ethics bill even though she said it does not address its primary goal of ensuring that politics are not interfering with development projects.
Healey said she is backing the bill to show support for Baker's effort.
Baker proposed reforms in February that would have prevented the County Council from holding up projects unless a formal appeal was made by residents or a "party of record." In the past, council members would hold up projects for years with little explanation, developers said, and would ask for campaign donations and other favors in exchange for support. Baker's initial proposal also required council members who took developer donations through campaign slates to recuse themselves from voting on those projects.
County Council members said the package hindered their oversight powers and reached a compromise with Baker removing the developer donation portion and requiring the group to act on any final site plan within 205 days.
The bill must still be approved by the Maryland General Assembly. Lawmakers say it will likely pass because it has significant support from county legislators.
"We may be missing our chance to do meaningful legislation," said Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Dist. 47) of Cheverly, who also supported the compromise after withdrawing a proposal that would have appointed a board to oversee development decisions in the county rather than have council members in charge of zoning.
Prince George's is the only county in the state where elected council members approve zoning projects. Other counties give an appointed board the final say on developments.
Lawmakers are still debating Baker's call for members who accepted slates donations to recuse themselves from voting on donor's projects in a separate bill. Senate members have not supported the slates portion, and Delegation Chairwoman Melony G. Griffith (D-Dist. 25) of Upper Marlboro said she did not know if it has enough support to pass the legislature.
"We have created a compromise that has moved the ball forward' in terms of creating more certainty for the business community with the process," Baker's spokesman, Scott Peterson, said in a statement on the legislation after declining repeated requests for an interview with Baker.
Council Chairwoman Ingrid Turner (D-Dist. 4) of Bowie described the legislation as "a start."
"The council will continue to work on measures on their own," she said.
Many delegates said their support was solidified when Baker lobbied over the past week for the compromise with personal phone calls and visits.
"How can we not support something that's moving in the right direction?" said Del. Carolyn J.B. Howard (D-Dist. 24) of Mitchellville. "[The executive] has said, Respect my decision. Respect my authority.'"
Delegates warned they will be watching the council's behavior on zoning issues closer than before.
"I will say, we won't be afraid to revisit this issue in the future," said Del. Benjamin Barnes (D-Dist. 21) of College Park.