No Open Mike for Prince George's Council
In comments this week, Prince George's Council Chairman Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville) offered a new and unusual theory of public discourse for elected officials: He said it is "inappropriate" for elected officials to comment on matters until they have already agreed to the budget.
Dean has been taking some flak for his refusal Tuesday to take questions after the council voted, without comment, to raise taxes. When asked that day to explain why the council decided the income and recordation hikes were necessary, he said he would offer no comments until the budget was complete the following day. When told by a reporter that it is unusual to pass a tax increase without immediately explaining the reason for doing so, Dean said, "Be surprised -- now you've seen it."
But Dean backtracked on his no-comment after a story including his refusal appeared on the Post's website. Late on Tuesday, he issued a statement indicating that, in difficult economic times, the council had to "address the realities of the current economy and make the difficult decisions to improve the quality of life for our residents."
But the public criticism, expressed in emails and on a county listserv, seemed to sting. Addressing a public meeting Wednesday, Dean said that during his exchange with reporters, "the impression was given that I was not able to talk about the vote that had just been taken."
"The fact that I did not provide a reason that inquiring journalists deemed acceptable does not mean I did not have proper justification for not immediately offering comment," he continued. "I did not do so due to ongoing budget negotiations and processes. It would have been inappropriate for me, or any other member of this body, to comment at that time, given the sensitive nature of the discussion during this budget season."
Dean's stand is highly unusual among elected officials at all levels of government, who almost always discuss and comment on tax and budget votes.
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