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More Cracks in WSSC Relations

By Jonathan Mummolo

Prince George's and Montgomery Counties have long had acrimonious relations over the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission -- the troubled Maryland utility whose underground water pipes have been breaking with a startling regularity.

But the push by Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) to speedily replace a controversial commission member has raised the possibility of a new rift over the obscure body: One between Johnson and the Prince George's County Council.

Today, the council will hear public comments on Johnson's pick, Antonio L. Jones, a Largo-based management consultant tapped to succeed Juanita D. Miller whose term expired May 31. Jones's nomination was slated to be taken up last week in committee but was scrubbed from the agenda.

The item has been rescheduled for later this month, said the Transportation, Housing and Environment committee's chair, Council Member Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Laurel). That means Jones' confirmation vote could be delayed until after the council's August recess. Johnson appears to be eyeing the holdup with suspicion.

"I'm very concerned," Johnson said today when asked if he thought the council was stonewalling his nomination. "Mr. Jones is a person that brings people together, and I think that's needed at WSSC."

Dernoga downplayed the rescheduling as a simple logistical matter. He said his committee had to address a complex item concerning the Community Development Block Grant program that morning, and ran out of time, but that he doesn't foresee a problem with the nomination.

"Because the CDBG material was sent down so late, it didn't leave time to deal with the appointment when [Johnson] wanted it dealt with, but it's scheduled for the next meeting," Dernoga said. "It'll get done."

Miller -- who critics say has been at the root of squabbles on the often dysfunctional bi-county board -- will continue to serve until her replacement is confirmed.

Asked why he chose to replace her and what he thought of her record, Johnson said, "Her record speaks for itself," and cited Miller's plans to run for county council as part of his thinking.

"My understanding is she's going to run for office, and I don't think you can run for office and hold that position," Johnson said. "So we would have been in an election year, where you have to appoint someone, and I'd like to get it done before the election year."

Miller was first appointed to the WSSC board in 1996 by then-County Executive Wayne K. Curry and served until 2002. She was reappointed by Johnson in 2005.

In an interview this morning, Miller reiterated that she only learned of Johnson's plan to replace her when a Washington Post reporter called her last month and asked her whether that was the case. She then confirmed it with a member of Johnson's staff.

"As a commissioner, you serve at the pleasure of the county executive," Miller said. "I just felt that I was due the professional courtesy of being told ... I would not be reappointed, especially since the other two commissioners' terms expired two years ago."

Miller was referring to Joyce Starks and Prem Agarwal, the two other commissioners from Prince George's, who remain on the panel even though their terms ended two years ago.

By Matt Mosk  |  July 14, 2009; 1:23 PM ET
Categories:  Prince George's County  
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