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Johnson seeks to oust head of Prince George's planning board

Jonathan Mummolo

Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson is trying to get rid of Samuel J. Parker, Jr. (right), the man he appointed to lead the county Planning Board, according to Parker and several county sources familiar with the matter.

Johnson wants to replace Parker, who has served since 2005, with Johnson's Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, David Byrd. If Byrd is confirmed for the four-year term, it will prevent the next county executive from choosing his or her own planning chairman for several years.

With a role in approving much of the county's development, the planning board chairman is one of the most powerful appointments a county executive can make. It is unusual for a lame duck executive to seek to remove a chairman of the Planning Board -- especially one he selected.

After hearing rumors that Johnson planned to replace him, Parker said he went to members of the County Council Thursday to find out if it was true, and that they confirmed it. Parker said he understands that he serves at the pleasure of the county executive, but he felt disrespected that Johnson had not talked to him about the ouster.

"I found out about it secondhand," Parker said. "My issue is not that it was done. It is how it was done. ... We have to get to a point where personality doesn't drive decisions or how you treat people."

Parker said he does not want to fight the ouster.

Byrd said he plans to meet with members of the council to discuss his nomination.

"I'm grateful that Mr. Johnson continues to have confidence in me to continue to serve the residents of Prince George's County in a capacity such as this," Byrd said during a recent interview.

As a newly-elected county executive, Johnson tried to get rid of former Planning Board Chairman Elizabeth M. "Betty" Hewlett -- an appointee of the previous county executive, Wayne Curry -- before her term was over. In order to do that, Johnson needed state legislation. The General Assembly approved the bill, which became known in Annapolis as the "Betty bill," but then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) killed it.

In Parker's case, the timing is even more unusual considering his term ended in June and he could simply remain in place until a new county executive is elected.

Byrd said that he did not know the circumstances surrounding Johnson's decision to get rid of Parker, and that he wouldn't speculate about them.

"The county executive decided to make a change," he said. "For a particular reason why he made it, you'll have to ask Mr. Johnson."

A request for comment made Saturday to Johnson's spokesman, John Erzen, was not returned.

Parker said he has begun a lot of initiatives that he had hoped to bring to fruition, including Envision, the county's ambitious plan to involve the community in developing a plan for the future and revising the county zoning code.

Sylvester Vaughns, vice chairman of the Planning Board, said over the last couple of days he had heard "scuttlebutt" about a replacement, but he didn't think it was true. He said it "would be most unfortunate" to lose Parker.

Meanwhile, Byrd said he looks forward to leading the board, if the council chooses to give him the opportunity.

"The process has begun and I look forward to meeting with members of the council and answering any questions and concerns they they might have," Byrd said.

-- Ovetta Wiggins and Jonathan Mummolo

By Jonathan Mummolo  |  February 21, 2010; 11:26 AM ET
Categories:  2010 Elections , Jonathan Mummolo , Prince George's County  
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So what's this?!

Thank you Mr. Mummolo. Oh how little things escape notice while our media focuses on traffic and weather every seven minutes.

Sounds like more jack johnson Shenanigans (yes small caps for a small man). I've dealt with Mr. Byrd as an administrator, and although he's a nice enough person with a background in business, I fear his ties to business may be too strong. This may be just another payoff from the outgoing administration to the developers.

As for his abilities in government, I got no push with him when trying to get him to reign in his agencies for stonewalling on public service action. In fact he seemed not to have much of a clue as to how to direct his staffers and agency heads to properly respond to a simple but urgent request.

Not encouraging.

I also received an email from someone named David Byrd shortly after that asking me to support someone named Rushern Baker for County Executive??! I wrote back asking if he was the same as the county official, but alas, I never received a response or another email from THAT David Byrd. Could there be 2 David Byrds involved in Prince George's Politics?

As for the Planning Board? Sheesh! It could use a little work. Mr. Parker has presided over a rubber stamp committee. Although 2 members of the board seem to have common sense and dignity in matters that impact the people-the real people of the county--most developers know that it's just a formality sending packets to their attention.

Chairman is an important position. Too important to allow "jack" to screw that up for the people of the county even after his time has run out.

What can we do? What must we do?

Posted by: CyrusBorg | February 21, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

I couldn't agree more with the previous posted comment. This is beginning to feel like Uncle Jack's Cabin, or a fiefdom, not a
21st Century County government in the shadow of the nation's capital. I for one cannot WAIT until the era of jack johnson is over.
It has not been a stellar period in this county's history, to say the least. It is clear Johnson has been nothing but the tool of the developers. Mr. Johnson, clean out your desk now, so we won't have to deal with you a minute longer than is absolutely necessary.

Posted by: lanlady301 | February 21, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Correction: I am in agreement with the post of Mr. Cyrus Borg, not the trash posted by the next person. Just want to be clear.

Posted by: lanlady301 | February 21, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Is Mr. Byrd a Republican, given that he previously was chief of staff for Michael Steele? Is this another case of business elite (black and white) taking control of the mechanisms of our county? Wayne Curry was a masterful shill for the developers, while cloaking himself in the rhetoric of minority advancement. (And he stands firmly behind Rushern Baker.) Sam Dean is of the same ilk: it is about prosperity for the elite and business class.

If our county had two parties, these people above would be Republicans. Perhaps Mr. Byrd is more honest in his true party leaning?

Posted by: Towards_Light | February 21, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

If the WaPo promotes trash office holders they too should support trash-talking bloggers wholesale and lower the price of their newspapers and ads too.

Posted by: foxxmacpryor | February 21, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

foxxmacpryor, I am reporting u to the Post for inflammatory and racist comments.
--A white Prince Georgian

Posted by: Towards_Light | February 21, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

It's really not that hard to understand. When you're a lame duck politician with little chance of being elected to any future office, who better to have in your debt than the chairman of the planning board.

Posted by: learnedhand1 | February 21, 2010 9:06 PM | Report abuse

Please note that the County Executive's power is one of nomination. That nomination, under State law, must be approved or confirmed by the County Council sitting as the District Council. The question becomes whether Mr. Johnson has the support of a majority of the County Council to approve the appointment of anyone at this time. Perhaps those members of the County Council who a running for re-election could be interviewed to see if they would rather await the election of a new County Executive before they confirm a nomination of a Planning Board Chair that they will have to live with for at least 3 years in the future. Also, those members of the County Council who are seeking election as County Executive might want to await the outcome of the election so the winner can make an appointment for someone he or she can work with.

How about a follow-up story with the rest of the equation, Ovetta and Jonathon?

Posted by: ralphgrutzmacher | February 22, 2010 1:53 AM | Report abuse

Have you not paid attention to what is happening around this Cevery ountry since we elected our first Black President? One thing we as Black people must learn if nothing else, and that is that we must stop handing our people (Black people) over to Pontius Pilate for him to crucify them for us. This does not mean that we can turn a blind eye to what they do or do not do, what it means is that we must exercise our intelligence as to how we want to address the cause and affect of the issue as it relates to us as a people and to the country in which we live. Have you not heard the cry "We want 'our' country back"? President Obama will be long out of office before he comes to the realization that he is President and start leading, and before they realize that he is the President of thses un-United States.

Concerning Pilate, he has never handed over a single Barabbas to us to do anything with. Quite the contrary, they generally protect their Barabbas's to the bitten end and allow them to either die off, or wither away into the sunset in total silence. Have you not noticed that the election of a Black President has brought out the best and the worst in all of us and it's time for America to take a deep breath, in and exhale, put on our thinking caps and be about the business of governing instead of trying to kill each other.

Douglas Edwards
Capitol Heights, MD

Posted by: dougedwards1 | February 22, 2010 7:38 AM | Report abuse

Johnson should have been firing the Director of Public Work (Mr. Hijazi) for the terrible job he did with the snow removal. His incompetent staff was clueless regarding how to manage District Managers and scheduling the snow removal. The Public Work District 3 manager is the WORST in the State of Maryland.
Jack Johnson is one sorry SOB; the council should not allow him to replace the Planning Board Director. If the Council agrees Mr Parker to be replaced, give the individual temporary duties until the new County Executive is elected. Anybody vote for any Council member running for County Executive who is familiar with Jack Johnson is a DAN# fool. The County needs new BLOOD not the deadbeat council we have now.

Posted by: mssassy | February 22, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

It is unfortunate that most comments on MANY blogs come from individuals who have limited knowledge of the the topic (in this case the process). Additionally, Prince George's County has for too long NOT relied on the business community. For better or for worse most other jurisdictions have lower real estate taxes BECAUSE they receive more of their tax revenue from businesses and their operations. It is about time that a new era of development come to Prince George's County. As a young man who is 25 years old I would rather have more businesses, restaurants, mixed use communities, high rise buildings, and retail. This WON'T happen if we continue to stonewall developers, who by the way take an enormous financial risk to provide US with homes to live in, places to recreate, places to eat, and places to play.

How about we support someone who has made it his goal to include young people in the decisions that will affect them LONG AFTER most people who are commenting on this topic are around. At the end of the day M-NCPPC needs to move into a NEW ERA with a new focus on the redevelopment of inner beltway communities, METRO Stations, and the commercial tax base. We are NO LONGER a bedroom community. New chairman, new direction, new Prince George's for 2020 and beyond.

Having a new County Executive choose the 2nd most powerful person in the governmental hierarchy is counter to how our governmental system is supposed to work. A staggered chairman and County Executive would more than likely solve the issue of the separation of powers.

Life Long (25 years) Prince Georgian

Posted by: YoungPrinceGeorgian | February 22, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

If the County Council places this fox in the hen house they are truly mentally challanged. Mr. Byrd will serve at the pleasure of Jack,I didnt know my appointees were thieves,Johnson well after Mr. Johnson's reign has ended. This highly suspicious appointment is a ruse to obtain political and financial gain for King Jack.

Posted by: jtavalon | February 23, 2010 6:38 AM | Report abuse

Regardless of Mr. Johnson's motives it is nearly IMPOSSIBLE for him to benefit directly because ANY development application he submits would have to be reveiwed by no less than 13 different agencies and 10 departments. Additionally, he would still have to get the support of the other 4 commissioners on the board. There is a system in place and it won't benefit him just because of a new chairman.

Posted by: YoungPrinceGeorgian | February 23, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

CyrusBorg and Toward_Light, they're not the same David Byrd. I didn't realize the name was that common, but the David Byrd in this article and the David Byrd affiliated with Rushern Baker's campaign are two separate people.

Posted by: | February 24, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

It is absolutely incorrect for an outgoing head of any dept. or agency or
co. to select another appointee's staff.
It was stated : this is the same identicial selection process he made when he came into this office with that chairman and since it worked with that position, it seems he is trying it again.

I believe the council has the responsibility to the citizens and to the county which it represents, to be honest and open to the citizens of Prince George's county and follow the rules for a fair and democratic process in it's elections or selections of officials.

This selection certainly smells of a debt
that must be paid at any cost.

A correct action would be to keep the current Chairman ,whom he praised so highly and who has done an outstanding job, ( based on his own words ) in place and let the new Chairman appoint his own staff. This appointee would be in office for the next four years whether the working
relationship is positive or negative. This
could create an unhappy and disruptive working environment for a long four (4) years. The citizens and employees will be
the one who will really pay the price.

Mr Parker has proven himself to be a competent, honest and knowledgable chairman. I have kown and worked with him
since he came into this chairmanship position. (not on a personal level but on
a professional working level.)

There is no logical reason he should not
remain in this position until the new appointee is in office,since his term has
expired there is no conflict of interest
there. And there does not seem to be any
evidence that he in debt to anyone.

Posted by: h5134543 | February 25, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

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