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Posted at 7:12 PM ET, 01/ 8/2011

New ethics measures sought in Prince George's

By Miranda S. Spivack

Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III (D) is asking the Maryland General Assembly to approve two ethics measures to limit the ability of local lawmakers to seek campaign contributions from developers as the county seeks to shed its reputation as a place where businesses had to "pay to play."

The proposals, which mirror promises Baker made during his campaign, come as former County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) and his wife, newly installed County Council member Leslie Johnson (D), face federal charges of destruction of evidence and evidence-tampering in a corruption probe. The Johnsons were overheard on a federal wiretap on Nov. 12 discussing ways to destroy a $100,000 check allegedly from a developer and to hide $79,600 in cash in Leslie Johnson's bra.

One of Baker's measures would restrict Prince George's County Council members' ability to accept campaign contributions from developers at the same time they are considering legislation that would directly affect developers. A second bill would limit the council members' ability to inject their views into pending development proposals unless a developer or a resident has asked for council intervention.

The measures would close a loophole that allows council members to vote on cases in which they have received contributions through a slate, an indirect way of receiving funds that otherwise are barred by law. Even though the county executive does not play a direct role in zoning matters, Baker's proposal also seeks to restrict the county executive's ability to collect campaign funds from a developer while an application is pending. A bill plugging the slate loophole also has been proposed by Dels. Dereck E. Davis and Justin Ross, Prince George's Democrats.

"These bills represent a balanced approach to address past bad practices," Baker said in a statement issued Saturday. "They are not an attempt to upset the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches."

The second bill would prohibit council members from seeking review of development site plan cases that are decided by the planning board when neither the developer nor a resident has appealed. The intent of this bill is to address prior instances of "pay to play" where council members have "called" up cases for the purpose of seeking concessions from developers, Baker's statement said.

By Miranda S. Spivack  | January 8, 2011; 7:12 PM ET
Categories:  Prince George's County  
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