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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Still more on PG County Credit Card Corruption

Rather than cut up the cards as suggested at the end of the article, the county should begin posting, on the county's web site, a full accounting of ALL the expenditures, whether credit card or other means of payment, made by our elected officials.

Our elected officials, both the offenders and the others, have made it clear they they cannot be trusted to monitor spending, so they should make the data readily available for both citizens and the press to monitor how our money is spent.

On 11/30/06, Jacob Andoh wrote:
Source/credit: Washington Post, Thursday, November 30, 2006;
Residents Fume Over Expense Accounts
Inquiry Underway Into Officials' Credit Card Use

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 30, 2006; B02

Officials in Prince George's continue to hear from angry constituents concerned that public officials have charged thousands of dollars to their county-issued credit cards to pay for personal expenses, violating county policy. Even as State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh launches an investigation, the County Council has pledged to work on a parallel track to review procedures for use of the cards and appropriate business expenditures.

A recent Washington Post article examined county records and found that over the past four years, council members and County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) have charged thousands of dollars to county Visa cards for expenses such as clothing, gym memberships and plane tickets. The revelations have hit a nerve for some county residents, coming only a few months after the disclosure that in Johnson's first term, he awarded several million dollars in county contracts to friends and supporters, some of whom produced no work in return.
As a result, Johnson battled charges of corruption from former delegate Rushern L. Baker III before the Democratic primary for executive in September. Johnson narrowly defeated Baker in a race that most predicted would not be close.

"The one-word summary on people's reaction is outrage," said Stan Fetter, a community activist from Accokeek. "The contracting business a few months ago and now this? It all stinks to high heaven."

The council did not address the matter at its public meeting Tuesday, and Johnson declined to comment on the investigation.

Council Chairman Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Laurel) said he has fielded a dozen e-mails and phone calls in response to the credit-card usage. Ramon Korionoff, spokesman for State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey, said his office received about 40 calls and e-mails demanding an investigation. Ivey referred the matter to Rohrbaugh.

"There have been many angry constituents calling about this matter," Korionoff said. "Many of them have suggested that if they were to do that sort of thing, they might either be fired or criminally prosecuted."

It has also been a popular topic on Internet mailing lists, where residents have taken Johnson and the council to task.

Dernoga said he believed that The Post article "blurred the distinction between personal expenses, which must be reimbursed, and expenses that qualify as business expenses. However, they may be argued to be extravagant."

He said that based on his discussions with staff members, he believed that all personal expenses had been repaid by council members near the time they were incurred and that the investigation would prove it. He said the council will review its policies on how much is appropriate to spend on legitimate county expenses.

Jim Keary, a spokesman for Johnson, said his office has received only three phone calls and possibly no e-mails on the issue. Keary said he spoke to each of the callers, convincing each that Johnson's expenses were legitimate.

"What's important is that once people find out the entire truth on it, they have a complete understanding," he said.

He said he explained that a 2005 trip Johnson took to Senegal was for the dedication of a $46 million project by a Prince George's developer. Johnson used his county credit card to pay $6,003 for business-class plane tickets.

Keary also explained that a trip to Las Vegas, for which Johnson stayed at the Bellagio hotel, resulted in important business deals for the county.

Those explanations did little to sway Alonzo Grigsby, a resident from Fort Washington. "When you go to places like the Bellagio, you're trying to get first-class accommodations," he said. "I just don't think that's absolutely necessary for county officials."

Fetter said he was doubtful that the council and Johnson could fully investigate their own actions. He said they should cease their use of the county-issued credit cards. Elected officials in the region's two similar-size jurisdictions, Montgomery and Fairfax counties, do not receive credit cards.

"The council should pull out their cards," he said "Everyone should put them in a pile and cut them up. I want to watch it on TV. Anything short of that is lip service."

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