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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Post editorial: Prince George’s council members spend money like few others

Editorial Board Opinion
Prince George’s council members spend money like few others.
By Editorial, Sunday, May 29, 6:53 PM

PRINCE GEORGE’S County Council members pay themselves $96,417 a year, more than their counterparts elsewhere in Maryland or, for that matter, in most of the biggest cities in America — Baltimore, Boston and Houston, to name just a few. The council also bestows more money on its own operations, staff and contractors than councils elsewhere, spending more per resident, for example, than councils in Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles, and more as a percentage of total government spending than councils in New York, Dallas and the District of Columbia.

In fact, most local governing bodies, compared to Prince George’s, look like models of thrift. In neighboring Montgomery County, for instance, council members spend about $2 million less on themselves and their staff annually, despite overseeing 140,000 more people and a budget 40 percent larger than the one in Prince George’s. Why in the world should the council in Prince George’s be outspending councils in larger, richer and more populous localities?

 As a proportion of the county’s $2.7 billion budget, the council’s own spending ($12.9 million) might be only the subject of some mild derision were it not for the deep-seated context of public corruption, ethical blindness and official arrogance in the county. For years, too many elected officials have treated the county as a bottomless money pit for themselves and their friends. The fact that the council’s own spendthrift habits are over the top reflects that long-standing culture of impunity, unaccountability and self-indulgence.

The council has improved lately, thanks to a couple of smart, straight-talking newcomers elected last fall. Nonetheless, it must be galling to county workers, most of whose salaries remain frozen for the third straight year as a result of council action, that the council’s own pay is scheduled to rise at the end of this year, albeit modestly and by vote of last year’s outgoing council, five of whose members are gone.

Equally troubling, the council’s own budget, operations and activities remain opaque. As The Post’s Miranda S. Spivack reported, it’s not just that the public can’t find the details of the council’s budget or its outside contracts online; even some council members said that they were unaware of them. What excuse can there be for not accounting for all county spending online, clearly and accessibly, including spending by the council and individual members?

That lack of transparency has given rise to questionable, even brazenly inappropriate spending in the past, including the disgraceful misuse by council members of their county-issued credit cards for personal expenses; those credit cards should never have been issued. The county’s reputation has been badly stained by such antics, as well as by the recent corruption conviction of former county executive Jack B. Johnson. Council members say they want to set a new ethical tone for the county. They could start by tightening their own belts and establishing a new standard of public accountability and transparency.
Comment: Interesting that there is no mention of the political party of all the council members, old and new, and  convicted county executive Johnson.  I can't help wondering if the Post would have made the same omission of all or most of the people mentioned had been from the other party.

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