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Friday, May 06, 2011

Prince George's County Council assails Baker's economic reorganization

Prince George's County Council assails Baker's economic reorganization; Chairwoman: 'We don't understand how all the pieces fit together'

Gazette, 6 May 2011 Robbins

Prince George's County Council members on Wednesday took the administration of County Executive Rushern L. Baker III to task, questioning his economic development plan, including its centerpiece $50 million incentive fund.

Throughout a series of economic development-related budget sessions, council members called for more input on Baker's reorganization plans. They include integrating all 12 economic development-related agencies through an economic development team helmed by Baker's deputy chief administrative officer, Carla Reid.

"This is the county equivalent of when the federal government created the Department of Homeland Security," said Councilwoman Mary A. Lehman (D-Dist. 1). The federal effort involved the consolidation of 22 agencies.

Reid did not attend Wednesday's session, although her group is scheduled to meet with the council late this month.

"That she isn't here is a huge error," Lehman said, emphasizing that the council wants to see an actual plan — rather than just a list of goals — for how agencies such as the economic development corporation intend to improve their efforts. The corporation's budget request for fiscal 2012 is $2.7 million.

Councilwoman Andrea C. Harrison (D-Dist. 5) assailed the corporation with a list of questions on "how," saying the council does not think "the mustard has been cut" regarding economic development.

Lehman said that before the county can truly improve its economic development process, it must weed out the "bad actors."

Gwen McCall, executive director of the corporation, said details behind the new team are still being worked out and Reid will discuss them with the council when they are finished.

Lehman and other council members suggested a separate session when they could meet with each of the 12 agencies to discuss how they will fit into the new model.

Council Chairwoman Ingrid Turner (D-Dist. 26) also said she was troubled that the Prince George's Financial Services Corp., one of the 12 agencies, had yet to thoroughly discuss the proposal with Reid. The nonprofit is seeking $680,000 from the county.

"This legislation is already on the table, and on this side of the table, we feel like we don't understand how all the pieces fit together. Imagine how the citizens will feel," Turner said.

She also pushed for a chance for all involved agencies to provide an evaluation of how the new program would best be run.

"This is big. A lot of bodies fall under this configuration," said Obie Patterson (D-Dist. 8), chairman of the planning committee.

Having all related agencies clustered together will expedite development matters through the county's pipeline, McCall said. She said it also will help agencies understand how each one works so they can know what each one needs.

For its part, the economic development corporation has been forming partnerships and building relationships, as well as examining what other successful economic development teams are doing, McCall said.

"We want Prince George's to be a major player, not just in this state but in this region," she said.


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