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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rushern Baker repudiates his campaign and inauguration promises to appoint an Inspector General

Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker is not recommending the creation of an inspector general's office, despite the recommendation of an ethics task force made last summer.

Rather than add an independent inspector general, Baker suggested the Board of Ethics be reorganized into a new Office of Ethics and Accountability to investigate waste, fraud and unethical behavior.Investigators from the county's law office and auditor's office would be transferred to the new ethics office, and would work closely with the State's Attorney's Office.

Baker had touted a new inspector general when he was inaugurated in December 2010.

"Our first step towards reform will happen this week when I will announce the appointment of a task force that will work on establishing the Office of Inspector General for the County," he said in his address.

The cost of starting an entirely new inspector general's office could be prohibitive given the budget woes the county faces, Baker now says.

"By pulling in existing resources, the fiscal impact of this reprogramming will be minimized to the greatest extent possible," Baker wrote in November.

The county must close a $125.7 million budget gap heading into fiscal 2013.

County Council staff said Baker's modest approach to ethics reform could work as long as investigators don't feel threatened by county leaders when looking into waste and fraud.The council was presented with three options to reorganize the office of audits and hire new full-time positions for an ethics office. Only one proposal suggested the creation of an independent ethics office.

Councilman Obie Patterson, D-Fort Washington, said he wasn't convinced the proposals ensured the independence of investigators.

The council can come up with its own ethics proposal based on the task force's recommendations.

Council administration echoed Baker's budget concerns in a presentation to the council on Tuesday. Officials highlighted the costs of the District's Office of the Inspector General, which boasts a roughly $15 million budget.

But the District's office functions similar to a state agency and has more than 100 employees. By comparison, Montgomery County has a $665,510 budget for its own inspector general's office for fiscal 2012.


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