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Saturday, January 09, 2021

New BOE Chair Juanita Miller's Baggage From the Jack Johnson Days

From "Maryland Politics Watch" blog.
By Adam Pagnucco  
22 January 2009
. . .

But Juanita Miller is in a class by herself. A special education administrator in the Prince George’s public school system, she was elected to the House of Delegates in 1986 from District 25 for one term. Miller later ran unsuccessfully for the County Council and the State Senate. She was first appointed as a WSSC commissioner in 1996 by former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry, serving through 2002.

It did not take long for Miller to leave her mark on the agency. One year into her first term, Miller intervened in a contract dispute. Recyc Systems Inc., a white-owned firm, won a sludge-hauling contract at WSSC’s Blue Plains site with a low bid of $11.5 million. But Miller pushed the WSSC board to reject Recyc’s bid in favor of MTI Construction, a minority-owned firm, which was the third-lowest bidder at $13.5 million. Miller never told the board that MTI had contributed to her political campaigns. A state court ordered WSSC to reconsider its rejection and an ethics investigation ensued.

After the WSSC board deadlocked on the Recyc-MTI dispute, Miller accused the agency of racism in contracting. Then-General Manager Cortez A. White, who is black, said this about her charges:

The lowest of all polarizing techniques has been used – emotionally charged claims of racism and discrimination, similar to tactics used by Sen. Joseph McCarthy to hunt alleged communists during the early '50s… Unfortunately, the rhetoric on the sludge hauling contract has digressed to a point where political games are being played with professional lives. Personal attacks have been made because technical and professional assessments have not supported certain parochial, political goals. Such remarks are particularly disgraceful because they were uttered by a public official in a position of rank upon essentially defenseless staffers.
But Miller was not finished with hurling charges of racism. In 2002, Miller was in her last year on the commission and took on State Senate President Mike Miller (D-27) in a primary. Juanita Miller wrote the U.S. Justice Department complaining of “bid-rigging” at WSSC against minority contractors. She was joined in her request by then-commissioner Kevin P. Maloney of Montgomery County, who alleged bid-rigging against white contractors(!) Miller also alleged that WSSC was “targeting” African-Americans and women for harassment. Miller’s allegations followed the firing of an employee accused of committing $200,000 in fraud against the agency and a Montgomery County investigation finding multiple WSSC commissioners’ abuse of expense money. Nothing came of Juanita Miller’s bid-rigging accusations and Mike Miller defeated her by 62-33% in their Senate primary.

Just when WSSC thought it had seen the last of Miller, new County Executive Jack Johnson decided to reappoint her to the board in 2005. “It appears that I am ordained to be a public servant,” declared the triumphant Miller, who sits on the board to this day.

Miller rejoined a WSSC board that had just concluded a holy war against General Manager John R. Griffin. In March 2004, the board fired Griffin and his deputy on a 4-2 vote because they allegedly “recklessly spent the agency's money on raises, executive bonuses, excessive travel and consulting fees, mostly without the commissioners’ consent.” But WSSC’s legal counsel found the firing to be illegal because the board met behind closed doors and did not take a recorded public vote. The Post editorial board said Griffin was “competent” and the firing was “needless.” Griffin and his deputy later accepted a buyout. Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan asked his county’s three commissioners to resign over the incident. Jack Johnson refused to replace his commissioners, saying he was “happy” with WSSC’s performance. 

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