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Five Months Later, P.G. County Still Waits For Ethics Reform

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Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (front, third from left) speaks with Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker (back row) before he signs an ethics reform law for the county in April. Baker is working to implement ethics reforms through his own task force.
Matt Bush
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (front, third from left) speaks with Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker (back row) before he signs an ethics reform law for the county in April. Baker is working to implement ethics reforms through his own task force.

Baker came into office in December with high profile corruption allegations hanging over the county. (Surely no one has forgotten how federal investigators very publicly took down his predecessor, Jack Johnson, on corruption charges. Johnson is still awaiting a trial after being indicted on bribery charges, and his wife has been charged with evidence tampering.)

Baker immediately established an ethics task force to find solutions to the county's failing ethics culture. Recommendations the panel is publicly weighing include setting up an anonymous tip line, providing annual ethics training, and establishing a public watchdog office. Baker admits the ideas aren't exactly earth-shattering.

When asked by a reporter Tuesday why those measures aren't already in place, Baker responded: "Well, that's a good -- that's a good question."

First District County Councilwoman Mary Lehman says the ethics board -- to which people are supposed to take tips currently -- is so hidden that they only get about one or two complaints annually.

"The current ethics board, to the extent it even exists, doesn't even have its own paid staff. They use an attorney from the office of law," she says. "It just, I guess I don't know how to say it, it hasn't been a priority," Lehman says.

Baker says he's hopeful the final report from the newly formed task force will lay a good foundation.

"It's about the long term, making sure ... that it is very clear to everybody that there's transparency in the government -- that there's accountability," Baker added.

The state legislature set up a new ethics board for the county early in 2011, but First District Councilwoman Mary Lehman says she wants to authorize it to issue subpoenas.

"We'll probably have to revisit that," Lehman says.

There's still no word on when the county's ethics task force will release its final report.

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