Sunday, September 12, 2010

We Deserve Better!!!

Editorial in the Washington Post dated, Sunday, September 12, 2010.  Concerned Prince Georgians have nothing else to add -- and nothing else to say -- so the following is a re-print in full.  Just saying ....

Choice in Pr. George's: break from the past, or same-old

Sunday, September 12, 2010; A24

RESIDENTS OF Prince George's County deserve better than the mediocre local leadership they've had in recent years. Unaccountable, scandal-plagued incumbents in top local offices have contributed to widespread disappointment at the county's substandard schools, high crime rate and woeful shortage of good employers, good shopping and good restaurants. For many of its citizens, Prince George's has become synonymous with unfulfilled promise.

Lackluster political leadership is not exclusively to blame for these problems, but it's been an important factor. Too many of the county's elected officials have succumbed to a culture of cronyism, entitlement and impunity. In interviews with the crop of 40-odd candidates running for the County Council, we were struck by how few of them felt the need to advance any concrete, well-thought-out ideas to address the county's challenges.

The county needs new thinking, new energy and new blood, particularly in the top local office of county executive. As we said in a previous editorial, we believe Rushern L. Baker III offers all of that, in addition to rich experience as a state legislator who was highly respected for his integrity, ingenuity and openness. More than any candidate in the race for county executive, which will be decided in the Democratic primary this Tuesday, Mr. Baker holds the promise of a break from the past, and from a closed, old-school leadership style inadequate to the demands of 900,000 citizens in the nation's largest jurisdiction with a middle-class, African American majority.

By contrast, we remain more concerned than ever about the man who appears to be Mr. Baker's main rival in the race, Michael A. Jackson. Mr. Jackson, who has served as county sheriff for the past eight years, is a likable man. But in a number of important respects, he would represent a continuation of the status quo in Prince George's; little wonder that he has the backing of so many allies and aides of the current county executive, Jack B. Johnson.

Like Mr. Johnson, Mr. Jackson seems intolerant of dissent and appears to rely on a closed circle of political associates. Like Mr. Johnson, he seems oddly estranged from up-to-date thinking about policy, governance and administration. And like Mr. Johnson, he seems unwilling to insist on high standards of ethics in office -- particularly in the case of his own political allies.

All that was on display in a sworn deposition Mr. Jackson gave last month. (To view a videotape of the deposition, go to The deposition was in connection with a corruption case involving two high-ranking members of the sheriff's department and allies of Mr. Jackson. The two, Lt. Wendy Tyler and Capt. Nancy Ridgely, were indicted in July on charges of embezzlement. The video provides a taste of Mr. Jackson's management style, priorities and worldview, and it is disturbing on all counts.

Mr. Jackson acknowledged he was presented months before with serious allegations that funds were stolen from the Deputy Sheriff's Association, the union representing many of his department's employees. The allegations were contained in an audit performed by a qualified accounting firm. Nonetheless, he said, he refused to examine the evidence or even read the audit report that alleged theft of funds by a deputy in his department. Why? "Union business," he said. Wasn't he concerned or curious? "No," he answered succinctly.

Meanwhile, Mr. Jackson actually promoted Ms. Tyler, despite the fact that he knew she was under grand jury investigation and despite the fact that she ranked below several other candidates for promotion. (Following her indictment, she has since been suspended with pay.) As for Ms. Ridgely, the other senior deputy who was indicted, she has served as a top finance official in Mr. Jackson's campaign for county executive.

Mr. Jackson also sought to justify his department's reprimand of and other actions against Cpl. Robert Cease, a deputy sheriff who was the whistle-blower in the embezzlement case. Mr. Cease, who is president of the deputy sheriffs union, was warned not to speak about the case publicly, and his use of an official car was curtailed by the department. Asked about his department's treatment of Mr. Cease, Mr. Jackson called him "quite a disrespectful young man." Asked if it was appropriate to take actions against a whistle-blower who had helped uncover serious allegations of embezzlement, Mr. Jackson replied that he was unfamiliar with the term "whistle-blower."

Mr. Jackson has previously been criticized, including by this page, for his refusal to admit wrongdoing by his deputies in the shooting deaths of two dogs in an ill-conceived raid on the home of a local mayor. His office is under fire for mishandling arrest warrants, including its failure to post a warrant for a man wanted on assault charges who later shot his teenage girlfriend. Mr. Jackson's deposition testimony reinforces the impression of an official who is loath to admit mistakes, reluctant to take strong action to uproot corruption and in thrall to a closed circle of loyalists. These are not the attributes of a strong county executive, nor would they help to reform and revive a county whose abundant promise remains unfulfilled.

No comments: