Baker: Leslie Johnson should be allowed to take Prince George's County Council seat (VIDEO)
Prince George’s County Executive-elect Rushern Baker says incoming District 6 County Councilmember Leslie Johnson should be allowed to take her seat despite her indictment in a federal corruption investigation Friday.
During an appearance on TBD NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt, Baker said there was nothing to prevent Leslie Johnson, the wife of Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson, from being sworn in with the rest of the council when Baker is inaugurated Dec. 6.
"Should Leslie Johnson be sworn in?," DePuyt asked.
"Clearly, legally, she should," Baker said, adding that he was trying to focus on solving Prince George's problems, not on corruption allegations.
According to an FBI affidavit, Leslie Johnson on Friday tore up and flushed down the toilet a $100,000 check from a developer while on the phone with her husband and then attempted to hide $79,600 in cash in underwear when federal agents arrived at their home.
Leslie Johnson’s position on the council will serve as a continuing reminder of the scandal. Since the Johnsons haven't been convicted, there is no provision in county law that can remove them from office. (One citizens' group is trying to change that.)
Today the Washington Post editorial board called on both Johnsons to resign “immediately.” The paper said that while both “are entitled to the legal presumption of innocence… their behavior already has disgraced the county they were elected to serve.” The Post said “Mr. Johnson should designate his duly elected successor, Rushern L. Baker III, to take office now.” As for Councilwoman-elect Johnson, the Post asks “does she honestly believe that voters in District 6 still want her to represent them, knowing about the $100,000 check from a developer she is charged with flushing down the toilet as FBI agents knocked on her door?”
Jack Johnson proclaimed his innocence Friday night in a brief appearance before reporters, so it’s highly unlikely he’ll be following the advice of the region's dominant newspaper. Leslie Johnson has not been seen publicly since the arrest, nor has she spoken publicly.
Baker's comments Tuesday struck the same chords as his remarks at a Monday press conference, emphasizing that his administration would not be distracted by the corruption probe that has already ensnared Jack Johnson, a long-time political rival of Baker’s, as well as Leslie Johnson and three county police officers.
He said his transition team, led by former county executive Wayne Curry, was already looking at potential hires and completing a top-to-bottom review of county government.
But Baker also took time to note his commitment to ethics reform and cleaning up county government, a major theme of his campaign but one that went unmentioned Monday.
"Our ethics reform for Prince George’s County didn’t start on Friday," Baker said. "Way before any of these allegations came out, we talked about ethics reform."
Baker promised during the campaign to curb abuses of county credit cards by employees and to create an independent inspector general to investigate waste and fraud. He said the Inspector General would be independent of the council and executive. (In neighboring Montgomery County, County Executive Ike Leggett has clashed with the inspector general.)
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