A Tragic Loss

Prince George’s community activist Greg Hall, who was nominated to be a delegate from District 24 but was rejected by Governor Martin O’Malley in 2012 based on his criminal history, died in a car accident last night in Capitol Heights.

A Prince George’s County community activist and former drug dealer who unsuccessfully sought a seat in the Maryland State House died in a vehicle crash early Monday, authorities said.

Gregory Antoine Hall, 45, was driving westbound on Walker Mill Road in Capitol Heights about 2:50 a.m. when he was struck head-on by an eastbound SUV that had crossed into Hall’s lane of traffic, county police said in a statement.

Hall was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the striking vehicle suffered injuries that were not expected to be life-threatening, police said, as did the driver of another car, which the first vehicle sideswiped. Investigators are looking into whether alcohol or speed were factors in the crash.

Maryland politicians remembered Hall on Monday night as someone who had overcome a troubled past and used his experiences to encourage young people to make better choices.

“Greg Hall had made tremendous strides in his life,” said Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s). “We all knew about some of the difficulties he had, but he made tremendous strides in turning his life around, and he was doing good work in the community. He’s going to be sorely missed.”

In 1992, as a 21-year-old crack dealer, Hall took part in a gun battle that killed a seventh-grade honors student who was leaving church with his family. Hall was charged with murder and spent 40 days in jail. But the charge was withdrawn after ballistics tests showed that the fatal bullet came from a different gun. Hall was convicted of a separate, misdemeanor gun violation.

Since then, Hall had opened his own business, worked as an aide to then-County Council member William A. Campos (D) and become a well-known advocate for some of the county’s lowest-income neighborhoods.

In 2010, he ran for state delegate, losing the Democratic primary by a few hundred votes. Two years later, after first-term Del. Tiffany T. Alston (D) was ousted from office in a corruption scandal, the Prince George’s County Democratic Committee nominated Hall to replace her. But then-Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) rejected the nomination, citing Hall’s criminal past. Hall ran for delegate again in 2014 but lost in the primary.

I didnt know Hall, but people whose opinions I value and respect expressed tremendous admiration for him. Any loss like this is a tragic one. Condolences to his family and friends.

Two New Delegates: No Surprises

As expected, Governor Hogan appointed two new delegates in Prince George’s County to fill two vacancies.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Friday appointed two Democratic delegates to fill vacancies in the Prince George’s and Charles Counties legislative delegations.

Elizabeth “Susie” Proctor, the widow of the late Del. James E. Proctor, assumes the seat her husband occupied in District 27, which spans southern Prince George’s County and part of Charles County.

Carlo Sanchez, an officer with the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee who works at Montgomery College, succeeds Del. William A. Campos in representing District 47-B, the state’s only majority Hispanic legislative jurisdiction. Campos resigned last month.

Proctor, of Accokeek, and Sanchez, of Carole Highlands, both received significant support from their local elected leaders in their nominations.

The governor’s office said the appointments take effect immediately, but no date has been set for a swearing-in.

Neither faced significant opposition, Proctor because Mike Miller recruited her to fill out her husband’s term, and Sanchez because there are a little over 1,000 active registered Democratic voters in District 47B, as it was drawn to endure that Will Campos had no opposition in 2014. As a result, there weren’t a whole lot of people to choose from to replace Campos when he resigned only nine months into his term.

Proctor’s Widow To Take His Seat?

The Post is reporting that Delegate James Proctor’s widow, Elizabeth “Susie” Proctor, has been asked, and has agreed, to take her late husband’s seat in the House of Delegates.

The widow of Del. James E. Proctor Jr. will seek to fill her husband’s now-vacant seat in the Maryland House of Delegates, at the urging of one of the state’s top Democrats, her son said Friday.

James Proctor III said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert) asked his mother, Elizabeth G. “Susie” Proctor, if she would consider becoming part of the legislative team that represents District 27, which includes portions of southern Prince George’s and Charles counties.

“She’s accepted,” Proctor said Friday. Miller could not be reached for comment.

Arelis Hernandez writes that Miller’s support could be a “significant advantage” in gaining the appointment of the Prince George’s Democratic Central Committee. This being Miller’s own district, that’s an enormous understatement. I’ll bet a dollar that nobody with long term aspirations in D27 will even apply for that seat. Because there’s only one candidate who’s going to get it. Given her current experience (she chairs the Prince George’s County Board of Tax Assessment Appeals, and she sits on the county’s community college Board of Trustees), Ms. Proctor is eminently qualified, but her best qualification right now is that her appointment doesn’t rock the boat for Mike Miller.

School Lunch Fraud

It’s bad enough that anyone underreports their income to get free or reduced price lunches from the public schools. It’s even worse when it’s relatively well paid federal employees who work for the General Accounting Office (GAO).

But when it’s a GAO employee who’s also an appointed member of the Prince George’s County Board of Education, that’s some crazy [stuff] right there.

A Prince George’s County Board of Education member who works for the federal government plus four of her co-workers have been indicted on charges of school lunch fraud uncovered by an audit conducted by their own agency.

The Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Government Accountability Office announced the indictments of the five agency employees plus the husband of a GAO employee Tuesday.
They are accused of accepting more than $13,000 worth of reduced lunch benefits for their children although the families did not qualify for the government assistance and have household incomes well above thresholds to qualify for the food assistance.

I’m not going to name the other four people charged, because they’re not public figures. But Lynnette Mundey is a member of the Board of Education, and that’s news. Mundey had apparently already announced her resignation from the Board effective August 24, presumably because she knew the charges were coming.

Rushern Baker, who appointed Mundey to the Board, had a pretty mild reaction to the news.

But the man who appointed Mundey to her post, County Executive Rushern Baker, said that he’s “deeply disappointed” in the GAO staff, whose children attend Prince George’s schools and especially Mundey.

“These allegations of improper use of this critical and much needed federal program are disheartening and concerning,” Baker said.

“Disheartening and concerning” doesn’t begin to approach the appropriate level of outrage here. Let’s see if State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks can do better.

“There is no excuse for stealing funds intended to go to children whose parents cannot afford the school lunches,” Alsobrooks said in a written statement. “Their actions are made even worse by the fact that some of them claimed to have not just low income, but no income at all, even though they were working full-time jobs at the GAO.”

Much better. I could stand a little more outrage, but her office has to handle the prosecution of these cases, so at least a little bit of moderation is called for.

Unbelievable.

PG Government On The Move?

It’s been rumored for years, and some agencies have already relocated, but now it might actually be in the works. The Prince George’s County Seat has been in Upper Marlboro (population 800) since 1718, but County Executive Rushern Baker wants to move it to Largo, which has easy access to both the Capital Beltway and Metro. From the Post:

The Prince George’s County government wants to move its headquarters from sleepy Upper Marlboro to Largo, an area near the Capital Beltway that is more bustling and Metro-accessible, according to County Council members who were briefed on the plans this week.

Two council members, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the briefing was part of a closed-door session, said County Executive Rushern L. Baker III would like to house his offices — and the council’s — in a newly purchased building at 1301 McCormick Drive.

Such a move would bring government leaders closer to a growing commercial center in the county, including the site of a proposed regional hospital that officials say should be a major economic catalyst.

It makes a great deal of sense, but there’s a big obstacle: Mr. President. No, not Obama, silly. Miller.

But relocating from Upper Marlboro — the county seat for nearly three centuries — could be controversial. A spokesman for Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D), whose district used to include Upper Marlboro, said the lawmaker is opposed to moving the county seat.

My guess is that Miller will do all he can to stop this from happening in the short run, but that it will happen eventually. Personally, I know a bunch of MoCo lawyers who would be much happier if the Circuit Court was in Largo. But that would require state approval and that surely is not happening on Mike Miller’s watch.

Alcohol at UMCP Events Approved

Well, they didn’t listen to me – understandable – or Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk – not a good idea – and the Prince George’s Board of Commissioners approved the proposal by the University of Maryland to make beer and eventually wine available at athletic events at Byrd Stadium and Xfinity Center.

The Prince George’s County Board of Commissioners Wednesday approved Maryland’s proposal to sell beer at Byrd Stadium and Xfinity Center beginning in September.

The decision comes nearly a month after Maryland President Wallace D. Lohapproved the student-led proposal, and he spoke to the board for nearly 30 minutes Wednesday about the initiative’s potential as an “amazing and bold experiment.” The board also heard a detailed pitch from a number of other Maryland representatives, including the University’s Chief of Police David Mitchell and Athletic Council chair Nick Hadley.

Only one board member, vice chairman Shaihi Mwalimu, opposed the move Wednesday, and Loh was careful to label the approval as a victory.

“I would describe it as an expression of confidence in our students and above all a commitment to their safety. That they learn to drink responsibly and safely in a monitored environment,” Loh said  after the hearing.

In the interests of fairness, since I have opined against it twice, here is a Diamonback piece by Taylor Swaak presenting many of the arguments for the idea. It’s not without merit but I have a hard time seeing alcohol sales as accomplishing the claimed goals.

Student Government Association President Patrick Ronk said the initiative is vital for curbing pervasive student binge drinking.

“Drinking’s always going to be something people want to do on game day,” Ronk said. “But this is making sure they’re drinking in a safe environment, and drinking is just one part of it.” 
Hadley said the Athletic Council’s recommendation is only for the sale of beer and wine, and it includes “sensible restrictions,” such as limiting the number of drinks purchased at one time and ending the sale of alcohol after the third quarter or midway through the second half of games.
Ian Moritz, the SGA athletics liaison who sits on the Athletic Council’s alcohol sale subcommittee, said any alcohol served at athletic venues would have to be served by bartenders, who would likely be trained Dining Services employees.

“Budget War” In Prince George’s

The budget dispute between Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker and the County Council has accelerated rapidly in the past couple of days. From the viewpoint of an interested outsider, it appears to have spiraled out of control for Mr. Baker.

On Monday, Baker announced that he would veto certain items in the budget approved by the Council.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III announced Monday that he will veto parts of the budget approved by the County Council, restoring most of the tax increases that lawmakers rejected and setting up a possible legal showdown between the two branches of government.

Baker (D) said he will use his veto power Tuesday to replace a 4-cent increase in the property tax rate with an 11.45-cent increase, a change that would generate an additional $54 million for the county’s struggling public schools.

But that wasn’t all. Baker also claimed that the Council acted illegally in modifying Baker’s original budget by more than 1%.

Repeating an assertion made by his aides last week, Baker said the council acted illegally when it cut much of his proposed 15-cent property tax hike.

Baker said the council cannot adjust his budget proposal up or down by more than 1 percent — an interpretation of county law that the council chairman, Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro), and others strongly dispute.

In my humble lawyerly opinion, Baker’s argument is weak, bordering on the spurious. More significantly, the sight of a county executive virtually inviting a lawsuit against his county’s own budget is politically calamitous, especially for a man with gubernatorial aspirations in 2018.

Baker in fact vetoed the bills as promised, late on Tuesday afternoon, the last day he could possibly do so under the county charter, and after the County Council had concluded its business for the day. It looked petty and churlish, and it ended up being ineffective to boot, as Arelis Hernandez of the Post reported.

Baker waited until a 5 p.m. deadline Tuesday to send his vetoes to the council, long after lawmakers’ legislative session was scheduled to have ended.

The council reconvened at 8:30 p.m., with Deni Taveras (D-Adelphi) absent, and voted 8 to 0 to kill each of Baker’s 32 line-item vetoes, restoring the budget they passed on May 28.

Baker reiterated his legal argument that the budget cuts were illegal, and Council President Mel Franklin responded forcefully.

And Baker said Monday that the council’s override could be vulnerable to legal challenge as well, based on his contention that county law prohibits the council from adjusting the budget up or down by more than 1 percent.

Franklin called Baker’s discussion of litigation “embarrassing and strange” for the county as well as “self destructive and self-defeating.”

“Hopefully, the county executive will not go down that road.”

Will Baker himself challenge the County budget? Will he find a supporter willing to do so? What Hernandez correctly characterizes as a “budget war” is rapidly spinning out of control, and its first casualty appears to be Rushern Baker.