By: Paul Jacob
Prince George’s County, Maryland, borders our nation’s capital, so the county’s politicians have certainly had every opportunity to learn from the best. Frankly, their latest “scandal” seems almost tame in comparison to other current and past scandals.
The Washington Post informs readers that the county’s “government spends more than $110,000 a year on automobile allowances and take-home cars for county council officials, a perk that goes far beyond what is offered in neighboring jurisdictions.”
All nine Prince George’s County council members receive either a county car to drive or a hefty car allowance, which this year has climbed to $10,315. The legislators can also fill-up their tanks for free with county gas. Councilwoman Karen R. Toles (D-Suitland) pumped $2,709.73 worth of no-cost petrol last year.
Call it a perk, sure, but really what’s the big deal?
Well, apparently, politicians can’t drive any better than they can manage government. There are those 16 unfortunate collisions involving council members, which occurred between 2011 and 2016. One accident last November was deemed “a major crash” by the Post, as it “resulted in the arrest of council member Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro), District 9, on drunken-driving charges.”
The inebriated Franklin slammed into the rear of a sedan sending the driver and a passenger to the hospital. His “blood alcohol level measured 0.10” but the councilman “wrote in a report to the county that he was on his way home from a restaurant the night of the crash and was tired.”
Franklin added, “But I thought I was fine to drive home.”
It was the second county vehicle Councilman Franklin has destroyed in the last four years, and marked his fourth accident — with three resulting in injuries serious enough to require hospital visits.
An October 2012 wreck was never reported to police, but required repairs adding up to roughly $1,500. Two months later, he totaled the SUV he was driving, costing “$61,000 to purchase a new SUV and cover repairs on the other vehicles and liability claims,” according to documents obtained by the Post.
“He told state troopers ‘he took his eyes off the road for a moment’ to change the radio station and did not receive a citation,” the Post reported. The paper also noted that, “Neither  crash was reported to the public when it occurred.”
The costs of repairing and replacing wrecked county vehicles — close to $100,000 for merely Mr. Franklin’s handiwork alone — are not included in the reported $110,000 annual price-tag for this perk.
During this same period, the county council collectively collected a whopping 107 traffic tickets for speeding, illegal parking, etc. First place goes to Councilwoman Toles with an impressive 46 citations, including a ticket for going 105 mph on the always crowded Capital Beltway. She bested Franklin, who managed only 20 tickets.
But who could hold speeding against Ms. Toles? “She told police that she was applying makeup and answering emails on her phone, but did not notice she was making unsafe lane changes or speeding,” the Post article recounted. Furthermore, she issued a statement in her defense, that those nearly four dozen tickets were wracked-up “executing my duties as a public servant.”
Thankfully, Councilwoman Toles was granted probation, so that her triple-digit land speed record didn’t even cost her any points on her license.
“Most council members declined to discuss details of the car program,” the Post explained, “or defended the perk as an important way for lawmakers to get around and stay visible in the 485-square-mile suburban jurisdiction.”
With the utmost transparency, Council Chairman Derrick Leon Davis (D-Mitchellville) refused to answer questions about the free car set-up, but issued a statement declaring that it “provides a key tool extending an elected official’s ability to serve their community and represent residents as board members on state and regional bodies as well.”
Always thinking about serving others.
The program is “a real help,” notes Councilwoman Deni Taveras (D-Adelphi), especially considering that members of the council, though not precluded from earning outside income, receive only a paltry salary a tad over $114,000.
Though, they are not supposed to use the take-home county cars for personal travel, except in very limited instances, Councilwoman Mary A. Lehman (D-Upper Marlboro) complained that, “There are not clear enough restrictions on personal use.” As the Post put it, “[Lehman] consulted with former council members and staff and concluded it was fine to drive her county-owned car on days when she had no council business.” Not only that, “She said some council members have tried to maintain logs to document nonbusiness trips but it quickly became an overwhelming task.”
Oh, the horrors of tracking their plethora of perks and privileges!
Certainly, let’s not suggest that this benefit amounts to anything like the current corruption uncovered by the FBI, involving the Prince George’s County Liquor Board, with felony indictments now against two liquor board officials. The FBI probe has also resulted in a guilty plea to bribery by former Maryland Del. William Campos during his decade-plus service on the county council. Likewise, the investigation appears to be the catalyst for Del. Michael Vaughn’s resignation from the state legislature, where he represented the county — or perhaps just certain people in the county . . . and himself.
Of course, it’s all penny-ante graft compared to former Prince George’s county executive Jack Johnson and his wife — made famous when he was wiretapped telling her to stuff $80,000 in bribe money into her bra and panties. Both were convicted for their roles in a criminal conspiracy whereby they collected bribes totaling one million dollars.
Could the problem be that taxpayers are just too stingy, not providing lavish enough pay and perks to poor politicians?