Category Archives: Rushern Baker

Latest PGCPS Debacle Symptomatic of Broader Political Dysfunction in Prince George’s

Recent incidents at Oxon Hill and Potomac High School graduations involving Prince George’s County Public Schools top administrators and Board of Education Member Edward Burroughs have received lots of media attention. What happened was unfortunate and does not reflect well on the school system.

My own child attends Oxon Hill High School and he was present at the graduation. However, what interests me most is not the details of exactly what happened and who I think was at fault. Rather, I find the series of events very reflective of the political culture in Prince George’s County.

Some background for those who do not closely follow the political happenings around PGCPS and our BOE. It is important to know that Edward Burroughs has long been at odds with the CEO of the school system, Dr. Kevin Maxwell. Under the new PGCPS governance structure, the school CEO is appointed by the County Executive, not the BOE. Thus, the CEO is accountable to the County Executive, even though he naturally works closely with the BOE. Mr. Burroughs’ vocal opposition to Dr. Maxwell—including his call for the school CEO to resign during the Head Start controversy last year—has labeled him a “troublemaker” in the eyes of the political establishment in our county.

When those aligned with the Prince George’s County political establishment talk about Mr. Burroughs and other troublemakers, the language I often here is that “we need to work together.” On its face this sounds constructive and reasonable. However, what the establishment really means by this sentiment is that our political leadership obviously knows what they are doing and everyone else needs to just follow their lead without questioning anything.

I will give an example of how this works. Mr. Burroughs has long been complaining that under Dr. Maxwell’s leadership the top PGCPS administrative staff and their salaries have ballooned. There is plenty of objective evidence to back up Mr. Burroughs’ concerns, including data gathered by the Washington Area Boards of Education. My own knowledgeable contacts within PGCPS also confirm that under Dr. Maxwell the school system has become top-heavy and more centralized. So, when Mr. Burroughs expresses such concerns that seem to be backed up by objective evidence and knowledgeable people, a school board that is truly working together would surely take these concerns seriously and start looking into it. But no, this is obviously not the kind of “working together” our political establishment wants. Instead, the majority of the board—which is closely aligned with the County Executive and the rest of the political establishment—acts as a rubber stamp on the CEO’s budget proposals and demands no serious explanations or reprioritization from him. This is the kind of “working together” our political establishment wants. Good cooperative elected officials that go along to get along. No complaints, not a lot of noise.

In the short term, this type of “working together” may be easy and get more positive headlines. However, this kind of establishment-dominated political culture—or machine politics—is a fertile breeding ground for all types of unethical and illegal behavior. And, sadly, we have seen plenty of negative headlines resulting from our establishment’s preferred method of operation.

What we need are more people like Edward Burroughs in office. Elected officials who will do what is right, not what the party bosses tell them to do.

Why Term Limit Extension Is a Bad Idea – Reason 3

From where I am sitting, it seems clear to me that the underlying message our county leadership is sending to us voters about the term limit extension is this: “We are doing a good job, so we deserve more time in office.”

While I agree that the County Executive and County Council deserve credit for the current positive trajectory in Prince George’s County, this reasoning also leads to the most obvious objection to the term limit extension idea: Without term limits, none of our current county leaders would be in office. In our system of incumbent slates and “sample ballot” advertisements, it is virtually impossible for an incumbent to lose an election. Without term limits, Rushern Baker and Mel Franklin would only be waging hopeless campaigns against long-term incumbents.

District 9 BOE Race Is Over

Since I was not explicit in my earlier post, I want to make the announcement clear: The race for the District 9 seat on the Prince George’s County Board of Education is over. Now, more than a month before the June 24 primary, we know who will win that election and the November general election. As I predicted last fall, the person who receives the endorsement of our local incumbent politicians will win the race. According to my knowledgeable sources, the winner of the incumbent endorsement—and thus the race—is Sonya Williams.

It is a sad reflection on our supposedly democratic election system that a handful—in this case only one—incumbent politicians get to decide our lower ballot elections for us.

With regards to the District 9 BOE race, the silver lining is that Mrs. Williams is a good, capable person that I am happy to have as my representative on the BOE.

How an Elected BOE Seat Becomes an Appointed One

As a local activist, I have decent sources to find out what is going on behind the scenes in the Prince George’s County District 9 Board of Education race. I am sad to report that, as a result of our current election laws and the peculiar circumstances surrounding the race, the District 9 BOE seat is becoming an appointed seat.

This is how the unfortunate change unfolded:

  • In the 2013 legislative session, a law was passed that added several appointed members to the Prince George’s County Board of Education. In addition, the County Executive was given the power to appoint the replacement for any elected BOE member who resigns before his/her term expires.
  • In September 2013, District 9 BOE member Donna Hathaway-Beck resigned.
  • In December 2013, County Executive Rushern Baker appointed Sonya Williams to the District 9 BOE seat.
  • In the June 2014 primary election, the local incumbent politicians’ party loyalty dictates that they and their candidate slate endorse Baker’s appointee and include her on their “sample ballot.”
  • The candidate endorsed by the local slate cruises to an unavoidable victory in the June primary and November general election.

In all reality, the voters of District 9 will have no meaningful say in the election of our BOE member. The selection was made by one person, County Executive Baker. For all intents and purposes, the District 9 BOE seat is an appointed position at this time.

Important note: My take on this situation is in no way a criticism of the appointed District 9 BOE member, Sonya Williams. I know her, I like her, and as a PTA activist I work with her. In fact, I believe County Executive Baker made an excellent choice in appointing her to the BOE. My only beef is with the obvious shortcomings of our system of “elections.”  As I have stated before, I am not taking sides in the District 9 BOE primary.

Missed Special Election Could Have Been a Real Election

The fact that County Executive Baker took his time to appoint a new District 9 Board of Education member made me think that in those three months we could have had a special election to fill the seat. As I pondered this, I also came to realize that, under our current system of slates and sample ballots, having a special election to fill a vacancy on the BOE would likely provide voters with a rare chance to have a real election for such a lower ballot office. If there was a special election where there are no other races on the ballot, I would be very surprised if an incumbent slate dedicated significant financial resources to the race. Thus, a special election could provide us with a real election where all the candidates would compete on an even field and they would need to win on their own merits. Wouldn’t that be something special?

Of course, this is just a meaningless mental exercise since the County Executive and his buddies in the Maryland Legislature decided in their infinite wisdom that we should not bother with elections to fill openings on the BOE. Still, even the idea of a real election for a BOE seat got me pretty excited.

Will Baker Appointee for District 9 Compete and Prevail in June?

The week before Christmas, County Executive Rushern Baker finally appointed a Board of Education representative to the vacant District 9 seat. As some people may still remember, Donna Hathaway Beck resigned from the BOE in early September.

Baker’s pick is Sonya Williams of Clinton. She is the PTSA president at Gwynn Park High School. I don’t know her personally, but I have heard good things about her.

Of course, the District 9 seat is on the ballot this year. This means that Mrs. Williams will need to enter the June 2014 primary if she wants to retain her BOE seat. I have not heard if Mrs. Williams intends to run, but I have to assume that Baker picked a person who is interested in doing so. Taking more than three months to pick a person and then having her in the seat for less than a year would not make sense.

With all this, the June primary for the District 9 BOE seat will likely be an interesting one. Who else will get in the race? If Mrs. Williams does run, will she be the candidate endorsed by the Senator Miller/Delegate Proctor/Councilman Franklin slate? If Mrs. Williams runs but the incumbent slate’s endorsement goes to someone else, who will prevail?

No matter what happens, I will stick with my September prediction. The endorsement of the incumbent slate is the most significant factor in the primary. Whoever wins that “race” will prevail in June.

Bold BOE Race Prediction

I want to be the first person to call the Prince George’s County District 9 Board of Education race that will take place in the 2014 election cycle. I thought I would have some time to make this prediction, but the surprising announcement from Donna Hathaway-Beck that she is resigning from her seat effective September 6, 2013 forced my hand. I want to get my prediction out before County Executive Baker announces his pick to fill Mrs. Hathaway-Beck’s remaining term.

Naturally, the resignation of Mrs. Hathaway-Beck has the potential to influence the race to replace her. I had heard from reliable sources that she was not going to run again, so I was expecting there would be an open seat for us District 9 voters to fill in the 2014 election. With an open seat, none of the potential candidates would have the benefits of incumbency̶—which are always significant. Now with the resignation, this dynamic can change. Whoever is appointed by the County Executive to the seat until the election will have at least some of the benefits of an incumbent. Of course, we don’t know if the person appointed to the seat will actually run in the 2014 election, but it is certainly possible.

Despite this new twist in the coming District 9 BOE race, I am very comfortable making my prediction: The person elected in 2014 will be the person who is endorsed by the slate consisting of our local incumbent officeholders (Senator Mike Miller, Delegate James Proctor, Councilman Mel Franklin, and possibly others). We don’t know the name of the person at this time, but we will surely know it before the June primary election.

This prediction also leads to my practical advice to anyone considering a run for the District 9 BOE seat. Don’t worry too much about putting together a formidable election campaign. Your time and effort will be much better spent trying to curry favor with the local incumbents.