In Prince George’s County- First a senator resigned. Then he rescinded.

What that means for Maryland Democrats…..

Ulysses Currie

Sen. Ulysses Currie  (Seen here) In 2012, The ethics panel urged Maryland senators to strip Sen. Ulysses Currie of all but one committee assignment and to bar him from any role in House-Senate negotiations to resolve differences over bills due to his rampant corruption which became too much until he got arrested by the FBI.

When Larry Stafford heard that Sen. Ulysses Currie was retiring and Currie’s wife was being floated as his replacement, the political activist thought: “Here we go again.”

Earlier this year, after the death of Del. James E. Proctor Jr. (D-Prince George’s), the county Democratic Committee nominated Proctor’s wife as his successor, urged on by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert). Stafford figured the same would happen with Shirley Gravely-Currie, 66, who appeared to have the support of Miller, Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s) and most of the county Senate delegation. And he wasn’t happy about it.

“It’s not their seat,” said Stafford, executive director of Progressive Maryland. “It’s the people’s seat.”

This time, the central committee apparently agreed. Its members were bitterly divided over whether to support Gravely-Currie or one of three other interested candidates: former delegate Melony G. Griffith and Dels. Darryl Barnes and Angela M. Angel, both of District 25. They would be expected to run for a full four-year term in 2018 if chosen for the seat.

On Tuesday, after weeks of acrimonious indecision, Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George’s) rescinded his resignation, saying he would rather stay in office an additional two years than have the committee appoint someone who would have a political advantage two years from now.

 The unusual sequence of events illustrates the growing willingness of Maryland Democrats to challenge their party’s establishment, and the impact of that change on county politics.

For decades, when a statehouse seat became vacant, committee members from the affected county received phone calls from their state senators, telling them who they should nominate as a replacement. And support that person they did.

But when Currie announced his intent to step down after a 30-year career, Prince George’s committee members balked. It was the latest instance in which they have proven to be political upstarts, adamant about making their own decisions and questioning local Democratic leaders.

In September, the committee went against the will of most senators and voted not to endorse a position on ballot Question D, which asked voters to add two at-large seats to the nine-member County Council. The referendum, which was approved by the council and supported by party leaders, passed by a substantial margin on Election Day.

The committee members, elected two years ago, share some similarities with the freshman class in the Maryland House of Delegates, who have pushed back against the Democratic legislative leadership on issues ranging from which bills to support to who should take the lead in challenging Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

Despite a push from the majority of the senators who represent Prince George’s, many committee members wanted to fill Currie’s seat with someone other than his wife. Two people familiar with the process said Gravely-Currie was running third among the four candidates under consideration.

 “This is a new generation of the central committee,” said committee member Belinda Queen-Howard, who represents District 25 and was supporting Griffith. “Some were under the control of the county executive, some under the control of their senators. Now they realize they don’t have the control of the votes.”

One Democratic state senator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss party business, said, “There’s been a little bit of a change in the times.” The senator suggested that vacancies should be filled with special elections, rather than appointments.

When he announced his plans to resign, Currie, 79, cited his health challenges in a letter to Miller and said he “can no longer serve with the strength and energy you all deserve.”

“Everybody knows his health is failing,” Queen-Howard said. “I’m disappointed because I really wanted my senator to leave with respect and dignity. At this point, I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Stafford said he is proud that the committee took an anti-establishment stand rather than rubber stamping a vote for “the political favorite.”

“Maybe this signals a decline of a certain era of Prince George’s County politics,” he said.

Via Washington Post 

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Progressive group calls on Prince George’s council member charged with DUI to resign

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Prince George’s councilmember Jamel Ramon “Mel” Franklin was charged with driving under the influence.

WASHINGTON — A local progressive political group is calling for the resignation of Prince George’s County Council member Mel Franklin after his arrest last week on drunken driving charges.

 Jennifer Dwyer, the organizer with the Prince George’s County chapter of Progressive Maryland, said the arrest and the slew of charges Franklin is facing — including driving under the influence, driving while impaired, negligent driving and failure to avoid a crash — raise questions about his ability to do his job “and whether or not Councilman Franklin can continue to represent his constituents appropriately.”
Franklin is accused of crashing into a Mercedes stopped at a traffic light at Route 4 and Dower House Road near Forestville last week Nov. 21. According to Maryland State Police, Franklin was found outside the vehicle some distance from the crash site.
 Dwyer said her group’s concerns come not only as a result of the November crash, but also reports that Franklin had been involved in other crashes involving county cars.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Franklin was involved in two previous crashes while driving county-issued vehicles: one in October of 2012 that resulted in $1,500 in damage and a second in December of the same year in which the county vehicle was totaled.

In that crash which was not reported to the public, Franklin reportedly slammed into a Yukon GMC. The Post reported that crash was the result of distracted driving and that Franklin was changing the radio station in the vehicle at the time of the crash. Franklin was not cited in the incident.

Franklin has been stripped of his access to county vehicles.

 It’s not the first time a county council member has had that perk taken away. In 2011, then-Prince George’s County council member Leslie Johnson was forced to surrender her county car after she pleaded guilty to conspiracy and evidence tampering in a federal case tied to the corruption case surrounding her husband, former County Executive Jack Johnson.

In 2012, Council member Karen Toles, facing a charge of reckless driving, offered to surrender her access to county vehicles until she completed a “driver improvement course.” Instead, the council acted to bar her access to county vehicles according to a council statement “for her safety and the safety of others.”

via WTOP

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Md. politician Mel Franklin has wrecked a government vehicle before

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Prince George’s County Council member Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro) was charged with driving under the influence in an injury crash on Nov. 21. (Mark Gail/For The Washington Post)

By Arelis R. Hernández December 1 at 7:22 PM

Prince George’s County Council member Mel Franklin, who was charged with driving under the influence last week in a crash that injured two people, also damaged another government vehicle on two separate occasions four years ago, according to county records.

Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro) totaled a county-owned Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicle in a distracted-driving crash in 2012, the records show, two months after banging up the same vehicle in an incident that he did not report to police.

The more serious collision involved Franklin rear-ending a car on the Beltway and resulted in more than $33,000 in repair costs and losses to the government, according to damage reports. Neither crash was reported to the public when it occurred.

Franklin was behind the wheel of another county-issued SUV last week, late on the night of Nov. 21, when he allegedly plowed into the back of a sedan on Pennsylvania Avenue near Forestville. The driver and passenger from the sedan went to the hospital. Police said no one else was in Franklin’s vehicle.

The second-term council member was charged with driving under the influence after state troopers tested him and found he had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10, greater than the legal limit of 0.08. Police said Franklin was about 70 yards away from the Ford Explorer, in the median of the roadway, when they arrived at the scene.

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This car was allegedly struck by an SUV driven by Prince George’s Council member Mel Franklin on Nov. 21. (TWP)

Franklin, 41, has not responded to repeated requests for comment. His attorney also declined to answer questions.

In Prince George’s County, lawmakers can be assigned a full-time car from the county’s fleet of vehicles, or seek a travel stipend to cover the cost of driving their own cars on official business. The county vehicles are for work-related travel and incidental personal use.

County Council spokeswoman Karen Campbell said Thursday that because of his driving record, Franklin will no longer have access to the fleet.

The lawmaker was issued an SUV when he was elected to office in 2010, according to Roland Jones, director of the county’s Office of Central Services. On Oct. 5, 2012, he was involved in a crash that damaged the SUV’s front end and grill but was not reported to police. It cost the county about $1,500 to fix the vehicle.

On Dec. 5 of that year, about 7:30 p.m., Franklin slammed the SUV into the back of a GMC Yukon on the Beltway. 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 county’s body shop declared the vehicle a “total loss,” which cost the government $33,171.92 to replace, according to documents provided to The Washington Post.

Neither Franklin nor his attorney have said where he was headed at the time of each of the collisions.

Franklin at that point began to use his personal vehicle, Jones said. In May of this year, he asked for a county vehicle and was issued the SUV that was involved in the crash that led to the drunken-driving charge.

Campbell, the council spokeswoman, would not say whether Franklin needed approval to be assigned the SUV.

Franklin isn’t the first Prince George’s elected official to get in trouble while driving a county-owned vehicle. In 2012, council member Karen R. Toles (D-Suitland) was clocked going more than 100 mph on the Beltway and charged with reckless driving. She avoided getting points on her driver’s license by agreeing to be sentenced to probation before judgment after a two-hour trial before Anne Arundel District Court Judge Megan Johnson.

Toles still uses a take-home vehicle, Campbell said, as do council members Andrea C. Harrison (D-Springdale), Obie Patterson (D-Fort Washington), Todd M. Turner (D-Bowie) and Mary A. Lehman (D-Laurel). Council Chair Derrick Leon Davis (D-Mitchellville), vice-chair Dannielle M. Glaros (D-Riverdale Park) and council member Deni Taveras (D-Adelphi) receive the automobile allowance, Campbell said.

Other Washington-area jurisdictions appear to have more stringent policies on when elected lawmakers can use government vehicles.

Members of the Montgomery County Council drive their own cars and are reimbursed for mileage, officials there said. In Arlington County, board members and the appointed county manager have access to the county’s fleet of vehicles on an as-needed basis, for county business only, spokeswoman Mary Curtius said.

Members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors do not have full-time access to vehicles but can reserve a car if needed for government business or work-related trips. The District of Columbia has a pool of two cars and a van that the 13-member council and its staffers share for official business only.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, who has a government-issued car and driver, said he has limited the number of people in the executive branch who have access to the fleet. He added that his administration does not police the council.

“It’s clearly within their purview to make the rules,” Baker said. “I think they’ll look at the policies now and see if they need to be changed.”

via Washington post. 

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Pr. George’s council member charged with DUI after crashing county vehicle And leaving scene

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Prince George’s County Council member Mel Franklin gave remarks after he took the oath of office in December 2014. (Mark Gail/For The Washington Post)

Prince George’s County Council member Mel Franklin was charged with driving under the influence after he crashed a government-owned vehicle recently into a car stopped at a traffic light, police said.

Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro) was traveling south along Pennsylvania Avenue in a county SUV about 11:30 p.m. Nov. 21 when he rear-ended a Mercedes stopped at a light near Dower House Road, according to Maryland State Police.

A breath test measured his blood alcohol concentration at 0.10, according to a copy of a police report obtained by The Washington Post. In Maryland, a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or more supports a DUI charge.

Two people in the car that Franklin is charged with hitting suffered “suspected minor injuries” and were transported to a hospital, according to the report and state police. It does not appear that Franklin was injured, but the impact caused the air bag in his vehicle to deploy, according to the police report.

Franklin, a longtime community activist and lawyer, was first elected to the County Council in 2010 to represent some of the most rural parts of southern Prince George’s County. He is widely considered one of the lead candidates to succeed County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) in 2018. But Democrats say he has also been eyeing one of the two new at-large seats created following the November referendum vote to expand the council.

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An SUV allegedly driven by Prince George’s Council member Mel Franklin in a Nov. 21 collision in which he has been charged with DUI. (Image via Jaklitsch Law Group)

News of his arrest prompted a demand for his resignation from Progressive Prince George’s, a county branch of a statewide coalition of civic activists and grass-roots organizations working on local progressive politics.

“We believe that he can no longer be entrusted with public responsibility because of his disregard for the law,” the group said in a statement Wednesday that called for Franklin to personally cover the costs of “any property damage and medical bills” resulting from his alleged actions.

Franklin did not respond to a request for comment on his arrest. His attorney, Theresa Moore, confirmed his involvement and said, “as you are aware, this is a legal matter and these issues will be addressed in court.”

Franklin is expected to receive a summons with a court date, though it was unclear when that would occur.

County Council Chair Derrick Leon Davis (D-Mitchellville) said in a statement that Franklin has “relinquished the use of his county vehicle and no longer has use of or access to any county-issued vehicle.”

When troopers arrived at the crash, Franklin was not in the immediate area of the Ford Explorer he was driving, police said. A trooper spotted him about 70 yards away in the center median, crossing the road before walking along the shoulder of the highway, police said.

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The car allegedly hit from the rear at a traffic light by Prince George’s Council member Mel Franklin in a Nov. 21 collision. (Image via Jaklitsch Law Group)

It’s unclear from the police report why Franklin was away from the SUV. The incident was first reported by WJLA-TV (ABC7).

Police identified the driver and the passenger of the Mercedes hit as Matthew and Theresa Collins of Upper Marlboro.

The couple have been released from the hospital but is still undergoing medical treatment, according to their attorney, Christine Murphy of Jaklitsch Law Group.

Murphy said the couple were driving home when they were stopped at a red light and “suddenly struck from behind.” “They’re definitely shaken up,” Murphy said.

Franklin was released to the custody of his wife, according to the initial incident report obtained by The Washington Post, which also shows he turned 41 Wednesday.

Based on information in the police report, it appears Franklin could be subject to the state’s new, tougher ignition-lock law, dubbed “Noah’s Law” after a Montgomery County police officer fatally struck by a drunk driver.

The long-stalled bill to expand use of ignition locks was approved in the final hour of the annual legislative session, in which legislation over alcohol and driving figured prominently. It lowers the offending blood alcohol level at which ignition locks are required from 0.15 to 0.08.

“According to the law, effective Oct. 1, a first-offense DUI conviction would require installation of an ignition interlock,” said Greg Shipley, a spokesman for state police.

Franklin was charged with driving while impaired by alcohol, driving while under the influence of alcohol, negligent driving and failure to control speed on a highway to avoid collision, police said.

State police said they will work with the Prince George’s state’s attorney’s office to determine whether any other charges are necessary.

John Erzen, a spokesman for the state’s attorney’s office, said that because Franklin is an elected county official, the office will secure a prosecutor from another jurisdiction to handle the case.

Council members have the option of using the county government’s fleet of vehicles, with the cost deducted from their paychecks. If council members use their own cars for government-related travel, they receive an allowance to help offset costs.

Barry Hudson, a spokesman for Baker, deferred questions about Franklin’s vehicle use to the council, which did not have immediate answers to questions regarding Franklin’s record of using county-owned vehicles.

Retired Prince George’s firefighter Jonn Mack said that he has known Franklin for more than a decade since their time as Young Democrats and that Franklin is a “fighter for the community” who had won the trust of constituents and was focused on bringing needed development to the county.

“This is completely out of character,” Mack said in an interview Wednesday.

via Washington post

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PGCPS School bus with students aboard involved in accident in Accokeek

– No serious injuries have been reported after an accident involving a school bus in Prince George’s County.

The accident happened around 8 a.m. near the intersection of Accokeek Road and Berry Road in Accokeek, Maryland.

Mark Brady, of the Prince George’s County Fire Department, said that the bus, headed to Gwynn Park High School, was involved in a crash with a car at Accokeek and Berry roads, in Accokeek, at about 7:30 a.m.

 Brady said that 21 students were taken by another school bus to a local hospital to be evaluated and released to their parents, while two were taken by ambulance to the hospital with minor injuries. The bus driver was not hurt.

It took about 20 minutes to extricate the driver of the car, and she was taken to a trauma center with what Brady described as serious but non-life-threatening injuries.

 The Prince George’s County police are investigating the accident. According to WTOP’s Kate Ryan reports that they said the car crossed the double yellow line, hit the bus, then spun and hit the car behind it.

She adds that the road was very slick, and that police told her that’s a condition that can happen when rain follows a long dry storm, and oil rises to the surface of the road. She says she saw four other accidents in the vicinity of the bus-crash site.

Officials say approximately 24 students were aboard during the accident and were heading to Gwynn Park High School. The students will be transferred to another bus and will be taken to a local hospital for evaluations. Officials then plan to release the children to their parents.

The cause of the accident is still under investigation.

Equity a question in turf field locations For PGCPS Schools.

wisefield_02UPPER MARLBORO – If Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell had the money, he would put a new turf field at every Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) high school, but he doesn’t.

Last week, the Prince George’s County Board of Education approved the final payments for two turf fields at county high schools. Those two fields, at Gwynn Park and Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. high schools, are some of the first few turf fields completed in the county.

Although the final payments were approved, the board raised several questions about future field placements throughout Prince George’s.

Over the past two legislative sessions, members of the Prince George’s County Delegation have brought bills before the Maryland General Assembly requesting funding for certain high schools to receive turf athletic fields.

Maxwell said the school system took the lists made by previous delegations, compared it to the list of schools that have either been closed or are up for renovation within the next several years, and narrowed the list down to four schools. Those four schools – Northwestern, Bowie, Eleanor Roosevelt and Charles H. Flowers – are currently being designed for new fields as well as reconfigured stadiums with lights.

“Some of that original order, and it’s been talked about in a couple of different pieces of legislation, some of those schools are in the construction queue and there’s no point in putting a brand new turf field there that might only get torn up,” Maxwell said, referencing renovation practices that often build new buildings on current athletic fields.

He further explained turf fields are planned for all new and fully renovated high schools.

Although those four schools are next on the list to receive turf fields, Maxwell said the school system does not currently have the funds to build all four. The school system was previously given $2.5 million to build the fields, said Will Smith with PGCPS’ Capital Improvements Office. However, Maxwell said in his experience that is not enough to build four fields with improved stadiums and lighting.

“This issue, of course, is funding,” Maxwell said. “If they give me enough money for all 24 high schools to have a field tomorrow, we would install them.”

Juwan Blocker, the student member of the board and a Parkdale High School senior, said high school students are concerned about where the turf fields would go. He said students saw lists circulated throughout social media and by word-of-mouth that originated in state legislation and many have voiced dissatisfaction with their schools either not being on the list or seemingly eliminated from the list.

“I want to know when they’re going to get turf fields, if they’re even being considered for turf fields, and what that process would look like and then how long that would take,” he said.

In response, Christian Rhodes, the Strategic Partners officer, reemphasized that legislators in Annapolis created the previous lists and that neither of the bills had passed.

Board Member Edward Burroughs, III was not satisfied with that answer and said the school system should be creating its own priority lists, rather than working off of ones created by legislators who are essentially negotiating locations among negotiations for other bills in the legislature.

“So here’s what I’m hearing: we are placing four turf fields, mainly in North and Central County, none in the south, based on a list that politicians in Annapolis came up with arbitrarily,” Burroughs said.

Three turf fields already exist in South County at Oxon Hill, Wise and Gwynn Park high schools, but Burroughs said equity in the turf locations has to rest on more than simply location and an “arbitrary” list.

Burroughs said new fields should go to the schools that need them the most.

“(There was) no regard for the schools that are in just awful condition,” Burroughs said. “And if we have control in creating this list, it should be the schools that have the greatest need regardless of where they are.”

Monica Goldson, deputy superintendent of teaching and learning, noted that Northwestern High School is in desperate need for a new field and again emphasized the school system does not have any money for all four schools to get turf fields.

The future turf fields were not on the board agenda as something to take action on and Board Chair Segun Eubanks said the board has time dig further into the matter before a vote would come before them.

via Prince George’s County Sentinel 

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Ethics probe finds Dallas Dance violation on pay disclosure

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Baltimore County Public Schools superintendent Dr. S. Dallas Dance (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

By Liz Bowie

Baltimore County schools Superintendent Dallas Dance has agreed to report the pay he receives as an adjunct professor after an ethics panel found he had violated financial disclosure rules.

William Groth, a former school system employee who sought to have Dance investigated over a variety of allegations, brought a complaint to the county school board’s ethics review panel last spring.

School board member Ann Miller, who voted this year against renewing Dance’s contract, said she filed the paperwork on Groth’s behalf. She said she is sympathetic to his viewpoint.

“I shared many of the concerns,” Miller said.There were things that I had been raising to the board prior to that.”

After months of investigation, the ethics panel concluded in October that Dance should have disclosed both his pay from the University of Richmond and also the fact that he had created a limited-liability corporation in 2012.

The school board will not make the panel’s report public, President Charles McDaniels said. But the board did release its opinion, in which it called for Dance to make the adjustments to his financial disclosure forms.

“There was nothing material or significant that came out of that investigation,” McDaniels said. The “majority of the board is not concerned about it.”

Dance had disclosed to the board that he has taught an online course called the Foundations of Education at the University of Richmond since 2008. He said the university paid him $17,812 last year to teach the courses. He said he spends about four hours on Sunday afternoons on the teaching job.

The ethics panel said Dance erred in not disclosing in 2012 that he had set up a consulting company called Deliberate Excellence Consulting LLC. He began reporting it on the forms in 2013.

The LLC is not doing any business and has had no income, Dance said, but he wants to keep the name. He said he set it up so that the University of Richmond could pay the LLC rather than him directly, but it never ended up being used for that purpose.

The private university in Virginia does not do business with the Baltimore County school system.

Dance said he did not report his adjunct pay because “it is not clear on the financial disclosure forms where that would go. I have no problem reporting it.”

The superintendent is now seeking to clarify whether other school system employees should report income from area universities and colleges.

A county principal might teach a class to future principals at Towson University, he said, or an administrator in the central office who specializes in math might teach a course on teaching math.

“I am sure there are hundreds of people in this boat,” Dance said.

Groth said he feels “some sense of vindication” in the findings, but “I would like to note that this is not the first time this has happened during Dr. Dance’s tenure.”

In 2014, Dance was found to have violated rules when he took a consulting job with a professional development company that did business with the school system.

“I am most concerned that this superintendent is responsible for a $1.8 billion budget and continues to raise ethics issues,” Groth said. “This fact, coupled with the grading policy debacle, the curriculum confusion, the expensive and as yet unproven STAT initiative, and the issue of teacher retention lead me to conclude that the real problem is this board of education.”

Miller, who became a member of the volunteer school board about a year ago, has voted against many of Dance’s initiatives. She declined to comment on the ethics findings.

“I am not sure if I can because I can’t talk about what is in the full report,” she said.

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