UPPER MARLBORO – Months after rigorous budget discussions between the Prince George’s County Council and County Executive Rushern Baker III, there are still many disagreements between the two sides of government.
Most recently, Baker said the council’s two percent budget cut to every agency in the county has forced the county to postpone the opening of the District 7 police station in Fort Washington.
Both branches have had their differences in the past, according to Councilwoman Karen Toles, but the relationship between the two sides can improve moving forward starting with the county executive’s openness with the council.
“I think the way for him to improve the relationship with the council is for him to be open and transparent about what he wants to do,” Toles said.
Thoughts have occasionally been miscommunicated between the two sides, Toles said, and could easily be fixed with more council meetings with Baker personally. The council has been able to speak with his staff on many occasions, Toles said, but more conversations between Baker and the council are needed.
“I, personally, haven’t had a meeting with the county executive, one on one, maybe, one time in the past five years,” Toles said. “Perhaps a once per year or twice per year with a few of us to talk about expectations for the upcoming year can help. Opening up that type of dialogue between the council and the county executive on a continual basis could help that relationship.”
The two sides should not only be talking when there is something going on, Toles said. There should be conversations about expectations and priorities throughout the year, she said. Baker shares constituents with each of the nine council members, she said, but he must serve them all rather than just a specific district.
“We want the same things, but the way we accomplish that is that my constituents have needs, and they are his constituents as well. The best way to do that is to have regular conversations,” Toles said. “And he can take that out of the playbook of Wayne K. Curry, who was a magnificent county executive.”
There are disagreements in all types of relationships, Baker said, inside and outside of politics. Healthy relationships are ones in which you can agree to disagree, he said.
“Every elected Prince George’s County official has the same goals for our citizens and all of our citizens’ concerns are everybody’s priorities,” Baker said.
There may be disagreements on how to best achieve the county’s goals, Baker said, with finite resources, but continuing “incredible progress” the county has achieved over the last four years is everyone’s shared focus.
Councilman Derrick Leon Davis said disagreements are a natural part of politics. Budget talks were rough, he said, because of the issues with the 15 cent tax increase proposed during the budget session. Anytime the issue of taxes comes up, he said, the conversation will be difficult.
Even with their disagreements, Davis said, both branches of government have similar priorities and they all serve Prince George’s County residents. There are just some differences in opinion on how to accomplish their goals, he said.
“The legislative branch has a role and responsibility and the executive branch has a role and responsibility. We are prescribed by our constitution and our charter to carry out government,” Davis said. “It has never been a thing of friends or enemies. It is just the necessary checks and balances.”
This is just a natural part of checks and balances, Davis said. There are always going to be people who think things should be done a certain way, he said, but there is a reality of what citizens and officials can do and how they can accomplish those things.
“There are always going to be people who think things should be done a certain way. Some people think they should be done their way,” Davis said. “So you’re always going to have that strange reality between what you can do, what you want done and what needs to be done.”
What is missing in many conversations between the executive and legislative branches is the reality of the situation in Prince George’s County, Davis said. Inherent of the reality, he said, is the county is in a structural deficit.
There are some communication issues between both branches, Davis said, politically. Although he feels he can speak with Baker on a personal level anytime he needs to, he said, there needs to be more room for political discussion between the council and Baker himself.
“I feel like I can talk to the executive anytime I need to talk to the executive, personally. I don’t personally have any problem with regard to that,” Davis said. “Politically, I do believe that often the legislative branch and the executive branch may have trouble in getting clear communication between each other fairly.”
Council members may hear something differently between their two districts, Davis said. Each district has its own issues, he said, that need to be solved and there may be differences there that need to be considered, he said.
Ron Weiss, a Prince George’s County resident, said that it is evident to the people of the county the two sides are having disagreements and communication problems. Those issues can be tough to fix, he said, but the art of compromise should come through.
It is difficult to see two sides that residents respect, Weiss said, who are unable to resolve issues between each other. They are just talking past each other, he said, which makes it difficult to work any issues out.
“There’s the art of compromise that is missing, and it doesn’t help,” Weiss said. “The residents of Prince George’s County are stuck in the middle of a battle between the two parts.”