Ethics concerns stall Prince George’s County rezoning effort

Prince George’s County has spent millions of dollars over six years on a countywide rezoning plan, but after all that time and money, the process has hit a hurdle.

The county council has realized it can’t take a crucial vote to make the rezoning a reality because too many councilmembers must recuse themselves due to their campaign contributions.

There is a long-standing ethics law specific to Prince George’s County that says councilmembers aren’t supposed to take campaign contributions from developers.

If it’s found developers have contributed to a campaign, that councilmember must recuse themselves from any vote on that developer’s zoning application.

Download the FOX 5 DC News App for Local Breaking News and Weather

FOX 5 asked District 4 Councilman Todd Turner why the majority of the council had these campaign contributions if they are prohibited.

"So I’ll give you my example," said Turner. "I received a contribution through a political action committee. Think of it this way: someone contributed to a political action committee then that political action committee gave me funding."

He says he didn’t know about that developer contribution until recently and that the scope of this rezoning process with so many businesses impacted and wanting to weigh in has caused unforeseen conflicts.

Now, the council is going to lawmakers in Annapolis to ask for an exemption to the ethics law so they can take the vote.

There was pushback in a virtual meeting this week with a member of the Prince George’s County delegation.

"It strikes me as that old adage ‘wolf in sheep‘s clothing,’" said Del. Mary Lehman (D-Prince George’s County). "I think it really does not come off well. It raises all kinds of red flags for me."

Some citizens spoke out as well.

"The way it’s being done, it sets up the county to be sold out to developers again," said Janna Parker.

Tamara Davis Brown also spoke at the meeting.

"The simple thing to do is just return the money," she said of the campaign contributions in question.

Prince George’s County leaders also spoke at the meeting to emphasize how important the rezoning is to the county.

Prince George’s County has not rezoned in about 50 years and leaders say it’s a long-overdue step to make the county more competitive and business-friendly. The rezoning would shrink the number of zones from over 70 to over 40.

Those speaking in support said the process is critical to help the county recover economically from the pandemic and a "once in a generation opportunity."

At that point, only the General Assembly can allow the process to go forward by letting the council sidestep the ethics law in this case.

When asked if he was worried, Turner acknowledged there’s a chance it won’t happen.

"I've been around long enough to know nothing’s guaranteed when you go to any legislative body," he said.

While Turner provided that personal example of the campaign contribution that disqualified him from voting, FOX 5 requested information on all the other conflicting contributions. The county did not provide that as of Thursday night.