Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Mushroom Goes To The Woodshed

My previous post about voters being treated like mushrooms brought the swift response from Prince Georges County Council President Tom Dernoga at the bottom of this post.

He takes me to woodshed for complaining about the Liquor Board because he correctly explains that the State of Maryland really controls the Board, not the County. He also mildly rebukes me for incorrectly referring to the County as PG instead of Prince Georges.

I've also added my response to his email as a comment to this post. Mr. Dernoga agreed to let me to post his message to the blog.

I appreciate the opportunity to correct my errors and I appreciate even more that our hardworking Councilman took the time to set me straight on a holiday .


From: Dernoga, Thomas E.
Sent: Tuesday, July 04, 2006 8:31 PM
Subject: PG County Govt


I'm mildly offended by your recent emails. I agree with the basic premise -easy access to public information. I also agree that the County has been behind in getting its technology up to speed. The Council has pushed on this, but unfortunately, like too many things that are outside our direct control, we haven't gotten to where we need to be yet.

So... why am I mildly offended?

First, like many people, you ignore the fact that the County needs to do more with less. I don't have time right now to go through my spreadsheets of data that I have compiled; however, suffice it to say that 30 years of foolish development policies have left us with a County demographic that has less property value per capita, less income per capita, less wealth per capita and a lower educational level per capita than those surrounding jurisdictions who are doing so well with technology. Since Maryland bases its taxing system (and hence, its County's taxing systems) on wealth, our relative lack of wealth means substantially less tax revenue per person to use to perform the same governmental functions. While I am certain that there is adequate funding to provide the type of technological infrastructure to perform the type of functions you desire, I gather that other pressing needs distract focus from this issue and keep it from being an agency priority - that is, the County's Office of Information Technology.

Second, and really more important, the Board of License Commissioners is not really a "PG County" agency. Sure, its budget ends up under our County budget and we "approve" it. And, they have a County email address. However, the same is true of the Circuit and District Courts, the Sheriff and various other agencies created by State, the officials of which are appointed by the State, and the laws under which they operate are State laws. Neither the County Executive nor the County Council may direct the operations of the Board. Thus, when you blame "PG County" (known as Prince George's in some circles), for not having a web service to let you know when liquor license applications arise in 20707 or 20708, you presume that PG County has jurisdiction to order the Board around. Unfortunately not. The elected officials that you need to petition for action on this are named: Miller, Lawlah, Green, Pinsky, Giannetti, Currie, Exum and Britt. Since they enjoy the control that they have over liquor licenses, perhaps THEY "simply want to keep citizens out of the hearing process?"State law provides how many people we have to pay for in our Budget for the Board - the Chair, the Commissioners, the number of inspectors, their legal counsel, etc. I have appended at the bottom the State law discussing how Prince George's Board is staffed and its duties. I don't think you will find any similar rules under County law.

So.... you could argue that the Board is a County agency, but such argument would not be completely accurate. If you wish to blame "PG County" for the Board's failure to employ technology effectively, at least blame the responsible elected officials.




Rick Wilson said...


I'm not offended. But you have every right to be offended by me.

Point 1. Technology Use - I understand that the county needs to be prudent with its money but technology is not simply an expense. Innovative technology investments can create large returns on efficiency and
effectiveness. Technology is fueling efficiencies across the economy and throughout the public sector. I believe the county should get on board.

The fact that county employees do not have their email addresses available on the web site is but one small indicator. An email is so much more efficient than a phone call. Why publish phone numbers and not email addresses?

There are a large number of other policy changes that I'm sure could help the county be more efficient. I think that a citizen's commission to study
the use of technology would be an excellent first step. How about
appointing a blue ribbon panel of public and private sector technology folks to take a look?
The commission's terms of reference should include:

a. challenge the commission to review the county's acquisition, deployment, operations policies, especially where they empower business and citizen interaction.

b. Ensure he study's recommendations must be O&M and capital budget neutral.

Point 2 - The Liquor Board's failure to employ technology - I accept your explanation and stand corrected.

Would you be willing to post your response to the blog? Or may I on your behalf? I would like to make the correction public.



Rick Wilson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rick said...

I'm posting on behalf of County Council President Tom Dernoga:


I hardly took Rick to the “woodshed”.

I made some basic observations about which parts of government have jurisdiction over certain agencies, and who has what responsibilities.

However, I did agree with Rick about most of his basic points about better use of technology and better public access to information. I will try to act on some of Rick’s points. I hope that other elected officials (at the County, State & municipal levels) do the same within their areas of jurisdiction.

Thanks to Rick for raising issues like this and demanding that public officials be accountable.

Tom Dernoga