Once more, Prince George’s County finds itself engaged in an internal tempest that is partially, at least, created by term limits. The furor is over perceptions, but the law is clear: the County Executive is exercising his right under current law. The current Chief Executive, Jack Johnson, wishes to nominate as Chair of Park & Planning a new person and thereby effectively remove the current Chair. The new appointee if confirmed will serve until either the summer of 2013 as would the current Chair if re-nominated, or until the law is changed – which ever comes first. Some have said that had the County Executive done this when the first term had expired in 2009 things would somehow be different. However the outcome would be the same as far as the length of service for whomever is in the Planning Commission Chair; either way the seond term ends in the summer of 2013, or until the law is changed.
More than 20 people vociferously and most eloquently pleaded for the Council to, in their collective words, “do the right thing” which in their opinion would be to ignore either the County Council’s charge under law to consider the qualifications of the nominee or deny the nomination because it is not “the right thing to do”. What comes across is the idea that when we do not like a law, we should just set it aside. Most of those who testified in opposition spoke to the nominee’s excellent credentials, but spoke of some unspecified higher duty that should be considered by the County Council. This is dangerous thinking at best. Perhaps if the opposition had started earlier, changed the law to synchronize Panning Commission’s Chair’s new term length to coincide with that of the County Executive the melee would be palatable, but they had not. The second term overlap was not a major issue until the County Executive exercised his legal right. What we are left with is a struggle that gives politics a bad name for some, and excites others to rise to a state of full unbridle panic. Because we have term limits which create an unaccountable second term for County Executives, the only statutory question we face is whether this nomination is legally constituted and whether the nominee is qualified. When we add political ambitions to the mix we quickly lose sight ot the law making this issue a volatile and divisive one in Prince George’s County.
I have had the great privilege and opportunity to work with Mr. Sam Parker, the current Chair, and am a fervent admirer of the direction he has taken the Commission and the work he has done and might have done. As much as I might want him to continue, however, I am not the County Executive, and the decision is not mine. We elected Mr. Johnson to make these decisions, and we chose to encumber him with term limits, which prevent him from running again, and deny us from compelling him to reconsider this course of action. Term limits are not Mr. Johnson’s doing but ours, the voters.
That said, I have known professionally Mr. Byrd for almost as long as I have known Mr. Parker. While I have not worked as closely with him, I am significantly impressed with the opposition’s testimony in support of his excellent credentials. In fact I was quite taken by the breadth of support of his qualifications from those who oppose his nomination. How could so many so adamantly opposed find so much worthy of support in the life long professional achievements of Mr. Byrd?
Term limits deny us the ability to hold politicians accountable. Term limits underlie this latest battle among the partisans of parochial Prince George’s County politics. We must remember that from the tyranny of the majority there is no escape but treason; that we have a system of checks and balances to prevent the majority from wildly and capriciously running rough-shod over the legal landscape. The idea that our laws should be based upon the whims of the moment is has impact on our ability to attract investment and therefore jobs. Change is good and necessary when conducted deliberatively and directly. Laws ought to be changed and updated and debated on the merits. Change based upon ambition and desire of the moment is a recipe for infighting and short sighted alterations.. Term limits guarantee that even when we are not paying attention, the system will clean house without our input or notice thereby providing a lazy man’s way to democracy. Term limits are put in place so an electorate does not have to spend much its time or effort that might arise from being involved in the political process. Term limits help us to not pay attention to our obligation to participate in politics.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. "A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy.
"It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego." He continued, "The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you—and inside every other person, too."
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"
The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."
First People - The Legends. Cherokee Legend of Two Wolves. November 16, 2004. [accessed April 7, 2012].