Thursday, May 30, 2013

O'Malley's Toothless Task Force

Governor Martin O'Malley, attempting to ride out the scandal in Baltimore's detention center with his presidential chances on track, announced this week the creation of a new task force, a "powerful new weapon in our arsenal" to combat corruption.

Was there ever an "arsenal' to begin with?  He didn't fight the corruption in Baltimore's jail with in-house security staff, and I haven't heard of any efforts by the Maryland State Police, which investigates crimes in the city jail. O'Malley apparently had no ammunition in his arsenal, and was forced to turn to the feds to clean up the mess.  

He asked us to congratulate him for that.   Now he wants us to believe that his task force has some purpose other than providing the appearance of action. 

O'Malley appointed six investigators from the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, the agency that allowed the corruption, and three from the Maryland State Police, which could have investigated at the outset.  The heads of both agencies, Gary Maynard and Marcus Brown, were appointed by O'Malley, and both should have been doing something to stop the corruption long before the feds were needed.  

The person coordinating the task force is a Baltimore prosecutor with no particular credential other than to serve on a Maryland State Bar committee that seeks to improve conditions for prisoners.  But she works for city state's attorney Gregg Bernstein, who owes O'Malley big-time for putting up half the rent money for his new offices in downtown Baltimore.  In fact, he hosted O'Malley for a tour of his floors at the Suntrust Bank Building shortly before the scandal broke.  

The task force will likely lack access to important information until the U.S. Attorney's Office completes its criminal proceedings.  And Maynard,  O'Malley's Public Safety Secretary, won't be waiting around for a task force report to come out in a year or two.  He's got to act now to reform the city jail, and to examine what may be going on in the other state prisons.

Yes, what a "powerful" new weapon O'Malley has now.   The task force allows him to pretend to be taking action.  It provides a tool for controlling the discussion, as well as to preempt legislators who will conduct their own hearings next week.  (Not that we can expect much from them, either, with the politics of our state.)

But as a weapon against corruption, the task force is a toothless tiger, the cynical creation of a governor who refuses to take responsibility and who places his own appearance and ambitions above all else.