- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 3, 2011

Prince George’s County Council member Leslie E. Johnson’s refusal to resign after a pair of felony convictions could become a major distraction in coming months and slow the learning process for her eventual successor, colleagues say.

Johnson pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy to commit witness and evidence tampering, after flushing a $100,000 check down a toilet and hiding nearly $80,000 in her bra last November as federal investigators closed in on her husband, then-County Executive Jack B. Johnson, a Democrat.

Leslie Johnson, a Democrat, said she plans to remain in office until her scheduled Oct. 13 sentencing - at which point she would be required by state law to step down. But several council members and County Executive Rushern L. Baker III have already called for her resignation.

“She’s technically now a convicted felon,” said council member William A. Campos, a Democrat. “We need to start getting ready for whoever it is that’s going to take her place.”

Johnson faces 12 to 18 months in prison, while her husband — who pleaded guilty in May to charges of extortion and witness and evidence tampering — could receive as much as 13 years in prison at his scheduled Sept. 15 sentencing.

The nine-member council cannot force Leslie Johnson to resign, but it voted last year to bar her from serving on committees or leading consideration of development projects within her district. She is still allowed to vote on legislation and attend committee meetings.

Mr. Campos said Johnson has taken the restrictions in stride, is well liked by fellow council members and is “doing a good job.” However, he said, her refusal to step down is only prolonging the time that it would take her replacement to come aboard and learn the many issues facing the council.

“From now until October, no matter what it is that we work on, this is always going to be a distraction,” Mr. Campos said.

While Johnson is still allowed a voice on committee matters, her lack of input on development decisions diminishes her role on council and could hurt her constituents, said Thomas E. Dernoga, a council member from 2002 to 2010.

Mr. Dernoga said Johnson’s immediate resignation would also allow campaigning for the seat to take place during less-busy summer months rather than the fall, in addition to opening the door for a new council member to gain development responsibilities.

“If she wants to move beyond her mistake, step one is to resign immediately,” he said. “At this point, I don’t see how she could be of any benefit to her constituents.”

When Johnson vacates her seat, the county will be required to hold a special primary election 45 to 60 days after her departure, followed by a general election no more than 90 days after she leaves office.

She was elected to office last November, two months after winning a six-candidate primary with nearly 41 percent of the vote. The runner-up was Derrick Leon Davis, a county schools employee who received about 32 percent of all votes.

The candidates were vying to replace former council member Samuel H. Dean, who was forced out by term limits and ran an unsuccessful campaign for county executive. Having been replaced, Mr. Dean would now be eligible to run for the vacant council seat.

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