Legend has it that when Queen Marie Antoinette was told that French peasants were starving because of a bread shortage during King Louis XVI's lavish coronation in Rheims, she haughtily replied: "Let them eat cake!" That pretty much sums up what Prince George's County Council Chairwoman Ingrid Turner, D-Bowie, told taxpayers when she announced that the council's annual retreat would be held at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Hotel in Cambridge, a tony Eastern Shore resort, so members could "focus on development and strengthening our core values." Turner didn't explain exactly how spending three days at a 400-acre riverside resort offering such amenities as a golf course, a marina, indoor pools and a spa with caviar facials would help council members focus on anything other than having a good time, at the taxpayers' expense. Granted, $15,000 for the retreat that ended Wednesday is a drop in the bucket compared to Prince George's looming $77 million budget deficit, which is expected to rise to $133 million in fiscal 2013, not including $28 million more in teacher pension costs that Gov. Martin O'Malley is trying to shift to the county. County Executive Rushern Baker has announced a hiring freeze, stopped employees from taking home some 50 county-owned vehicles, and is reviewing county credit card expenditures and outside contracts in search of more spending reductions. In a county still grappling with deflating property values, flat tax revenue, and the loss of millions in state aid, Baker is taking Prince George's financial crisis seriously. Turner and her colleagues on council are not.
During their tax-paid getaway, council members reportedly discussed such items as stimulating the county economy, increasing revenue, and how to keep as much information from the public as possible. Councilwoman Andrea Harrison, D-Springdale, who thinks it's "irresponsible" to keep the public informed at every step during the decision-making process, even had the nerve to take umbrage at the fact that county residents do not trust council members. ("Why does everybody think that we're dishonest?") Answer: By convening their annual retreat outside of Prince George's County, (to talk about, among other things, stimulating economic activity within the county), council members once again proved that any residual public trust in them is almost surely misplaced.