On Nov. 19, 2009, James F. Johnson, no relation to Jack Johnson, was officially sworn in as director of the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) after serving in that role as interim head for a year. On that day, there was nothing but effusive praise for a man who was a close friend of former Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson.

“James Johnson brings over 34 years of experience in program management and administration and is an excellent candidate to serve as director,” Jack Johnson said in a statement. “He possesses the required skills, talents and demonstrated experience to be successful and I am confident that he will continue to be an asset to the citizens and residents of Prince George’s County.”

James Johnson’s relationship with the former county executive stretches further than his time as DHCD director. From 2003-2008, he served as special assistant to the former county executive. Their previous relationship may have contributed to the former county leader’s sticking with James Johnson during the rough stages of his tenure in late 2009.

The results of an audit by Prince George’s County Office of Audit and Investigations released in October 2009 showed DHCD was failing in its mission to provide adequate federal funding in Prince George’s County and may have been improperly funding several community housing development organizations (CHDO).

“The lack of controls in the CHDO certification process and the process of disbursing CHDO funds may result in improper certification and disbursement of federal funds, potential liability, and the compromise of the programmatic intent of the CHDO grant,” the audit said.

Then HUD asked for $2 million back from the county in early 2010 because the DHCD missed a spending deadline for HOME Investment Partnership Program funds.

James Johnson’s performance was questioned by then Council Chair Tom Dernoga, D-Dist. 1, and County Executive Rushern Baker, who was then on the campaign trail. They both thought a change in leadership was necessary. “Failing to secure those dollars is like forgetting to dial 911 when your home is burning down,” Rushern L. Baker told the {Washington Post}. “One in 24 homeowners face foreclosure in our county; it’s an administrative tragedy when we fail to capture every dollar we can.”

James Johnson’s survival through the controversies may have become clearer when Jack Johnson was indicted last month. In the indictment, it was alleged that Jack Johnson and James Johnson were cohorts in receiving money under the table.

In the indictment, James Johnson wasn’t named specifically; but it indicated the Director of DHCD, referred to as Public Official A in the indictment, had several wiretapped conversations with the former county executive. On Oct. 24, 2010, the indictment claims Public Official A, met at Jack Johnson’s residence to discuss HOME funds available for various projects, including one for a particular developer in which the DHCD had secured $1.5 million in HOME funding.

“Why don’t me and you go to his house together … so he can’t wiggle out of ,” Jack Johnson said. “We’ll go one night next week. Then we’ll do 1.5 and you and I should get five hundred together.

“If I can get myself about three hundred, I’ll be in good shape.”

James Johnson hasn’t been charged with anything and federal authorities haven’t commented on his involvement.

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO