The Prince George’s County Council is gearing up for its next legislative session with some unique challenges ahead. The Council will have to work through a budget deficit, which threatens to cripple the county, while coping with a member with muted power.

The Council concluded a three-day retreat on Jan. 12 in Cambridge, Md., where they discussed several key issues and did teambuilding exercises. The Council members left the retreat feeling they’d gained something positive.

“I am confident that the entire Council left the retreat better equipped to help foster more economic growth, create jobs, and provide efficient services to our residents, and more collaboration for the good of the County,” Council Chair Ingrid Turner, D.-Dist. 4, said in a prepared statement.

The retreat was necessary as with five new council members, each from different backgrounds, a sense of camaraderie needed to be built. However, another reason could be the Council has to work really with eight members instead of nine as they stripped Councilwoman Leslie Johnson, D.-Dist. 6, of any committee powers.

After Johnson’s arrest in November in a FBI sting that targeted her husband, former Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson, the Council didn’t think it was appropriate to have her serving on any committee while being under investigation.

“While Mrs. Johnson is under federal charges the Council is proceeding with an abundance of caution by taking the following measures to ensure the effectiveness of this body and to avoid any appearance of impropriety,” Turner said. “Mrs. Johnson will have no committee assignments; the full Council will take a more active role in development projects in District 6 and throughout all of Prince George’s County; and she will not officially represent the County Council to any external bodies.”

That isn’t stopping Johnson from doing the things she thinks are important though. Johnson, who had stayed clear of the public eye since her arrest, hosted a District 6 community leaders’ forum recently that drew over 100 people and was attended by county board of education members as well as police and fire officials.

“This meeting, the first of many for District 6, offered a great opportunity to come together around the issues that impact our quality of life in the County—the economy and jobs, access to quality healthcare, and education- to name a few,” Johnson said in a statement. “I appreciate the active participation of District 6 community leaders who are so willing to collaborate to determine District 6 priorities and share valuable information about resources and solutions.”

Given the cloud over Prince George’s government, council members have decided to try to make their process – in new legislation and meetings – more open and honest than ever before. The council plans to take more of its meetings on the road so that the community can be more involved in its government.

“Moving some of the Council committee meetings outside Upper Marlboro and into our communities supports opportunities for greater public participation in the legislative process,” said Councilman Eric Olson, D.-Dist.3, in a statement. “The need for making government more open and accessible to our citizens becomes even more apparent as we look to build strong, green community development projects.”