Johnson Asks Ministers To Take Roll On Hospitals

By Rosalind S. Helderman and Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 2, 2007

Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) has suggested that the Collective Banking Group, which represents some of the most powerful ministers, have a role in selecting the board of directors for Dimensions Healthcare, the company that runs the county's hospital system.

Trying to dispel fears that he's out for control of the Dimensions Board, Johnson said Friday that he asked the group during a recent meeting to step in and take a role. Johnson is demanding that four of Dimensions' 11 board members step down as part of a restructuring plan he has offered, and until then he has pledged to withhold county funds from the financially strapped hospital system.

Last week, a judge ordered the county to pay $2 million to the system, pending a further hearing in September. As of Tuesday, the county had not decided whether to appeal.

Johnson's critics have charged that he is trying to stack the board with allies, including his chief of staff (who is a member) and two members who were named to the board at his chief of staff's suggestion. But Johnson has said repeatedly he is simply trying to get new faces on the board.

Perhaps the Collective Banking Group, which represents 150 of the county's churches, can help, he said.

"I would be happy for them to select the board," Johnson said. "We could pull politics out of it."

Dimensions Board Chairman Calvin Brown said he would be "open to some discussion about the process," including finding a role for the church group. He said he, too, has had conversations with the ministers and thinks they have an important contribution to make, including possible suggestions about new board members. But, he said, Dimensions bylaws, which govern who serves on the board, should remain in effect.

"That would be a group that would bring some credibility to this process," Brown said. "I still think there are rules we have to follow that relate to our bylaws and lease."

The Rev. Jonathan L. Weaver, president of the group, confirmed that the ministers have offered to help mediate in any way they can, including possibly identifying new board members. He said he was encouraged to learn that Johnson and Brown were both open to the idea and hopes the group can facilitate a meeting between the two.

"We're interested in trying to do whatever we can, to be of help and to make sure the hospital stays open, more importantly, thrives," Weaver said.

Meanwhile, Johnson had a strikingly sunny message to send for the hospital system, which has been troubled for a decade: "All the problems will be solved this year," he predicted last week, noting he meant this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Our Man on the State Board

County government and education leaders celebrated Renford G. Freemantle's new role as student member of the Maryland State Board of Education last week at a reception at Freemantle's own High Point High School, where he will be a senior.

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