Determined to make the state pay its employees a competitive salary, the Prince George's County Council this week refused to approve pay supplements for state physical and occupational therapists who work in the county.
Even though health department officials predicted the action would deprive crippled children and others of needed health care, council members stuck to the decision they made earlier this year to end supplemental pay for state workers.
The problem, council members agreed, is that state salaries that may be adequate for other parts of Maryland are not sufficient in the Washington area. Until this year the county has been providing supplements of approximately $750 a year for each state worker serving Prince George's County.
County health officer Donald K. Wallace and his director of rehabilitation, Meris C. Marfyak, said state pay scales in their department are unadequate, and that they have been unable to attract and retain therapists because other local governments offer more pay.
Marfvak said she had four vacancies in a department that should have nine therapists. She said vacancies occur frequently and have taken as long as 13 months to fill because of the low starting salary of $11,516. Every vacancy leaves an entire health district or cerebral palsy center without a therapist.
The council, however, affirmed its decision not to grant new supplemental pay hikes on the principles that it is the state's responsibility to raise insufficient salary scales.
"I know it's going to hurt this program, which happens to be very dear to my heart," said council member Francis B. Prancois. "But I think it is a principle we have to stand on. The problem is that the state has been underfunding and ignoring state health needs for years. We in the county have been covering it up for some time, and we've got to stop."
Wallace suggested that if the council denied the pay supplements, "We're obviously talking about the termination of services to home health patients, crippled children and cerebal palsy patients."
But council chairman William B. Amonett bristled at that characterization, saying the council supported the therapists' work and better salaries, but felt the cutoff of supplemental pay was the only way to force the state to take action.
Several council members suggested that the state should change its uniform salary schedule and make allowances for the greater cost of living in counties such as Prince George's.
The denial of supplemental pay for the therapists passed 9-to-2, with council members Darlene Z. White and Floyd E. Wilson Jr. dissenting. The council then agreed that Amonett should write the legislative leadership, local legislators and Acting Gov. Blair Lee III and ask that the state salaries for the therapists be increased.
In another funding matter, the council directed that its $20,000 grant to the Greater Baden Medical Clinic be put under the supervision of the health department, despite opposition from council member Samuel W. Bogley.
The Baden clinic, which serves poor-tobacco farmers in the rural southern part of the county, is a two-doctor outpatient facility dependent largely on county and United Way grants.
Bogley had warned against putting the clinic's grant in any county department budget, because that might indicate it was "headed toward becoming a branch of the county government. But Amonett said the health department would only provide guidance for the clinic, and Bogley acquiescred.
In other action, the council confirmed Bonnie Faye Johns as a member of the board of education. More than 30 public officials and citizens supported her nomination by County Executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr., often in effusive terms, but two black community leaders critized the way Kelly chose her.
The tenor of her supporters' comments was that Johns had inspired and helped them in the course of her community and professional work. Johns is a county mental health office, and has been involved in more than 20 civic and governmental committees and projects.
Some of the citizens who spoke in favor of her nomination were so upbeat and flowery that council members jokingly asked for copies of their talks for possible use as political speeches.
But Sylvester J. Vaughns, president of the county chapter of the NAACP, protested that citizens of the school board district formerly served by Jesse J. Warr Jr. did not have a voice in Johns' selection. Kelly took suggestions from a three-man screening committee composed of Sen. Thommie Broadwater (D-Prince George's). Del. Nathaniel Exum (D-Prince George's) and council member Wilson.
Vaughns said citizens of the school board district should have beeen more directly consulted, possibly through an assembly attended by kelly or the three other officials as his delegates.
James Bardwell of the Prince George's County Black Coalition offered a similar criticism, calling the selection of Johns as example of "the political boses of the county" listening to other politicians rather than citizens.
Wilson, however, disclaimed the title "political boss" for himself and pointed to the support for Johns at the public hearing as showing that the public had a chance to make its wishes known. The appointment of Johns passed unanimously.