Apparently convinced that the Health Systems Agency of Northern Virginia does not use public money to lobby for issues like abortion and smoking, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors this week restored $27,000 in county funds it withheld from the agency two months ago.
The board voted 7-to-2 to restore funding to the regional health planning group over the bitter opposition of board Chairman John F. Herrity. Herrity led the effort to withhold the local funds that make up only 6 percent of the agency's $635,000 annual budget.
"There hasn't been any detrimental effect to the agency so far, since we wouldn't have received any county money until at least September," said Dean Montgomery, executive director of the health systems agency, a federal created organization that plans health services and facilities in Northern Virginia.
The supervisors asked the agency in May to justify what they called lobbying for abortion and antismoking regulations when they voted 5-to-4 to withhold the funds.
The agency had recommended in its annual report that Virginia approve using public money for abortions for Medicaid-eligible women. Agency representatives also have testified in public hearings against smoking in public places. The agency considers these activities within its federal mandate "to edcuate and inform the general public and public officials about community health questions."
The board decision to restore funding came after individual supervisors met with agency representatives and received a letter this week from the agency board chairman, Laura McDowell, that said the agency does not lobby or plan to lobby.
"We've been playing games with them (the agency) and it's about time to stop it," said Supervisor Marie B. Travesky (R-Springfield).
Montgomery said the possibility of losing local funds has prompted the agency "to try to maintain close and regular contact with the supervisors to let them understand what we are really doing." Heattributed the earlier cut-off to "the vocal efforts of special interest groups," specifically anti-abortionists.
Herrity, who is the Republican candidate for the Eighth Congressional District seat, claims that smoking and abortion "are only two of many issues that the agency has no business meddling in. They have way overreached their purpose: that was supposed to be controlling health care costs."
Herrity was referring to the agency's efforts to collect and disseminate information in areas including sex education, personal eating habits, automobile pollution, alcohol consumption, gun ownership and family planning.
Supervisor Warren I. Cikins (D-Mt.Vernon), who also sits on the health systems agency's 30-member board of directors, called Herrity's effort to stop funding a "politically motivated, manufactured issue from the beginning."
"His concern with the HSA's smoking and abortion positions was only a smokescreen issue," Cikins continued. "He is really a champion of those who oppose the HSA because the group is the new kid on the block among those who have traditionally made the decisions regarding health care."
Supervisor John P. Shacochis (R-Dranesville) also voted against restoring funds.