A Prince George's County Circuit Court judge ruled last week that County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan could not be forced to implement a resolution passed by the County Council that would have allowed Garfinckel's department store to receive a $4.5 million state-backed loan.
Although the ruling by Judge James M. Rea dealt only with the controversial Garfinckel's case and the specific state law that allows such state-backed loans, county officials said it also raised the broader question of whether Hogan could now choose to ignore any resolution passed by the council if he did not approve it.
Council legislative officer Lionell Lockhart said of the Rea ruling: "The worst possible interpretation would be that the county executive can never be obliged to carry out any law if in his discretionary powers he does not believe it's in the best interests of the county."
Hogan and the council have bickered over the Garfinckel's loan, which would be used to finance a county distribution center, since last summer. At that time Garfinckel's officials reported that the executive had tried to force them into a quid pro quo in which he would give his approval if the company donated $87,000 to charitable organizations left out of his budget. The company refused the request.
Hogan said at the time that he opposed the loan because Garfinckel's was proposing simply another warehouse that would not benefit the county or mesh with his development policies for Prince George's.
Garfinckel's took Hogan to court over the issue after the County Council approved the loan by passing a resolution directing the executive to sign all necessary documents and forward them to the state agency that helps to finance such industrial loans. Hogan had previously stated that he would not implement the resolution.
At the court hearing last week, Garfinckel's attorneys maintained that because the council passed a resolution directing Hogan to implement the agreement the executive did not have the right to ignore the council's directive.
County attorneys arguing for Hogan said that state law required the executive's approval before such a resolution could be put into effect, an argument with which Rea agreed.
"The county executive has defended this suit on the basis that . . . he has more than just a ministerial duty (to simply follow the council's directive). He says he has other executive prerogatives, executive duties and the court is going to agree with the county executive," Rea ruled.
One county official who is familiar with the Garfinckel's case said last week that as a result of Rea's decision, "Hogan could probably get away with ignoring any resolutions passed by the council."
County laws are enacted by council bills which the executive can veto but the council can override, and therefore would not be affected by the Rea decision. Resolutions passed by the council are administrative orders by which the council authorizes or enables the county to implement a policy, but do not command such an action.
Hogan said last week that Rea's decision confirmed what he felt were his executive powers under the county charter.
"Resolutions have no legal power. I certainly can ignore them.They simply are the expression of policy," he said.
Hogan said he thought the council had overstepped its authority by trying to force him to approve the Garfinckel's loan and "I had a duty to posterity to protect the executive branch from erosion."
Attorneys for Garfinckel's said they had not yet decided on further legal action.