Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan and the County Council locked horns this week in a dispute of the agency responsible for regulating hospitals in Prince George's, Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties.
The controversy centers on appointments to the Southern Maryland Health Systems Agency (SMHSA). Hogan has argued that all Prince George's appointees to the agency's governing board should be required to disclose their financial interests before being seated. Prince George's has 18 seats on the 30-member board.
Council member Ann Landry Lombardi said she plans to ask the next council meeting to approve legislation which would declare the SMHSA a state agency whose members would not be require to meet the county's financial disclosure laws.
Lombardi said the agency already has conflict of interest laws and that those laws are better than "having a pile of paper sitting in the clerk's office."
The County Council, at this week's meeting, approved four nominees to fill vacancies on the SMHSA governing board. They did so without any requirement that the nominees disclose their financial interests, a direct challenge to Hogan's position board. They did so without any requirement that the nominees disclose their financial interests, a direct challenge to Hogan's position.
Hogan has said that unless the Prince George's representatives on the governing board submit financial disclosure statements as required by county law, he will not sign a four-county agreement accepting federal amendments to the charter authorizing operation of the agency.
A council spokesman noted recently that the agency might lose certification if its member counties fail to approve new amendments to the federal law.
"Mr. Hogan has indicated that he would sue those members appointed to the board who did not disclose their financial interests under county law; so what the legislation does is make it clear that the SMHSA is a state agency," said Lombardi.
"This whole controversy revolves around the executive's practice of consistently using conflict to advance his political interests," she added. "He couldn't be interested in financial disclosure, because that's already handled by the agency which makes its minutes public."
Some council members, including Lombardi, believe that the executive's effort are aimed at knocking off Democratic Party contributors appointed to the governing board of the health systems agency during the years Democrats held the county executive's office.
In response to these accusations, Hogan said, "I don't know why thay are against financial disclosure. They must be trying to hide something. What they have now can't be considered legitimate. The kind of oversight they are talking about sounds like the fox-in-the-chicken-coop argument to me."
"They can't possibly watch their own conflicts of interest," he added. "It doesn't make any sense. This agency should be governed by the same rules other county agencies are governed by. It sounds to me like the County Council is pandering to special interests."
Hogan says that until nominees to the agency from Prince George's abide by county financial disclosure laws, he will not approve any nominations or sign the agreement amending the charter governing the SMHSA.
"Of course, I will consider whatever they put in front of me, but I will not go along with anything that violates the County charter."
"How many financial disclosure statements does Mr. Hogan want," said Lombardi. "I think he's decided that if he can't control the ship, he'll sink it. It looks to me like he is trying to throw into limbo the only agency responsible for health planning in the county."
Health systems agencies such as the SMHSA are responsible for supervising health care needs within a given region and must approve major changes in health care services. If a hospital seeks to expand, for instance, the local health agency must give its approval.