The County Council, which canceled its weekly meetings a month ago to allow its members to attend the Maryland Municipal League Conference in Ocean City, took another break this week.

The most recent scheduling change was made to allow members of the council to attend the National Association of Counties 2005 Conference and Exposition in Honolulu.

Council spokesman Karen Campbell said that council members Thomas R. Hendershot (D-New Carrollton), Marilynn Bland (D-Clinton) and David Harrington (D-Cheverly) were scheduled to attend the five-day conference. Hendershot and Harrington each took one staff member with them. Bland took two.

Harrington serves on the National Association of Counties zoning subcommittee and has been nominated vice chair for the group's land use committee. He said he plans to attend workshops "primarily on land use, including eminent domain as a tool for economic development and mortgage fraud and its impact on the community."

Campbell said the cost for the trip could run between $1,807 and $2,247 per person.

Each council member is given a set amount to run his or her office annually The money is used for staff salaries, conferences, workshops and other expenses.

County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) and his chief of staff, Michael Herman, also attended the Hawaii conference. John Erzen, Johnson's spokesman, said that he could not provide an estimate of the costs.

This is the second trip out west by council members attending conferences. Last month, council members Tony Knotts (D-Temple Hills) and Camille Exum (D-Seat Pleasant) attended a five-day conference in Monterey, Calif., for the National Association of Regional Councils.

The council will resume its weekly sessions Tuesday before the start of a six-week hiatus. After the August break, the council will return Sept. 6 to begin the final third of the 2005 legislative season.

In Search of a Remedy

Before leaving for Hawaii, Johnson and the County Council met last week to discuss the beleaguered Dimensions Healthcare System, which operates Prince George's Hospital Center.

No final decisions were made about the hospital's future, but council members called the meeting productive.

"It mainly focused on how we move forward with what we have," Knotts said.

County Council members have repeatedly questioned the county's liability if Dimensions falters on its $80 million in bond debt.

Council member Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Bowie) said that one of the main concerns he has is knowing that "from a business standpoint you can only cut expenses so far, then you start affecting quality."

"In order to get to the next level we will have to merge with a strong financial partner," he said.

Prior to the meeting, Chairman Samuel Dean (D-Mitchellville) said that county officials are still trying to come up with a long-term vision for the hospital. The most likely choice, he said, is a merger.

"We have not moved far from where we always have been," Dean said. "It is still functioning, but not able to operate as others in the region."