Hogan official accuses Maryland Senate president of 'unethical' behavior

The Hogan administration is charging that Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller improperly held the nomination of the state health secretary hostage this spring in an effort to force the administration to stop Anne Arundel Medical Center from gaining the authority to perform open-heart surgeries.

Doug Mayer, the chief spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan, said Thursday that the Democratic Senate leader told the Republican governor, Health Secretary Dennis Schrader and other officials that Schrader would be confirmed by the state Senate only if the administration "inserted itself" into the independent process in which the hospital is seeking a certificate of need — a highly coveted green light to perform lucrative surgical procedures.

"The actions that were being suggested were flat-out illegal," Mayer said. He said Miller's actions were "unethical without a doubt." He did not say whether the administration planned to complain to any law enforcement agencies or ethics watchdogs.

Miller, who represents Prince George's County, described Mayer's charges as "spurious allegations."

"I'm not going to respond to these allegations from the monkey grinder," he said. He also called Mayer a "pipsqueak."

A Prince George's County circuit judge last month stopped Anne Arundel Medical Center from opening its cardiac surgery program after two hospitals challenged the Maryland Health Care Commission's decision to award the certificate of need.

The hospitals — Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly and Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie — said the new cardiac surgery program in Annapolis would cause "irreparable harm" to theirs. The judge is reviewing the commission's decision.

The certificates offer hospitals prestige and financial benefits. Maryland regulates the number of certificates that are granted in an effort to prevent market saturation, ensure quality and control prices.

Some lawmakers who represent Prince George's County have expressed concern that allowing the Annapolis facility to perform open-heart surgeries would put a new teaching hospital planned for Prince George's at a disadvantage.

Schrader confirmed Mayer's account by email, but declined to be interviewed. Hogan was attending a National Governors Association event in Providence, R.I., and Mayer said he was unavailable to comment.

Miller has been a leader in efforts to protect the Prince George's hospital project, which will replace what he calls the "decrepit" existing county hospital with a new affiliate of the University of Maryland Medical System. In a letter to county elected officials last August, Miller said the health care commission's decision "will without a doubt threaten the viability of this project."

Certificates of need are awarded by the health care panel. Members of the 15-member commission are appointed by the governor and serve fixed four-year terms.

Mayer said that under the law, the commission is an independent body and it would be illegal for the governor or members of his administration to try to influence it. He said Hogan rejected Miller's repeated requests throughout the session to intervene. The spokesman suggested the Senate president's efforts could amount to a violation of the General Assembly's ethics code dealing with attempts to influence quasi-judicial proceedings. He also pointed to a provision of Maryland law putting the health care commission's decisions outside the health secretary's authority.

"By any normal person's view, attempting to make the appointment of a Cabinet official contingent on the executive branch taking an illegal action is unethical on its face," Mayer said.

The Anne Arundel hospital received preliminary approval of its certificate in January. It received final approval March 23, when the session was in its closing weeks.

The allegations are the latest fallout from a political battle between the Hogan administration and General Assembly Democrats over the appointments of Schrader and Wendi Peters, who was nominated to lead the Department of Planning.

Maryland Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp informed the Comptroller's Office this week that she does not have the authority to pay Schrader or Peters for any work since July 1, the beginning of the state fiscal year. She based her decision on advice from Attorney General Brian E. Frosh.

The General Assembly included language in the budget bill this year that prohibits the state from paying administration officials who are subject to Senate confirmation if they were not approved by the Senate Executive Nominations Committee before the end of the legislature's annual 90-day session in April.

The committee this year rejected Peters' nomination and delayed a vote on Schrader's. Hogan then withdrew the nominees. Neither was rejected by the full Senate. The governor reappointed them after the legislature adjourned, and he called the budget provision unconstitutional.

Jake Weissmann, a spokesman for Miller, said the Senate president stated on the first day of the legislature's session that he would support Schrader, repeated that in a March 20 hearing and privately told the administration that "innumerable times." Weissmann said the issue of the certificate for Anne Arundel Medical Center was settled "before the governor's abrupt withdrawal of Schrader."

Hogan withdrew the secretary's nomination in early April, a week before the end of the session. At the time, Miller urged Hogan to resubmit the nomination, saying Schrader would be confirmed. The governor refused.

Both Schrader and Peters remain on the job without pay while the administration explores its options.

"The governor won't follow the Constitution of the state of Maryland, and that's why they're coming up with these spurious allegations," Miller said.

He said the issue holding up Schrader's nomination was Hogan's refusal to back off his nomination of Peters as planning secretary.He said he had no objection if Hogan moved Peters to another job in state government.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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