Gov. Hogan appoints Robert Neall as health secretary, makes Schrader chief operating officer

Gov. Larry Hogan has appointed Robert L. Neall, a veteran public official who has held many roles in government, to run the Maryland Department of Health.

Neall, 69, replaces Dennis R. Schrader, who failed to win state Senate confirmation as health secretary. Schrader will take on the role of the department’s chief operating officer, the Governor’s Office announced Thursday.

Hogan issued a statement saying the move is a response to a decision Wednesday by the state’s highest court to stay a lower court ruling that had sided with the administration in its dispute with the General Assembly over whether Schrader was eligible to be paid as health secretary.

The General Assembly adopted budget language prohibiting the governor from paying Schrader and another of his nominees, former Planning Secretary Wendi Peters, because they were not confirmed by the Senate.

The Anne Arundel Circuit Court had ruled this month that both were eligible to be paid for the time they put in as department heads after July 1, when they were cut off the payroll. But Wednesday’s ruling by the Court of Appeals will delay a hearing in the case for another six months, Hogan’s office said. During that time, Schrader would have had to continue working as acting secretary without pay.

“Due to the fact that Secretary Schrader had already been illegally denied pay for six months, allowing his compensation to be delayed for an additional six months was simply not an acceptable option,” Hogan said in a statement.

Schrader, 64, a former Republican councilman in Howard County, had a tumultuous tenure during his year in charge of one of the state’s largest agencies. He was appointed in late 2016 after Secretary Van Mitchell left the post. Schrader’s time as secretary was marked by the firing of several high-level officials and a civil contempt finding against him for the department’s delays in providing beds for accused offenders referred to state psychiatric hospitals under court orders. The department is appealing that ruling by Baltimore Circuit Judge Gale E. Rasin.

In his new position, which does not require Senate confirmation, Schrader will continue to earn a salary of $174,416, the health department said.

Neall most recently has served in the administration as a senior adviser heading an effort to run state government more efficiently. He earns $156,574 in that position. The health department said his new salary has yet to be determined.

During a long career in Maryland politics, Neall has held a variety of positions. Elected to the House of Delegates as a Republican from Anne Arundel County in 1974 at 26, he rose to become House minority leader. He left that position in 1986 to run for the U.S. Congress but was defeated by former University of Maryland basketball star Tom McMillen, the Democratic candidate.

Neall bounced back in 1990, when he won election to a single term as Anne Arundel County executive. Soon after leaving that office, he was appointed to the Maryland Senate to fill the vacancy left by the death of Sen. Jack Cade. Neall would go on to win re-election in 1998, but in 2001 — disappointed with his treatment in the GOP caucus — he switched his party affiliation to Democratic.

The move brought him to a new level of influence in the Senate, where he was valued by President Thomas V. Mike Miller for his expertise in the state budget, but it cost him re-election in his heavily Republican district in 2002.

Before joining the Hogan administration, Neall was chief executive of a Medicaid managed-care company and held several high-ranking jobs in the Johns Hopkins Health System.

Neall eventually returned to his Republican roots, rejoining the party in 2014. He enjoys respect among lawmakers in both parties.

Miller, a Democrat who had clashed with Hogan over Schrader’s continuation in office, issued a statement noting that he’s worked with Neall for many years.

“He is one of the brightest people I’ve ever known, with an extensive healthcare and finance background,” Miller said. “I consider him a good friend, he was a valued elected official and now he’s a valued state employee.”

Del. Maggie McIntosh, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said she has been working with Neall in various capacities for decades.

“He’s been a great member of the House and Senate budget committees,” the Baltimore Democrat said. “This is an area that is his expertise. So welcome aboard.”

mdresser@baltsun.com

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