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Rutherford presides as Hogan works from home

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford steps in to chair Board of Public Works meeting.

On the day after Gov. Larry Hogan told Maryland he has an aggressive form of cancer, he stayed out of the State House but worked from the governor's mansion in between medical appointments.

An aide said the governor was keeping touch with the office Tuesday as Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford filled in for him as chairman of Maryland's Board of Public Works. Many of those attending the meeting wore lime-green ribbons, a symbol of the fight against non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the diagnosis Hogan revealed at a news conference Monday.

Much as Hogan has done at the board's meetings, Rutherford aggressively questioned officials about state contracts presented for approval — sending a message that business would continue as it has since the Republican governor took office in January.

Doug Mayer, a Hogan spokesman, said policy decisions and appointments will go forward as planned.

"Nothing will be delayed," Mayer said. He said that includes an announcement, expected any day, on the fate of the Purple Line light rail project in the Washington suburbs. The Purple Line's fate could foreshadow what Hogan will decide to do with Baltimore's pending light rail project, the Red Line. Hogan has questioned whether the state can afford the two projects at a cost of more than $5 billion but has promised to review them for possible savings.

Mayer said it was difficult to say how often Hogan would come to the State House, but that it would be "relatively routinely." When Hogan is not in the office, Mayer said, he will work from Government House, as the governor's mansion is known, only steps from the State House across State Circle.

"It's going to be a handful of days each month when he'll be recovering from chemotherapy," Mayer said. He said Hogan did not start chemo Tuesday but was preparing for the start of treatment for his lymphoma, which the governor described Monday as advanced Stage 3 and maybe Stage 4.

At his news conference, Hogan, 59, said he was optimistic that his cancer could be treated successfully, and members of the administration reflected that confidence Tuesday.

"He's a fighter. We will keep moving forward," Rutherford said as he opened the rare Tuesday board meeting, which according to Mayer was postponed from last Wednesday because of Hogan's medical condition.

Emulating the humor Hogan projected Monday, Rutherford kept a light tone as he presided over the lengthy meeting.

"Substitute teacher's back, with a new lesson plan," the lieutenant governor said, noting that he also chaired the board June 3 when Hogan was on a trade mission to Asia.

The governor's office released a copy of the letter Hogan sent to Rutherford on June 16 before undergoing a medical procedure involving anesthesia. Mayer emphasized that the delegation of duties was not a "transfer of power" but a temporary authority for Rutherford to act in an emergency if the governor were unable to do his job during the procedure.

The letter, invoking a section of the Maryland Constitution, gave the lieutenant governor authority to act only if Hogan were unavailable and "immediate action is necessary." It delegated to Chief of Staff Craig A. Williams sole discretion to determine whether Hogan was unable to perform his duties.

Hogan said Monday that Rutherford took no action during the time he was unavailable.

The letter did not convey a standing authority, Mayer said, and a new one would be written if circumstances require.

No such legal maneuver was necessary for the lieutenant governor to fill in Tuesday for Hogan at the public works board meeting. Rutherford, a self-described "stickler," questioned agency actions from giant contract awards to typos in agenda items.

In an action likely to send a message throughout state government, the board refused to permit the Department of Juvenile Services and the Department of Human Resources to award multiyear contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to service providers. The board ordered the agencies to limit the contracts to a single year at the spending level appropriated by the General Assembly without a "cushion" to handle unexpected demands. The three-member board gave them a week to negotiate new contracts at reduced levels with dozens of providers.

In both cases, the vote was 2-1, with the Republican Rutherford joining Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot to block the awards over the objections of state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, a Democrat, that their actions could disrupt services to vulnerable young people.

It was a rare public rebuke by the administration to officials appointed by an incumbent governor. After the board action, Juvenile Services Secretary Sam J. Abed and Human Resources Deputy Secretary Gregory S. James, who separately pleaded with the board to approve the awards as proposed, declined to comment as they left the meeting.

By the same vote, the board also rejected a State Board of Elections proposal to award a $360,000 award to a Baltimore public relations firm to inform voters of a change in voting technology that will be implemented for the 2016 elections. Rutherford, with Franchot's backing, questioned the need to educate voters in advance about new voting machines when they would find out about them at the polls anyway. It was a rare instance of the board voting down a contract outright.

Rutherford said afterward that his votes had the full support of the governor, who knew in advance of Franchot's plans to offer motions to deny the departmental requests.

"I'm just doing what the governor wants me to do," said Rutherford. "He's the boss. He's still in control."

The lieutenant governor said that unlike during past administrations, agencies won't find board approval of their contracts a slam-dunk. He said the public airing of contracts at the board "gives the executive an opportunity to see what really happens in the agency."

The shift of some duties to Rutherford appears to be far less sweeping than the one that occurred in 1977 when Gov. Marvin Mandel fell ill as he was facing trial on federal corruption charges. Mandel signed over limited powers to Lt. Gov. Blair Lee III after being hospitalized with what was described as a "brain disorder." Among the duties Mandel delegated was the authority to sign more than 100 bills recently passed by the legislature. However, Mandel made the decisions.

Lee, who later would serve as acting governor after Mandel was convicted of mail fraud, was also given authority to approve such matters as federal grant applications, to shift budgeted funds within departments and to handle extradition requests — powers that Hogan has not delegated to Rutherford.

Unlike Hogan, Mandel was ordered by doctors to have no telephone contact with the office for several weeks. For about three weeks, he had only limited contact with his staff or with Lee.

Retired Court of Appeals Judge Alan M. Wilner, who was Mandel's chief legislative counsel at the time, said Lee took over day-to-day responsibilities such as meeting with the Cabinet and working with the staff.

"The governor wasn't totally out of it. He wasn't able to get to Annapolis because he was bedridden," Wilner recalled.

Wilner said the arrangement worked with the help of a staff that rallied around Mandel. He said he sees no reason Hogan and Rutherford cannot get through the governor's health issues.

"If they work together and the legislative leaders cut them some slack, there's no reason it shouldn't work out," Wilner said.

Mandel, who recently turned 95, could not be reached for comment. His conviction was eventually overturned and his law license reinstated.

Baltimore Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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