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Sunday, June 23, 2013

When Ideology Trumps Reasonable Representation, Bad Things Happen….

George Wenschhof

The proposed sale of the Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Care facilities, illustrates the latest example of Frederick County government behaving badly.

Immediately following the 2010 election, new board of county commissioners’ president Blaine Young (R) proclaimed Frederick County “Open for Business”.

Joining Young as newly elected Republicans on the five member board were Kirby Delauter, Billy Shreve and Paul Smith, who I quickly dubbed with the moniker; “Blaine and Company”. The moniker resulting from their like ideology and the carte blanche votes Delauter, Shreve and Smith gave to Young on anything Young would propose.

Fueled by the “tea party” fervor, prevalent across the nation, that promoted less government and less spending, Blaine and Company wasted no time in promoting these ideals, a disturbing pattern of governing that clearly illustrates how following ideology often trumps reasonable representation.

The result, was whether it was the spending of $25,000 of taxpayers’ money for a poorly and hastily prepared privatization report, actions taken to reverse county property zoning, drastically reducing or eliminating funding for community nonprofits at a time when their services are most needed, an ill conceived $100 rebate to property owners, establishing a nonreversible 20 year county-developer agreement, to the latest effort to sell quickly, without due diligence, the Citizens/Montevue facilities, Blaine and Company are angering voters and invoking calls for change in next year’s election.

As more details emerge surrounding the proposed sale of the Citizens/Montevue facilities, voters are asking; “why”?

The rush to privatize has once again exceeded common sense, with board president Young denigrating along the way, those who question his move to sell these facilities.

Young defends the sale of the newly constructed facilities, pointing to deficit spending by the county to fund the facilities and poor management, citing in particular, the failure to properly collect account receivables from Medicaid and Medicare.

To make the $30 million contract offer work, Young has said the county would make up the difference in the $38 million owed by the county for the construction by throwing in $5.8 million in taxpayer funds from a county reserve fund and adding $1.9 million in account receivables.

One source close to the negotiations, who asked not to be named, informed me the account receivables Young is throwing in at $1.9 million are actually valued closer to $4.7 million. To sweeten the pot, the 7.5 acres the facilities sit on has been subdivided and thrown in the deal for free by Young. A local real estate Broker informed me the land would have a value of at least $3 million.

Interestingly, it was an action taken by the current board, following their election that added to the deficit funding the facilities have experienced.

It seems the previous licensed county administrator, upon returning from maternity leave was terminated and replaced, through a sole source (preferred vendor) process, with a private firm, who has since reportedly cycled through five managers.

The revolving door of managers only served to exacerbate, a difficult and cumbersome Medicare and Medicaid account/receivable system, adding to the deficit spending Blaine and Company are using as the reason to sell the facilities.

In addition to the many questions surrounding the financial aspects of the deal is perhaps, most important, the question; “Can the land and facilities be sold”?

Local historian and former mayor Paul Gordon in a column published in The Gazette writes, in part, “The unique 1828 Montevue deed is so detailed, it lists responsibilities and names, and furthermore binds their successors to “forever warrant” and “forever defend” the covenants.

It is “for the Benefit of the Poor of Frederick County and no other use, intent, purpose whatsoever forever.”

The Citizens/Monevue facilities board of trustees, seeking legal guidance, has written a detailed letter expressing their questions pertaining to the sale of the facilities. This was forwarded to the state attorney general office by Delegate Galen Clagett (D-district 3-a).

Further prickly questions include whether the state board of public works would have to approve the contract as there is a $250,000 state grant that needs to be reimbursed and whether donations that were received from the public would also need to be paid back.

Local attorney Leslie Powell, who is already appealing the subdivision of the property, informed me she has been retained by interested parties and intends to pursue legal recourse should the board of county commissioners ratify the contract.

Details surrounding the contract purchaser that add further doubt to ratifying the proposed contract offer were revealed in a recent article by Bethany Rodgers of The Frederick News Post entitled "Inspections detail deficiences at Aurora nursing homes".

Taking a sound approach to examining the privatization of some government services may be helpful. However, government is not, and will never be a business.

Government exists to help level the playing field, to serve as the referee, ensuring all are treated in an equal and fair manner. It should never be operated with a profit motive in mind, but rather to provide needed services for the benefit of all citizens. 

Time is needed to conduct further analysis, receive answers to many questions and to allow the board of trustees to hire a new experienced administrator to replace the poor management provided by the current sole source contractor. This would aid in improving the bottom line while also fulfilling the intent of the deed.

The rush to sell the brand new Citizens/Montevue homes by Blaine and Company demonstrates their continued reckless attempts to pursue a dubious privatization ideology, fraught with problems and the lack of sound judgment.

One more reason to vote for change in 2014.

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