Leaders of State’s Biggest Jurisdictions Press Hogan for Guidance and Help

Maryland's top local officials sit together in favor of a $2.2 billion school construction proposal before the House Appropriations Committee earlier this year. Left to right are: Baltimore City Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young (D), Howard County Executive Calvin Ball (D), Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D), Prince George's County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), Montgomery County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D), Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner (D), Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr. (D), and Harford County Executive Barry Glassman (R). All but Glassman have signed a letter to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) on reopening the state. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Half a week after Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) authorized a partial reopening of travel and commerce in Maryland, leaders of seven of the state’s eight biggest jurisdictions are seeking guidance and cooperation from the administration as they decide how to proceed.

And they warn that their jursidictions “lack sufficient resources” to take the steps to fully reopen in the weeks ahead.

In a letter sent Tuesday, Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D) and six county executives express concerns about the consequences of reopening and the fact that every Maryland jurisdiction is proceeding at a different pace. They ask the governor to reinforce with the public the notion that it is local leaders who have the ultimate say on whether and how quickly to open their jurisdictions.

The leaders said they speak together almost daily and have found the consultation and collaboration invaluable.

“We know that in the State of Maryland and in this region,
residents know no borders. They travel across State and county lines every day, so we have found it essential to make one another aware of the decisions we are making.”

In addition to Young, the letter was signed by Montgomery County Executive Marc B. Elrich, Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks, Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr., Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, and Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner.

All are Democrats who have so far yet to go along fully with the provisions of Hogan’s Phase 1 reopening plan — and Baltimore City, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties continue operating on the full shutdown imposed by Hogan’s state of emergency orders of late March. In their letter, the leaders point out that 80% of the COVID-19 cases in the state — and associated fatalities — are in their jurisdictions.

“You should be confident that we are doing our best part to keep Maryland safe,” they write.

But they add several notes of caution: “The biggest lesson that we have learned since Friday is how unclear the public is about your delegation of authority to local leaders. Please continue to help us create greater clarity by repeating a refrain that the public should check with their local governing body for the rules that apply in their local subdivisions. Making every effort collectively to educate the public in these trying times is critical.”

The mayor and executives express doubt about the state’s ability to expand COVID-19 testing sufficiently or to conduct a “robust contact tracing operation.” They say their jurisdictions need more PPE and expanded hospital capacity.

The leaders also express concerns about nursing home monitoring in the state and warn against the consequences of a virus that is disproportionately hitting underserved and minority communities.

“As local leaders, we know these communities and want to help guide the State so that it is able to use its resources to better address this issue,” they write.

And the leaders press the state to ensure “the financial success of its local jurisdictions” as planning for economic recovery moves forward.

“As we move into further phases of your reopening plan, we want to work closely with the State,” the leaders’ letter concludes. “Please direct your departments to partner with us so we can jointly strategically address economic recovery throughout our region.

“In closing, every one of the undersigned executives believes that we lack sufficient resources to achieve our shared goal of safely reopening our jurisdictions, without limitations. While we all work furiously to implement comprehensive testing, increase contact tracing, and obtain more PPE for our residents, we need the State’s leadership to ensure that Maryland’s counties are not competing against one another on the open market. Accordingly, we ask you to please use the purchasing power of the State of Maryland to acquire sufficient resources to meet the needs you have identified as the pillars of your reopening plan.

“We appreciate your time and attention to this letter and look forward to hearing from you and your office on these matters. And together we will keep Maryland Strong.”

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.