Opponents of privatizing the local government-owned nursing and assisted living centers say they have launched a legal challenge against Frederick County for its decision to sell the facilities.
A copy of the petition for judicial review shows it was filed Tuesday in Circuit Court by five Frederick County residents. One lives at the assisted living center. The one-paragraph document did not lay out the petitioners’ reasons for taking legal action, but their attorney provided additional context in a letter to state officials.
In the correspondence to the Maryland Board of Public Works, the attorney raised several issues about the June 25 public hearing where commissioners voted 4-1 to sell Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living.
“The evidence at the hearing was contrary to the BOCC’s blanket assertion that the property was no longer needed for any public use,” Leslie Powell wrote in the July 23 letter. “Particularly troubling to the public was the fact that the BOCC members had already made up their minds and stated their intended vote prior to the hearing.”
The letter and the legal action came on the eve of a state public works board discussion about the $30 million purchase agreement between the county and Aurora Health Management.
The board, made up of the Maryland governor, comptroller and treasurer, decided Wednesday to delay a vote on whether to approve the sale. The state must sign off on the transaction because it provided $200,000 in grant funds for constructing a new building for the two centers.
Donald Linton and Sonja Sperlich, both of whom are petitioners in the court case, asked the public works board to delay their decision until pending legal matters are resolved. They argued that the sale wasn’t a good deal for county taxpayers and eliminates a safety net for struggling seniors, who can currently apply to receive government-subsidized care at Montevue.
Though the county manager and attorney and Commissioners President Blaine Young all appeared Wednesday in Annapolis to press for approval of the sale, Maryland Treasurer Nancy Kopp said she first wants assurance that the state won’t find itself embroiled in legal complications.
Kopp said she’s not sure the issues raised by the petitioners fall within the scope of the board’s review.
“I would like to hear that personally from our attorneys,” she said.
Young said time is of the essence since the county is losing $500,000 each month on the facilities.
The county is even ready and willing to repay the $200,000 in state grant funds, Young said.
Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot voted to defer the decision, while Gov. Martin O’Malley opposed the delay. After the board gets legal advice, O’Malley said members can hold a special meeting to expedite their vote on the sale.
In addition to Linton and Sperlich, former chairwoman of the Citizens board of trustees, the other three petitioners are Joseph Berman, Lawrence Watson and Charles Trunk III. Berman served as a trustee before the board was disbanded by commissioners June 25, and Watson lives at Montevue.
On Wednesday, county attorney John Mathias said his office still had not received the legal documents.
Young said he’s a little frustrated that the court filing came “at the eleventh hour” and surmised that it was a stalling tactic by opponents of the sale.
However, he said he is confident the commissioners’ decision to sell the facilities will weather a legal challenge.
Aurora will begin operating the centers Aug. 1, taking over from previous management contractors, LW Consulting.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.