Monday, February 3, 2014

Letter to the Governor

January 15, 2014

Governor Martin O’Malley
100 State Circle
Annapolis, Maryland 21401

Dear Governor O'Malley,

I am writing to bring an important matter to your attention.

The Cecil County Executive, Tari Moore, has just forwarded to you a list of her initiatives to address our drug abuse crisis in the County.

I was under the impression that there was a process in place to properly vet initiatives to address drug and alcohol abuse.  Your Executive Order in 2008 created the State Drug and Alcohol Abuse Council.  The State Legislature mandated that each county would have their own local Drug and Alcohol Abuse Council (DAAC) to establish their own initiatives and plans to be forwarded to the State Drug and Alcohol Abuse Council and your office for funding.

While A.F. Whitsitt has previously been discussed and researched, other County Executive recommendations have not been vetted through the Local DAAC, the Community Health Advisory Committee (CHAC) and were not included on the goals outlined in our 2 year strategic plan.  The process your Executive Order created was put into place to more effectively assess and identify local needs.   And who best to identify than its own community made up of local stakeholders and concerned citizens impacted by drug abuse.

Examples of initiatives that were never mentioned in our 2 year strategic plan include the Recovery High School ($275,000) and the Lab Analyst ($35,000).  The County Executive brought her requests before the Cecil County Council and questions were asked during that meeting as well as at a previous meeting with the County Executive’s Special Assistant to Drug Policy, Kenneth Collins.  I requested further information on why the four positions were needed at the Recovery High School.  I also requested further information on the lab analyst wanting to verify that this was the best method in funding this position.  These answers were never provided.

It should be noted that Mr. Collins was also the former Director  for the Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center for the Cecil County Health Department so he should be familiar with the process you put into place but yet he advocated spending money on programs that were never discussed by the local DAAC.

While I was concerned that new initiatives were being suggested without input from the DAAC, it was a relief that the County Executive decided to include funding for Whitsitt as the top priority (Attachment 1) after it was pointed out how critical it was to address the six week waiting list for detox. (Attachment 2)  However, the Cecil County Executive’s letter (Attachment 3) and the Cecil County Council’s letter (Attachment 4) failed to point this out and made each of her initiatives a top priority in a different category.   While I objected to that misrepresentation to the Cecil County Council and the statement that the Cecil County Council unanimously supported all of the initiatives, the majority on the Council refused to draft a new support letter with the correct information.

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Another concern is the manner in which our local DAAC functions.  To determine the Council’s role and responsibility, we requested a copy of the by laws but were told by the Chair, John Bennett, that he couldn't find his copy and that Mr. Collins would provide.  We’ve been waiting over a month and just received them (Attachment 5).  All of the information on how our local DAAC was intended to function we had to locate ourselves and were shocked to find that the designated DAAC for Cecil County was the Community Health Advisory Committee (CHAC) which meets only twice a year.  The DAAC is one of five task forces that report to CHAC.   The local DAAC has not voted upon or reviewed the 6 month reports or strategic plan which are required to be submitted.  We were informed that Ken Collins submitted but it's not clear on where he received the information to compile the reports.  

John Bennett has stated that this Council is only advisory and can not vote. After a member requested to serve as co chair, he responded that he wasn’t sure if the rules of procedure allow for a co chair and even so, wouldn't know who the members are that could vote.  Mr. Bennett also claimed in a letter to the editor (Attachment 6) that the DAAC reviewed and approved the initiatives by the County Executive.  The initiatives were not reviewed because Mr. Collins did not have a copy with him and therefore there was no vote. Even more disturbing is that Mr. Bennett said he only needed the approval of the Cecil County Health Department to submit the editorial. He also took it upon himself as Chair of the DAAC to send emails (Attachment 7) to many organizations stating the DAAC reviewed and approved the County Executive’s initiatives and requested they send in letters of support.

At previous DAAC Meetings, Mr. Bennett had claimed we couldn’t take votes because we were only advisory.  But as you can see from his letters to the editor, emails to organizations to encourage support, and attending other meetings representing the local DAAC he isn’t shy about sharing his personal opinion without seeking direction from the rest of the DAAC.  When I was seeking support to reopen the treatment beds at Whitsitt, he sent an email stating we shouldn’t pursue because it would hurt the political good will established at the Roundtable (Attachment  8).  When a concerned citizen was opening up a transitional house, she encountered zoning issues and requested support and direction from John Bennett.  His response to her was full of political innuendo as to how it wasn’t the time to ask for any support in Cecil County (Attachment 9).

After receiving a copy of the DAAC by laws, there is now no doubt the Chairman has been deficient in the manner he has conducted the meetings. (Attachment 5 Bylaws: 2.2, 2.3, 3.1, 4.1, 4.3, 4.4, 4.5, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, 5.5, 7.1)   Other issues include that citizens have been removed from the DAAC meeting notification email list as well as requests for monthly meetings have been ignored.  Because our drug abuse problem is at a crisis point, we don’t think quarterly meetings are appropriate.

I have been an active member of our local DAAC for over 2 years.  During that period of time I have organized many forums and workshops (Attachment 10) for the public and within Cecil County Public Schools.  I’ve encouraged the public to participate, researched how to fight drug abuse and implement more effective treatment, and pursued stronger COMAR regulations with support from the County Commissioners and later the County Council.  (Attachment 11)  I have also worked on and helped obtain the HIDTA Designation. (Attachment 12) I’m one person but yet could find so many ways to address our number one problem.

In this pursuit, I have requested that DHMH provide the Statestat information on employment, criminal activity, and relapse to identify how successful the private treatment programs are and was told the information would be provided at the next monthly DHMH meeting.  These were the monthly meetings you authorized at my request at the Round Table in August.  This will probably be the first month to not have a meeting despite my repeated request to have it scheduled.    I believe the reason may be that DHMH promised the Statestat data but now I’ve been told by a DHMH official that in 2008 this information was no longer collected due to push back from the private treatment programs.

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We have also requested intervention on pill mill doctors from the Health Department as you would  assume these doctors are a danger to public health.  The Health Department has not intervened and it was only after I requested an update from the Maryland Board of Physicians regarding a local Doctor charged in Delaware and Pennsylvania that the website was updated.  After Maryland‘s investigation he was only put on probation for one year.  After reading the report from the panel review, I would have thought his license should have been suspended.
I along with three other concerned citizens have been active in on the local DAAC and in effectively addressing drug abuse in the County.  By comparison, the County Executive and three members on the Council, who blindly support her initiatives, have not.  Mr. Collins has supported Mr. Bennett’s management of the DAAC and has been what can only be called an obstructionist on promoting properly vetted initiatives in Cecil County.  Could this be why our drug abuse, overdose, suicide, crime, and child maltreatment rates are so high?

I don't believe it was your intention to have resources allocated without a proper vetting from the local DAAC.  When the process is followed as was intended, it promotes and encourages community involvement, the opportunity for ideas to be exchanged freely, and the transparency to ensure special interests or political pay backs have not taken control over our limited resource funding.

The DAAC can flourish at the direction of a strong, enthusiastic Chair which includes the community in meetings and in promoting goals and initiatives.  There have already been comments by the Health Department directors that they will defend Chairman Bennett and will never support his removal.  That gives me the impression that all of the obstruction we’ve encountered has been by design which leads to another question - Why?  Our request - mine and other concerned citizens - is that you intervene and support our efforts to have a local DAAC which operates in the manner intended.


Diana Broomell
Cecil County Council, District 4
200 Chesapeake Blvd., Suite 2100
Elkton, Maryland 21921
 Office: 410.996.5201
    Fax:  410.996.1014