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Joan Carter Conway
Sen. Joan Carter Conway. (File The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

Carter Conway’s long memory spells trouble for Gill

Michael Gill has been acting secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development for little more than a month, but the reasons behind a recent delay in his confirmation by the Senate date back more than a decade.

One week ago, the Senate Executive Nominations Committee held Gill’s confirmation vote at the request of Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore City and the chairwoman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

And behind that delay is Carter Conway’s long memory and her passion for an issue that was the subject of a federal discrimination lawsuit that directly affects Morgan State University.

“He knows what the issue is,” Carter Conway said. “He knows what the problem is.”

At the heart of Carter Conway’s concern is Gill’s involvement in a 2005 decision to create a joint Towson University-University of Baltimore MBA course that duplicated a program offered at Morgan State University, a historically black institution.

Gill, who was appointed then by Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., was a member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents at the time. That body ultimately voted to approve creation of the MBA program.

Gill received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Towson University and was a past chairman of the institution’s Board of Visitors as well as a supporter of Robert Caret, the former president of the university who was recently named chancellor of the University System of Maryland.

The creation of the program resulted in a federal lawsuit. In 2013, a federal judge ruled that the state had violated desegregation law by continuing the duplication of programs at traditionally white colleges and universities such as Towson University and the University of Baltimore.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake noted in her 60-page decision that the state’s historically black institutions have only 11 unique high-demand programs compared to 122 at traditionally white institutions.

Blake ordered the state and a coalition of plaintiffs in the case to mediation, which continues today.

“If you make those kinds of decisions while on the Board of Regents then I want to know what kinds of decisions are you going to make in terms of diversity when you’re secretary of DBED,” Carter Conway said. “He had no answers. If I were going to be secretary of DBED, I would have told you something.”

But the issue remains for Carter Conway, who last year sponsored a bill that would have required the Maryland Higher Education Commission to review objections by historically black institutions to proposals by traditionally white universities for new or substantially modified programs.

Carter Conway said last year that her passion about the issue came from a promise made to Sen. Clarence Blount, D-Baltimore, on his deathbed.

The 2014 bill became the subject of fierce debate on the Senate floor before Carter Conway recommitted her own bill back to her committee.

“He said, ‘Promise me you will continue to fight for Morgan.’ He loved Morgan and all the HBIs. As he laid there, I nodded,” Conway said before making a motion that essentially killed her own bill. “He said: ‘You’ve got all this fire. Help the HBIs.’ So it’s not about Joan being in love with the bill.”

Carter Conway, in a recent interview, said the decision then by the regents, especially Gill, could be a prelude to how he might decide on other diversity issues if he were to be confirmed as the secretary for the department.

“He didn’t have the right answers when I talked to him,” Carter Conway said of her meeting with Gill prior to last week’s committee hearing. “We’ll have to see if he can come up with the right answers.”

The Executive Nominations Committee was scheduled to hold hearings on five of Gov. Larry Hogan’s Cabinet nominees including: Department of Disabilities acting Secretary Carol A. Beatty; Department of Information Technology acting Secretary David Garcia; Higher Education Commission acting Secretary Jennie C. Hunter-Cevera; Department of Natural Resources acting Secretary Mark Jay Belton; and Maryland State Police acting Superintendent William M. Pallozzi.

Neither Gill nor a Hogan spokesman would speak directly to Carter Conway’s concerns. Both said they expected confirmation perhaps as early as Friday, when the full Senate is expected to vote on the latest batch.

Douglass Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, wrote in an email that the governor looks forward to seeing Gill appointed this week.

“Acting-Secretary Gill has met with and discussed this matter with the members of the Executive Nominations Committee and is available to discuss further with the committee,” Karen Glenn Hood, a spokeswoman for the department, wrote in an email response. “He looks forward to his confirmation as DBED Secretary. “

The Associated Press contributed to this report.