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Franchot Asks for Delay on Land Deal

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot yesterday asked Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration to delay final purchase of 271 acres of undeveloped land in Queen Anne's County, asking whether the state was vastly overpaying for the property.

"In order to ensure that Maryland's taxpayers are getting the best possible deal for their money . . . I am writing today with several questions," Franchot (D) wrote in a letter to the Department of Natural Resources, which is buying the land for $5 million for use by the county under the state's preservation program.

The three-member state Board of Public Works approved $4.6 million for the land purchase last month. Franchot, who serves on the board along with the governor and state treasurer, voted for the deal after expressing reservations about why the price exceeded two appraisals of the property's value. The county put in $400,000.

Franchot and some state lawmakers have questioned whether the owner, a for-profit conservation company founded by David Sutherland, a member of the governor's transition team, was able to secure a higher price from the state than necessary. One appraisal put the land's value at $3.6 million; another set it at $4.6 million.

O'Malley spokesman Steve Kearney said Sutherland was one of 1,100 members of the transition team.

State Sen. Andrew P. Harris (R-Baltimore County) also has asked the attorney general's office to investigate the deal. He has raised questions about work that John R. Griffin, Department of Natural Resources secretary, did before his appointment to design a possible park on the site.

In a two-page letter that the O'Malley administration made public last night, Griffin told Franchot that his former employer, Buchart-Horn Inc., was hired to prepare a preliminary site design for Sutherland's company in 2005. Griffin worked on that project but said he had nothing to do with the appraisal or sale negotiations for the property and has no financial interest in the deal.

When he took the job in the administration in January, Griffin said, he consulted the State Ethics Commission and was told that he had no conflict of interest.

Griffin also wrote that the county and seller plan to close on the land next week. "It is ultimately their decision" whether to delay the closing, he wrote.

He said the state is negotiating a conservation easement on an adjacent property.

O'Malley defended the purchase yesterday as aboveboard and said it was not unusual for the state to pay top dollar for private land that is not being taken by eminent domain. He said he has full confidence in Griffin.

"Do I believe anything was not done properly with the purchase of this open space? No, I do not," the governor said.

By Phyllis Jordan  |  July 3, 2007; 9:34 AM ET
Categories:  Lisa Rein  
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Comments

Even if it is above board, it is also above budget. Why not give the taxpayers the benefit of the doubt and investigate further or get a 3rd appraisal?

Posted by: robin ficker of robin realty | July 3, 2007 11:47 AM | Report abuse

A million dollars over the appraised value? Wow, I wonder what rate of return he's getting on his contributions to the O'Malley campaign!

Posted by: Rufus | July 3, 2007 12:39 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe Franchot would turn on O'Malley so quickly. I know he wants to be Gov, but to sandbag O'Malley on his secret land deal just a few months into the administration seems fast. I bet O'Malley gets to him though and he caves on it. Franchot doesn't have the stomach to really take the fight to him and stand up for himself or the people. I hope I'm wrong, but I expect Franchot will take a dive on it.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 6, 2007 10:26 AM | Report abuse

franchot is doing the right thing here. but he really should have not voted for the purchase in the first place. he has to not worry so much about playing nice with the o'malley boys and do what he knows is best for the state.

Posted by: anon | July 8, 2007 10:53 PM | Report abuse

Post reporters: why are your editors refraining from writing this in the print edition? Instead we get crap like an AP rewrite that O'Malley wants an energy conference to tell us to turn off our lights when we leave a room?! Come on, if I wanted a AP re-release paper I would read The Sun. This land deal stinks. It stinks bad. The high appraisal was from before engineering reports determine the land would not be eligible for water or power! Yet they went OVER the highest appraisal by $400,000 and more than $1 million over the state's appraisal. One man, a 30 year veteran of state government, raised doubt about the purchase and he was fired the next day. Secretary Griffin of the DNR worked on the sale of this very same land before he became Secretary and Mr. O'Malley's political buddy, Sutherland, is making a crazy profit. The worst part? Open space lands are supposed to protect our wetlands and other hard to acquire lands. This sale does not even give the state the wetlands portion, the developers that O'Malley has teamed up with are keeping that land. So we're paying overprice, we've got conflict of interests on rico levels, and we've got the Washington Post giving O'Malley a pass. Stop kissing his behind and start doing your jobs.

Posted by: Joe | July 9, 2007 1:51 AM | Report abuse

Post reporters: why are your editors refraining from writing this in the print edition? Instead we get crap like an AP rewrite that O'Malley wants an energy conference to tell us to turn off our lights when we leave a room?! Come on, if I wanted a AP re-release paper I would read The Sun. This land deal stinks. It stinks bad. The high appraisal was from before engineering reports determine the land would not be eligible for water or power! Yet they went OVER the highest appraisal by $400,000 and more than $1 million over the state's appraisal. One man, a 30 year veteran of state government, raised doubt about the purchase and he was fired the next day. Secretary Griffin of the DNR worked on the sale of this very same land before he became Secretary and Mr. O'Malley's political buddy, Sutherland, is making a crazy profit. The worst part? Open space lands are supposed to protect our wetlands and other hard to acquire lands. This sale does not even give the state the wetlands portion, the developers that O'Malley has teamed up with are keeping that land. So we're paying overprice, we've got conflict of interests on rico levels, and we've got the Washington Post giving O'Malley a pass. Stop kissing his behind and start doing your jobs.

Posted by: Joe | July 9, 2007 1:51 AM | Report abuse

Post reporters: why are your editors refraining from writing this in the print edition? Instead we get crap like an AP rewrite that O'Malley wants an energy conference to tell us to turn off our lights when we leave a room?! Come on, if I wanted a AP re-release paper I would read The Sun. This land deal stinks. It stinks bad. The high appraisal was from before engineering reports determine the land would not be eligible for water or power! Yet they went OVER the highest appraisal by $400,000 and more than $1 million over the state's appraisal. One man, a 30 year veteran of state government, raised doubt about the purchase and he was fired the next day. Secretary Griffin of the DNR worked on the sale of this very same land before he became Secretary and Mr. O'Malley's political buddy, Sutherland, is making a crazy profit. The worst part? Open space lands are supposed to protect our wetlands and other hard to acquire lands. This sale does not even give the state the wetlands portion, the developers that O'Malley has teamed up with are keeping that land. So we're paying overprice, we've got conflict of interests on rico levels, and we've got the Washington Post giving O'Malley a pass. Stop kissing his behind and start doing your jobs.

Posted by: Joe | July 9, 2007 1:51 AM | Report abuse

Joe, are you paranoid or something??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Posted by: Anonymous | July 9, 2007 7:58 PM | Report abuse

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