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O’Malley hits delayed reaction to deal

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ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley yesterday criticized one his party's top officials for questioning a state land deal after voting in favor of it.

"I hope that we've been able to answer the Comptroller [Peter Franchot's] questions, and I hope in the future he might ask those questions upfront," said Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat.

Mr. Franchot, a Democrat, is one of three members of the state Board of Public Works who voted June 20 in favor of buying 271 acres on Kent Island for $5 million.

Now, he is questioning whether Natural Resources Secretary John R. Griffin was involved in appraising the property a few months before Mr. O'Malley appointed him to the state post in January.

A Franchot spokesman said yesterday that the comptroller was still reviewing a letter from Mr. Griffinregarding the land deal and could not respond to the governor's remarks.

The public squabbling is the most recent episode regarding the deal, which continues to nag the administration.

The first questions about whether Mr. Griffin was improperly involved in the deal were raised last week.

Sen. Andrew P. Harris, Baltimore County Republican, asked state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, a Democrat, to investigate whether Mr. Griffin appraised land while working for the U.S. Land Alliance and before he joined Natural Resources, which approved the sale for the state.

"Senator Harris is free to request whatever investigation he likes," Mr. O'Malley said Monday. "He's free to request whatever investigation he likes. Do I believe anything was not done properly in the purchase of this open space? No, I do not."

Mr. Griffin has responded by saying he worked for Buchart-Horn, a U.S. Land Alliance subcontractor, doing design consulting for Queen Anne's County on the land.

"I had nothing at all to do with anything dealing with the valuation of the property from any vantage point," he said Monday.

Mr. Griffin also said he did not tell Mr. O'Malley about the consulting work because he was advised by the State Ethics Commission in mid-January that his work with Buchart-Horn and with the state was not a conflict of interest.

U.S. Land Alliance made a 55 percent profit on the deal, and the state bought the land for about $1 million more than one appraisal, which has prompted Mr. Franchot to ask why Natural Resources approved the higher price and "what, if any, professional relationship" Mr. Griffin had with U.S. Land Alliance President David Sutherland, who also served on Mr. O'Malley's transition team.

Mr. Griffin also has responded to Mr. Franchot by saying his suggestion the state acted improperly by paying the average of two appraisals is "wholly unwarranted."

The Board of Public Works is composed of the governor, the state comptroller and state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp.

"It is not unusual that we would pay the higher of two appraisals," Mr. O'Malley said this week.

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, was criticized in 2004 when his top aides negotiated the sale of 836 acres of state land in Southern Maryland to developer Willard Hackerman, a political supporter of Mr. Ehrlich.

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