- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — The president of the Queen Anne’s County Board of Commissioners said yesterday members will likely approve a contentious land deal with the state, despite objections from Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot.

Eric Wargotz, county commission president, said Queen Anne’s $400,000 contribution is fair. However, he distanced the county from the state’s decision to contribute $4.6 million for the 271 acres.

“The state amount is purely a decision the state makes,” said Mr. Wargotz, a Republican. “Queen Anne’s County has nothing to do with how much the state pays.”

The state Board of Public Works awarded the money to Queen Anne’s last month, to supplement what the county would contribute toward the purchase of the Kent Island property, known as Kudner Farm.

But Mr. Franchot, a Democrat, asked Mr. Wargotz on Friday to delay the deal expected to be signed tomorrow, saying the amount the state agreed to pay was based on incorrect information. The total $5 million is $400,00 more than the highest appraisal and roughly $1 million more than the average of two appraisals.

Mr. Franchot voted in favor of the amount with Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, the other board members who vote in proxy.

Though Mr. Wargotz expects the board to approve the deal, he said the county’s attorney is still reviewing Mr. Franchot’s request and an opinion could be issued by later today.

The deal has become a continuing source of controversy for Mr. O’Malley.

Last week, his administration fired state employee Nelson Reichart after he told a newspaper the state generally pays the average of two appraisal prices, not the highest.

An administration spokesman said Mr. Reichart’s comments had nothing to do with his firing.

Two weeks ago, Sen. Andrew P. Harris, a Baltimore County Republican, asked for an investigation into Department of Natural Resources Secretary John R. Griffin’s role in the deal before he began working for the administration.

Mr. Griffin did subcontracting work for the landowner, David Sutherland, but cleared the work and potential conflict-of-interest issues with the State Ethics Commission.

Three weeks ago, press reports showed that Mr. Sutherland had worked on Mr. O’Malley’s transition team.

Mr. O’Malley and his spokesmen have maintained the deal is proper.

Mr. Sutherland’s company, the U.S. Land Alliance, could also object to the deal.

“Whenever anybody spends taxpayers’ money, it’s appropriate to scrutinize it,” said Commissioner Carol Fordonski said yesterday.

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