- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley convened a marathon Board of Public Works meeting yesterday, approving millions for new school construction and giving $200,000 to a former Glendening administration official.

The three-member board - all Democrats — reimbursed Stephen P. Amos for legal fees in his successful defense against claims he manipulated grants to pay for political staffers on Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s failed gubernatorial campaign.

Mrs. Townsend, a Democrat, was Mr. Glendening’s lieutenant governor. Mr. Amos was found not guilty.

“We are correcting one of the largest abuses of political power in this state,” said Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat.

The meeting was the first for Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Franchot, who were elected in November. Mr. O’Malley defeated Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, and Mr. Franchot replaced former Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, a Democrat.

The governor, the comptroller and state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp constitute the board, which evaluates public construction contracts.

The roughly six-hour meeting was devoted mostly to hearing pleas from local school officials for more money for school construction.

Mr. O’Malley has pledged to set aside $400 million for school construction in his budget for the fiscal year starting in July. That figure is $77 million more than the amount included in last year’s budget.

State School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who last year attempted to wrest control of Baltimore public schools from then-Mayor O’Malley, sat at a side table during the meeting.

The meeting marked the first time Mr. O’Malley spoke to Mrs. Grasmick since his election victory.

Seeking to assure the local officials that he wasn’t planning to subject them to a Schaeferlike grilling, Mr. O’Malley said: “Many of us have been on the other side of the table for this.”

The new governor and comptroller indicated they might be more interested than their predecessors in minority contracting and environmentalism.

“It is the dawn of a new day,” said Mr. Franchot, who gave a short speech that included a pledge to look for energy efficiencies to make Maryland “the greenest” state.

On one of the first spending items before the board, Mr. O’Malley asked a state official how many minority contractors were used on a certain project. He also asked one of his Cabinet members to prepare a streamlined way of knowing how many contracts go to businesses owned by minorities and women.

“It should not be some sort of labyrinth” process, Mr. O’Malley said, adding that minority inclusion in state contracts was important.

“This is real, and not just checking the box or lip service every four years,” he said.

Mr. Franchot told reporters during a break that the new board will not be the soap box it was for Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Schaefer.

During the past four years, meeting typically opened with Mr. Ehrlich touting an administration success or Mr. Schaefer sounding off on how government was working.

“Look at this board: It’s professional. It’s hard-working. It’s got its sleeves rolled up. I think the public is really going to appreciate it, even if it’s more boring for the press,” Mr. Franchot said.

n This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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