- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Queen Anne’s County officials yesterday closed a $5 million land deal threatened by accusations of poor judgment and conflict of interest within the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley.

“On behalf of the board of commissioners and the citizens, we want to thank the state and especially Governor O’Malley for his unwavering public support of this important purchase,” said Eric Wargotz, president of the board of county commissioners.

The commissioners agreed to purchase the Kudner Farm property from the U.S. Land Alliance, using $4.6 million from the state despite Comptroller Peter Franchot’s request to delay the deal. The county paid the difference, $400,000.

“Based on information that has come to light since the Board of [Public Works] approved this purchase, I remain concerned that Maryland taxpayers are not getting the best value for their money,” Mr. Franchot, a Democrat, said yesterday.

One concern was that the board approved the higher of two appraisals, $4.6 million, despite a statement from state employee Nelson Reichart that Maryland generally pays the average of two appraisals, not the highest. The board is composed of Mr. Franchot; Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat; and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp.

The O’Malley administration last week fired Mr. Reichart after he told a newspaper about his statement.

An administration spokesman said Mr. Reichart’s comments had nothing to do with the 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, who had worked for Mr. O’Malley’s transition team. Mr. Sutherland did not return calls for comment yesterday.

However, Mr. Griffin cleared the work and potential conflict-of-interest issues with the State Ethics Commission.

The O’Malley administration has insisted the deal is proper.

Eastern Shore land development and preservation has become a concern for the board in recent months.

Today, members will consider purchasing 74 acres on Kent Island for $7.2 million.

The board also is expected in late August or early September to consider purchasing the development rights for an additional 1,213 acres owned by Mr. Sutherland, adjacent to the land. Members blocked a large residential development on Kent Island in late May.

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