- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — The O’Malley administration has fired a career employee after remarks he made to a reporter about a questionable state land purchase on the Eastern Shore. News of the firing came as the state’s comptroller yesterday asked for a delay on the settlement of the deal.

Nelson Reichart was fired as assistant secretary at the Department of General Services (DGS) on June 30, a day after he was quoted in a newspaper saying that the purchase price of 271 acres on Kent Island was nearly $1 million more than what is generally approved by the state.

“I have to give ‘no comment’ on the advice of my counsel,” Mr. Reichart said yesterday. “Obviously, I was terminated after the comments I made in the paper.”

The state Board of Public Works recently approved the land purchase at $5 million — with the state to pay $4.6 million and Queen Anne’s County to pay $400,000.

Mr. Reichart signed off on two appraisals of the land — one for $3.6 million and a second for $4.6 million. He told the Baltimore Sun for a June 28 story that it was typical for the state to pay the average of two appraisals, which would have been about $4.1 million.

Mr. Reichart, a 28-year state employee who held posts in a number of agencies, was fired June 29, the day after his comments appeared in print.

A spokesman for the Department of General Services denied that the newspaper report was a factor in Mr. Reichart’s dismissal.

“While this is a personnel issue — and as a rule we don’t discuss personnel issues — I can tell you that neither the comments Mr. Reichart made to the Baltimore Sun nor his sign-off on the two appraisals had anything to do with his departure,” said Dave Humphrey, a department spokesman. “As Secretary [Alvin C.] Collins told Mr. Reichart, he wants ‘to take the DGS Office of Real Estate in a different direction.’ ”

The Kent Island land deal has been the focus of criticism for the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, during the past two weeks.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, yesterday asked the Queen Anne’s County Board of Commissioners to delay the purchase.

Mr. Franchot said the highest appraisal — $4.6 million — was based on the assumption that the land would eventually get water and sewer connections and that the county would develop an indoor sports arena and ball fields, none of which are expected to be built.

“I believe this led to an overinflated appraisal and may have led the state to pay more than the fair market value for this important piece of property,” Mr. Franchot wrote.

State Sen. Andrew P. Harris, a Baltimore County Republican, last week asked for an investigation into the role an O’Malley administration Cabinet member played in the land deal.

The owner of the land, David Sutherland, had worked on the O’Malley administration’s transition team and subcontracted the site design to a group headed by John R. Griffin, who went on to become Mr. O’Malley’s natural resources secretary.

Mr. Griffin denied any wrongdoing this week and said he had cleared his involvement with the land deal with the State Ethics Commission before taking his job with the state.

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