Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday he's "very pleased" with the decision of the state's school construction chief to resign amid the ongoing battle over school air conditioning in Baltimore city and county.
David Lever has headed the Interagency Committee on School Construction, a state agency that reviews school construction projects and spending, since 2003.
On Wednesday, Lever criticized the vote by Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot on the Board of Public Works to withhold $15 million from Baltimore city and county school systems unless they install portable air conditioners in schools over the summer.
Lever said the decision politicized school construction funding and prompted his decision to step down, effective in September.
Hogan said he's glad to see him go.
At a news conference in Annapolis, the Republican governor called Lever "a major part of the problem."
"We were very pleased with his resignation," Hogan said. "My only regret is it doesn't take effect immediately.
"Quite frankly, anyone who has the arrogance and the sense of entitlement that they don't feel like they have to be accountable for their actions to the Board of Public Works, to the people who are responsible for overseeing these things, doesn't deserve to be working in state government," Hogan said.
Lever declined to comment on the governor's remarks. "I don't have any response to that," he said.
Hogan's statement came as politicians continued a war of words over school air-conditioning policies.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat, issued a lengthy statement defending his position that installing portable air conditioners would be a poor use of taxpayer dollars compared to his plan to install central air conditioning in all schools by 2019.
"In his desire to punish Baltimore County and Baltimore City, the Governor intentionally misstated the county's plan, refused multiple opportunities to be presented with the facts, and disregarded the clear legal advice of the Attorney General of the State of Maryland," Kamenetz wrote.
County officials say it's logistically impossible to install air conditioners by the deadline set by Hogan and Franchot of the start of the next school year.
Kevin Smith, chief administrative and operating officer for the county school system, said state procurement laws outline steps for a project of this scale. The earliest the process could be completed is August 2017, he said, if it started immediately.
The system would have to hire a consultant to design the work and have plans approved by the state, Interagency Committee on School Construction, which could take until fall. If the IAC gives the go-ahead, the school system then would give potential vendors a 30-day period to bid on the work. By January, the school board would approve a contract with a vendor. Work could begin in February and wrap up in August, Smith said.
There are provisions for speedier procurement for emergencies, he said, "but I don't know if this qualifies as that."
Hogan doesn't buy that argument, said spokesman Douglass Mayer.
"For years, the county executive has made excuses for his failure to ensure that all Baltimore County students have access to suitable learning environments," Mayer said. "It comes as no surprise that he has yet another weak explanation to try and justify the deplorable conditions in these classrooms. No doubt he'll have even more excuses next week."
Peter Hamm, a spokesman for Franchot, also dismissed the county's timetable, saying of Kamenetz: "If he wants to make it that hard, he can make it that hard."
Baltimore city and county are the only jurisdictions in the state with a significant number of classrooms that lack air conditioning. When the school year began, 48 of Baltimore County's 175 public school buildings lacked air conditioning. In Baltimore, 76 schools lack air conditioning.
Hogan and Franchot have criticized leaders of both jurisdictions for not providing air conditioning for classrooms. Franchot, a Democrat, went on the "C4 Show" on WBAL radio Thursday to continue to blast Kamenetz.
"The foot-dragging by local elected officials for the last five years is a disgrace," he said.
Franchot said Kamenetz is "committing a mass dereliction of duty" by allowing children to attend schools without air conditioning.