Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley used the "junk" furniture he purchased from the governor's mansion to furnish his new house in Baltimore's Homeland neighborhood — a move criticized Tuesday by the head of the Maryland Republican Party.
O'Malley, a Democratic candidate for president, and his wife, Baltimore District Judge Catherine Curran O'Malley, furnished their new $549,000, four-bedroom house with the mansion furniture as well as with items they kept in storage from their previous house, in Northeast Baltimore, according to an aide.
The O'Malleys purchased 54 items from the Annapolis mansion at a steep discount in January because his administration had declared all of the furnishings to be junk. A Baltimore Sun investigation revealed last week that the O'Malleys paid $9,638 for armoires, desks, mirrors, tables and other items that originally cost taxpayers $62,000.
"It's obviously not junk if they're putting it in their house," said Joe Cluster, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party. "Either they got a great deal from the state or they used their position to get it discounted way below what it should have been."
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan also has criticized the transaction, writing on Facebook this week that had the furniture not been removed from the mansion he would have used it. He added in the post: "And if it was so bad and ready to be 'thrown out,' why would you try so hard to take it all with you to your new house?"
O'Malley, through a spokesman, has defended the transaction.
His former chief of staff, John Griffin, said late Tuesday that the O'Malleys followed the protocol spelled out by the Department of General Services.
That department "always manages gubernatorial transition in and out of the residence including determining that non-historic residential property could be purchased and determining the purchase price," Griffin said in an email. "The O'Malleys deferred to DGS authority and followed their protocoland standard operating procedure that was consistent with at least one prior administration."
The department sold the items to the O'Malleys, who together earned $270,000 in state salaries last year, without seeking bids or notifying the public that the items were available for sale. A department rule prohibits preferential sales of state-owned property to government officials.
The department's attorney, Assistant Attorney General Turhan E. Robinson, asked the state ethics commission on Friday to determine if the sale to O'Malley, and a smaller one to former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. eight years ago, were permitted under policies spelled out in the agency's inventory control manual.
"Under the direction of DGS, the O'Malleys -- just as the Ehrlichs did before them -- purchased these non-historic household materials with their own money, according to guidelines set by DGS," Haley Morris, an O'Malley campaign aide, said Tuesday. "Clearly, then, it wasn't 'junk,' as DGS assigned a value to the furniture based on their own value depreciation formula. As he did in this case, Governor O'Malley has always complied with the guidance and rules of DGS, and ... he believes that if people want to change this policy that they should."
The manual states that "the preferential sale or gratuitous disposition of property to a state official or employee is prohibited in accordance with Board of Public Works policy." The prohibition against preferential sales — transactions made without publicly soliciting other bids — applies to all surplus state property, even items declared junk, a department spokeswoman said.
A spokeswoman for the Department of General Services, Therese Yewell, said state regulations do not call for "any punishment or discipline for violating the prohibition on preferential sales to government officials."
State ethics rules also govern such transactions, according to the inventory control manual. Ethics rules and the standards of conduct for executive branch employees forbid state officials from making transactions that involve information unavailable to the public.
Griffin has said that O'Malley asked to buy the furniture only after the state had declared it junk.
But Department of General Services officials said the initial request for the furniture came from Curran O'Malley.