Outside probe urged in Ehrlich land deal


A legislator critical of the Ehrlich administration's aborted plan to sell St. Mary's County preservation land to a construction company owner requested yesterday that the state assign a prosecutor to investigate the deal.

Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat, said the General Assembly has done as much as it can to investigate the state's plan to sell the forest land to Whiting-Turner Chief Executive Officer Willard J. Hackerman.

Hackerman promised to preserve the land in exchange for tax breaks of as much as $7 million, but state documents indicate that he intended to develop at least part of it.

"Getting information from the Ehrlich administration on this subject is like getting blood from a stone," said Franchot, one of the governor's most vocal critics. "They just are not going to give it up."

Other legislators who have criticized the deal said they don't think a prosecutor is necessary.

"I have detected some very bad judgment on the part of the administration," said Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Environmental Matters Committee. "I am not sure, and again, I'm not a lawyer, that I have seen anything illegal."

Legislative inquiries will continue next week. Hackerman's attorney, George A. Nilson, said in an e-mail yesterday that he will appear on his client's behalf at a hearing Tuesday of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Matters Committee.

The panel's chairwoman, Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat, said she has asked for a written statement giving Hackerman's side. Hackerman has not spoken publicly about the deal.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said he wants more hearings. Busch sits on the assembly's Legislative Policy Committee, which will meet this month. It is composed of committee heads, presiding officers and other leaders, and it has the authority to grant subpoena power to standing committees.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said yesterday that there is more to be learned about the deal but that subpoena power isn't necessary.

Spokesmen for Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. did not respond to requests for comment.

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