Lawmaker seeks to change policy for selling governor's mansion furniture

Maryland lawmaker wants to change rules to avoid future mansion furniture sales to governors.

State Del. Haven Shoemaker has proposed legislation that he says will eliminate any appearance of political favoritism if a governor wants to purchase furniture from the governor's mansion in Annapolis.

The Carroll County Republican's bill would require that the Department of General Services, which manages state property, obtain final approval from the Government House Trust before declaring any furnishings from the mansion as surplus property. The designation renders such items eligible for public sale or transfer to other agencies or charities.

The bill would also prohibit the general services agency from selling or transferring any furnishings or items from the mansion, formally known as Government House, to a governor or former governor unless the official "participates in an auction that is open to the public."

A Baltimore Sun investigation last year revealed that former Gov. Martin O'Malley paid $9,638 to purchase 54 mansion furnishings that originally cost taxpayers $62,000. The discount was provided because every item had been declared "junk" by outgoing O'Malley administration officials. The furniture is now in O'Malley's house in Baltimore's Homeland neighborhood.

The sale did not follow department rules that require the state to publicly advertise and seek bids for such sales. The state also did not follow its rules by not charging sales tax to O'Malley and his wife, Baltimore District Judge Catherine Curran O'Malley.

In addition, state ethics rules and the standards of conduct for executive branch employees forbid state officials from making transactions that involve information unavailable to the public.

O'Malley officials have said that the Democratic candidate for president was following the rules established by the general services department.

Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, ordered an internal review of the process shortly after The Sun's articles. The findings were then forwarded to Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Wes Adams, whose office is investigating the furniture sales.

"I didn't even know that such a thing was an issue until I heard the media accounts about the outgoing governor's purchase of the furniture for a handsomely discounted price," Shoemaker said. "It didn't seem right to me intuitively."

Democrats have complained that the investigation by Adams, a Republican, is politically motivated. A spokeswoman for Adams denied that was the case.

Shoemaker said his bill is not about politics. "This applies to governors of either stripe," he said. "I'm saying there needs to be a better way to handle situations like this to avoid the appearance of impropriety."

The Government House Trust oversees the seven state rooms of Government House, according to its website. The trust consists of representatives of the governor, General Assembly and Maryland Historical Trust director.

Republican former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. also purchased furniture from the mansion when he and his wife, Kendel Ehrlich, who now works for Adams as an assistant state's attorney, moved out in 2007.

The Republican paid the state $992 for 21 furnishings that had cost the state $9,904, according to documents obtained by The Sun through a public records request.

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