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Gov. Hogan questions Martin O'Malley's purchase of mansion furniture

Larry Hogan questions Martin OMalley's purchase of Annapolis mansion furniture declared junk.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan criticized former Gov. Martin O'Malley on Monday for buying most of the furniture from the governor's mansion at a discount after it had been declared "junk" by the Democrat's outgoing administration.

Hogan, a Republican, disputed that the furniture was "junk" and would have been thrown out or declared surplus had O'Malley not purchased the items. Hogan took to Facebook, where he has a large following, to weigh in on a matter that's been referred to the state ethics commission.

"Had it not all been removed a few days before we moved in, our intention would have been to leave all of it in place, just as it was, in the people's house," Hogan wrote.

A Baltimore Sun investigation revealed last week that O'Malley paid $9,638 for 54 mansion furnishings that originally cost taxpayers $62,000. O'Malley, now a Democratic candidate for president, moved to the Baltimore neighborhood of Homeland from Annapolis.

The Department of General Services sold armoires, beds, chairs, desks, lamps, mirrors, tables and other items to O'Malley and his wife, Baltimore District Judge Catherine Curran O'Malley, after declaring every item to be "junk."

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.

Assistant Attorney General Turhan E. Robinson, the department's legal counsel, has asked the state ethics commission to determine whether the sale violated the prohibition and whether a provision in state regulations that allows the department to sell surplus property to charities and other government agencies without bids can apply to a private sale to a governor.

O'Malley has declined to comment. John Griffin, O'Malley's former chief of staff, said the Democrat asked to buy the furniture only after state officials planned to throw away the items. Griffin said the former governor followed proper procedures.

O'Malley purchased the furniture used in the residential sections of the mansion, not the public areas, which are furnished with antiques. State officials said his wife had requested to buy the furniture, which started the process of declaring the property as excess.

When Hogan moved into the mansion in January from his Anne Arundel County home, he found a starkly less furnished house than the one he had toured with O'Malleytwo weeks earlier. He ended up moving in nearly all of hisfurniturefrom his Edgewater house.

"If they call that expensive, beautiful, barely used furniture 'junk', I'd hate to hear what they call the 20 year old stuff I brought with me from my house to replace it all," Hogan wrote on Facebook. "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?"

Hogan spokesman Douglass Mayer said he didn't know the consequences for violating the state rule. He declined to comment further.

The office of Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, a Democrat who campaigned for O'Malley last week, referred questions about the matter to Robinson. David Nitkin, a spokesman for Frosh, said neither Frosh nor his executive staff have been involved in the matter, which is a question of "departmental policy" that Robinson "should be able to answer."

Robinson sought the ethics commission opinion last week.

"DGS is requesting a determination on the propriety of sales of excess/used furniture to an outgoing public elected official," Robinson wrote on Friday to Michael Lord, executive director of the Maryland State Ethics Commission. Robinson wrote that the matter "requires ethics determination."

Lord said in an interview that he is restricted by state regulations from commenting on any specific request.

Typically, such requests for the commission's opinion come from individual state employees or their supervisors seeking clarification about an action they want to take — not opinions on actions already taken, Lord said. The commission issues advisory opinions on such "prospective" actions and typically avoids offering advice on past activities.

There are currently four members of the ethics commission and one vacancy. One member was appointed by O'Malley, one by Hogan and two others by the Senate president and speaker of the House.

The Department of General Services' inventory control 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. The manual does not spell out any punishment for violating the prohibition.

State ethics rules also govern all 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.

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. also purchasedfurniturewhen he left office. The Republican paid $992 for 21 furnishings that had cost the state $9,904.

Unlike O'Malley, Ehrlich purchased mostly low-cost linens, mattresses, pillows, lamps and bunk beds used by his two sons. Those items were purchased at prices set by a depreciation formula.

For O'Malley's purchase, Samuel L. Cook, the former director of the Annapolis Capital Complex, consulted withfurnitureexperts and the Internet to set a price. He determined that 10 years was the useful life cycle of the furniture, which prompted the state to declare it junk.

The ethics commission also was asked to examine the Ehrlich sale.

"I'm sure we took the instruction we were given at the time," Ehrlich said. "If they want to revisit the policy, go at it."

ddonovan@baltsun.com

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