xml:space="preserve">

A key piece of former governor and presidential hopeful Martin O'Malley's legacy is under scrutiny in Maryland.

The state's spending board this week put on hold a contract for mapping software, which drove much of the "data-driven" government style that has earned accolades for O'Malley, a Democrat.

Advertisement

The company that won a sole-source, $3.8 million bid to do work for the state back in 2011 while O'Malley was governor and later hired him to give speeches when he left office.  O'Malley aides, meanwhile, points out the company first started working for Maryland in the 1970s.

When the company's contract was up for an extension at the Board of Public Works Wednesday, Comptroller Peter Franchot, also a Democrat, questioned whether there was a quid pro quo deal that benefitted O'Malley.

"I think my concern here is fairly obvious, and I think that any Maryland taxpayer would have that same concern," Franchot said when the extension vote came up for Environmental System Research Institute, known as ESRI. "Without knowing anything else about this firm or this contract other than what's in my notes, this has the appearance of blatant quid pro quo."

Company representative Christian Carlson unequivocally said there was none.

"I can see the angle that you're coming from. I can assure you that there was no quid pro quo at all," Carlson said.

Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, joined the questioning, telling company representatives that he believes they have a great firm and product. But he said he was "truly concerned about the optics and the appearance of an elected official making a decision, and then receiving very shortly thereafter a contract for $148,000 to make a speech."

In fact, ERSI gave O'Malley $148,000 for four speeches given earlier this year that highlighted how the mapping software can be used to highlight trends and drive decisions in public government.  Carlson called O'Malley a "thought leader" the company used to "evangelize and advocate" for how to use this technology in government.

A spokeswoman for O'Malley said was nothing untoward about the arrangement.

"It's no surprise that Governor O'Malley would be chosen to be an advocate for mapping and GIS technology--over the years he has won international recognition for his leadership on using both to better government services," Haley morris said in a statement. "ESRI's relationship with both the city of Baltimore and state of Maryland long predate O'Malley's tenure. Ultimately, it's up to the state to decide how to handle state matters."

The former governor voted in 2014 to extend the company's contract for another year. State officials familiar with that decision said that ERSI dominates the marketplace for such mapping software and the company's Geographic Information Systems technology has been integrated into that of many state agencies. It's used during emergencies to manage response, during tax time to manage records, in transportation planning and by the governor's office, by the comptroller's office and scores of others.

Comptroller Nancy Kopp, the third member of the three-person Board of Public Works, objected to suggestion that O'Malley's speaking gig was anything but above board. Kopp, who voted against delaying the contract extension, told ERIS they were "a world leader" in providing this type of software.

"I'm sorry that this has been mixed in to the presidential politics and partisanship at this point," she said.

The contract extension could be reconsidered as soon as Oct. 7, the board's  next meeting.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement