Univ. of Maryland seeking approval to demolish president’s house

Wallace Loh has been the president of the University of Maryland, College Park for a little more than a year, and now the school wants to knock his house down.

He’ll get another house, sure. But the decades old President’s Residence — it’s tucked between University of Maryland University College and Ludwig Field, where the winning fall sports teams play — will be no more.

The University System of Maryland is seeking Board of Public Works approval to knock down the mansion, built in 1956. And it seems USM has a pretty good case to break out the wrecking ball.

According to the board’s agenda, the house “is no longer suitable for functioning as both a residence and as a venue for important events hosted by the president.”

It gets better (or worse, if you’re one of the people who lives there).

The president of the state’s flagship institution is living in and hosting events at a house that “has not been upgraded or refurbished since 1991 and does not meet current life safety codes; is not ADA accessible; many asbestos containing materials remain; and the building is in significant repairs.”

If not meeting “life safety codes” sounds bad to you, you’re right. The code was developed by the National Fire Protection Association to cover “minimum building design, construction, operation, and maintenance requirements necessary to protect building occupants from danger caused by fire, smoke, and toxic fumes.”

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Top 5 Eye on Annapolis posts of the year

The themes that emerged in 2011 were largely standard fare in Annapolis and the Maryland business community — malfeasance by those who serve in government, big initiatives to support biotech and high-tech companies, high hopes for gambling to ease the state’s fiscal woes and politicians (mostly Democrats) jockeying for a share of the spotlight as they gear up to run for governor in 2014.

Readership of this blog largely reflected that. I had high hopes that Gov. Martin O’Malley’s attempt to bring Lady Gaga to Annapolis would win me a few more visitors. But that plan fizzled. So here are the top five, most-read blog posts of 2011, free of pop stars but full of juicy Maryland content.

1. Maryland highway contractor questions SHA audit — July 6

An engineering executive said Wednesday his firm saw no problem with a State Highway Administration bidding process that yielded his firm a $16 million contract in 2008, and has since come under the scrutiny of state auditors.

“I think some of these things are unfair and create a pretty poor perception of some public officials who are doing a pretty good job for the public,” said Steve Zentz, a partner with Rummel, Klepper & Kahl.

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Del. Alston to face biweekly financial, timekeeping reviews

Del. Tiffany Alston is racking up the grand jury indictments and, come the 2012 General Assembly session, she’ll be operating under added scrutiny.

“While it is important to remember that Delegate Alston has not been convicted of a crime, I believe that the allegation of theft of state dollars warrants an immediate response to assure the public that legislative funds are being used appropriately by those who have been entrusted with them,” House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

He said the Department of Legislative Services will conduct biweekly reviews of Alston’s legislative account and will verify the timesheets of her legislative staffers. Continue reading

O’Malley deal with Exelon touted by wind energy backers in Maryland

The ink isn’t yet dry on Gov. Martin O’Malley’s deal with Exelon Corp. and Constellation Energy Group, but wind energy advocates are already hailing the accord as a boon for their cause.

That’s not surprising. They have 32 million reasons to do just that.

“It means Maryland is one step closer to developing a home-grown manufacturing base for wind turbines and an overall economy that helps solve global warming,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

The Constellation/Exelon merger deal negotiated by O’Malley will require Exelon to pay $30 million into an offshore wind energy development fund that would allow the state to pay some of the permitting costs for a wind farm in the waters off Ocean City. Another $2 million would be paid to Maryland colleges and universities to fund wind energy research. Continue reading

Waiting for Gaga

Just about 24 hours after Gov. Martin O’Malley invited Lady Gaga to dinner, the governor’s staff was still waiting for the pop icon to RSVP.

O’Malley sent this tweet Monday: “.@LadyGaga thanks for your advocacy against bullying. Katie & I would like to invite you to dinner to discuss eliminating bullying in MD.”

Asked Monday afternoon if the governor had heard back, a spokeswoman replied, simply, “nothing yet.”

The governor and his wife, Katie O’Malley, are big anti-bullying advocates. The O’Malleys joined Facebook and Cartoon Network execs in October to kick off National Bullying Prevention Month.

(Check out the outtakes of the governor and first lady shooting an anti-bullying video here in which she chides him to “just stick to the script.” The governor is a chronic ad libber whose prepared remarks are rough approximations of what he could say, rather than scripts.)

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Pipkin demands Maryland transportation head step down

State Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore, has turned his sights on another branch of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration.

The top Republican in the upper chamber, Pipkin called Friday for the resignation of Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley in the wake of a highly critical review of the State Highway Administration.

Swaim-Staley “has presided over a mess,” Pipkin said in a statement released Friday. “She has stated that she has been working hard to change the SHA culture to one that closely manages all aspects of the contract process. Frankly, that response is not good enough. Let’s face it, Secretary Swaim-Staley did not know much of what was going on in the agency she heads.”

The Office of Legislative Audits review released this month raised questions about the SHA’s highway construction inspection contracts. An earlier review described a revolving door between the agency and its contractors. Findings in that report were referred to the attorney general for further investigation.

Pipkin said the fact that the reviews were prompted by tips that came into OLA from outside state government, rather than from within the Department of Transportation, is “a sad comment on Secretary Swaim-Staley’s stewardship.”

While the top of Swaim-Staley’s department has remained intact, SHA leadership has changed.

That earlier review was released July 1, one day after SHA Administrator Neil J. Pedersen stepped down from his post. Melinda B. Peters was tapped by O’Malley to run the agency on Nov. 17.

Peters, who oversaw the InterCounty Connector project, is viewed as a strong administrator and, perhaps more importantly, an outsider to SHA and potential agent of change there.

This is not Pipkin’s first volley against Swaim-Staley and the state’s transportation agencies.

He railed against toll increases that took effect last month as “outrageous.”

Pipkin also has criticized spending on transit projects that primarily benefit urban areas and PlanMaryland, the state’s growth planning effort, as part of a “war on rural Maryland.”

He and other opponents PlanMaryland succeeded in delaying the implementation of the state’s first statewide land use plan until the Senate can hold a hearing to discuss it.

That hearing, before the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday. The Department of Planning and Pipkin are both expected to make presentations.

Maryland slots revenue dips slightly in November

Maryland’s two casinos brought in $12.2 million in revenue in October, according to figures released Monday by the Maryland State Lottery Agency.

That’s a 5 percent drop from September, with Casino at Ocean Downs responsible for all of the decline, and more.

The Worcester County casino, just a short drive from Ocean City, has seen its number slip steadily since the end of the summer.

July was the best month by far for the casino, which has 800 slot machines. Ocean Downs had revenue of $5.3 million that month, followed by $4.6 million in August and $4.7 million in September. With the beach-going tourists mostly gone, revenue dropped to $3.8 million in October.

The casino opened in January, so there is not yet even a full’s year worth of data, much less multiple years to compare, but it appears Ocean Downs will see its bottom line rise and fall with the crowds on the beach.

Hollywood Casino Perryville, the senior Maryland casino at 14 months old, saw the slightest of revenue bumps in November, up just about $20,000 over the month before to $9.1 million in revenue.

Perryville has been relatively steady over the past three months, and that very well could have been four, if not for a pesky hurricane in August.

The casino’s 1,500 slot machines each averaged $202 in revenue per day, slightly below state expectations. About half, $4.4 million, of the slots revenue went to state education efforts and the casinos kept one-third, or $3 million.

One more note from looking back at the slots figures from earlier in the year — even though Perryville isn’t near the beach (I’m not counting the Susquehanna and the upper Chesapeake Bay here), its peak also came in July, a $10.2 million month for the Cecil County casino.

The peaks at both Maryland casinos track with surrounding states, which typically have very strong months — and weeks — around the July 4 holiday.

GOP’s Mooney mulls run in Maryland’s 6th District

Updated 1:30 p.m.:

The Associated Press is reporting that Rep. Roscoe Bartlett’s chief of staff has stepped down from his post to run for the 6th Congressional District seat.

Bartlett, through a spokeswoman, however, said that he wants to hold on to the seat he’s held since 1993.

According to the AP, Harold “Bud” Otis, 73, said Thursday that his decision would depend largely on whether Bartlett stays in the race.

Maryland Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola, another 6th District hopeful, announced Thursday afternoon he has picked up the endorsement of Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, a Democrat from Prince George’s County.

Original Post:

That 6th Congressional District is getting awfully crowded.

Alex Mooney, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, launched his exploratory committee for the seat Wednesday, officially filing paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission that will allow him to raise money.

Mooney, in a statement Thursday, said he will officially file as a candidate in January and relinquish his party post at that time.

A former state senator, Mooney is one of two and possibly three current and past members of the upper chamber eyeing the 6th seat.

Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola, D-Montgomery, has already launched his campaign and Sen. David R. Brinkley, R-Carroll and Frederick, has voiced his interest as well.

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