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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.