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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.

RK&K and KCI Technologies won the contract Oct. 15, 2008. Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson Inc. was awarded a similar five-year, $16 million contract for construction management and inspection services in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties about two months later.

The Department of Legislative Services report found SHA did not follow its normal procurement process in awarding the contracts.Those were awarded just months before the winning bidders made donations to a charity sporting event promoted by a company part-owned by an SHA official.

(Incidentally, a blog post closely related to this one narrowly missed being included on this august list.)

2. Major gaming company interested in Baltimore — July 21

Developer Patrick Turner is working with a mega resort and casino company to win the Baltimore gaming license and build a slots parlor south of M&T Bank Stadium.

Turner attended the state slots commission meeting Wednesday with Jim Seay, another partner in the venture. The pair declined to comment then, but Seay sent a statement later that night confirming the group’s interest in the license.

The full statement is as follows:

Our local development team, which includes MGM, was certainly working diligently towards the anticipated submittal date. Our team has invested significantly in the process in both time and expense. We respect the decision to extend the bid date and are hopeful that during the extension an effort is made to make the overall business model more attractive to the investment community.

(Of course, the mega resort and casino company that ended up making a bid for the Baltimore license was not MGM, but Caesars Entertainment Corp.)

3. Ulman: Broadband will set Maryland apart — Nov. 3

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman traveled to Palo Alto., Calif., last month to speak with tech industry executives and venture capitalists and came back confident Maryland has something special to offer.

He said this week at the Maryland Municipal League conference that no other area has the type of fiber-optic broadband network now being installed around the state.

“This is the only place where you can get 2,000 schools on one network,” Ulman said.

4. Invest Maryland board takes shape — Aug. 31

Gov. Martin O’Malley installed a nine-member board Wednesday to oversee the state’s planned venture capital fund that, if all goes as planned, will pump at least $70 million into young, high-tech companies.

“For a modern economy to create jobs we need to make modern investments,” O’Malley said before swearing in the Maryland Venture Fund Authority board members.

Invest Maryland was O’Malley’s top economic initiative in the past legislative session and, according to the Department of Business and Economic Development, is the largest economic development program in Maryland’s history. It is designed to enable entrepreneurs to capitalize on the research done at government and university labs in the state.

5. Western Maryland delegate gets $427K from state — Sept. 21

Del. Wendell R. Beitzel, a Republican representing Garrett and Allegany counties, was granted a $427,000 conservation easement Wednesday by the Board of Public Works.

The easement, part of the Rural Legacy Program, will keep Beitzel’s farm in Garrett County from being developed, a danger that Comptroller Peter Franchot wasn’t sure was real or imagined.

Franchot voted in favor of the measure, but said it “stuck out like a sore thumb.”

“We’re paying $450,000 for a property in Western Maryland to protect it from development,” the comptroller said during Wednesday’s BPW meeting. “What development is going out there that I’m unaware of?”

(That post was followed by a full story. Beitzel’s response is included.)

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year. See you in 2012.