Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Gov. Martin O’Malley, at Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting, says the state often enters deals with private companies similar to the distribution center deal that evoked concern from some board members. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

State buys land, delays lease to Democratic donor

ANNAPOLIS — The Board of Public Works voted to purchase a nearly 255-acre Kent County farm valued at $2.8 million but delayed action on a proposed $1 per year lease of the property to a Democratic donor.

State Department of Natural Resources officials withdrew the proposed 25-year lease to Eastern Shore Food Hub Corp. The company is led by Cleo Braver, an environmental attorney and organic farmer who has donated money to a number of major Democratic politicians — including two of the three members of the public works board.

“This thing is tied up in all sorts of ugly knots,” Comptroller Peter V.R Franchot said. “In all my years here, I don’t see anything quite as sleazy … something that challenges the integrity of the process like this project.

“It’s obviously directed toward certain individuals,” Franchot said.

State officials said they were first approached by Braver about the project and decided that the purchase of the waterfront property known as the Wick Property was in an area that the state was interested in buying property to protect open space.

The board approved a $500,000 grant for a related distribution center at a meeting last month. That money was contingent upon the purchase of the land and the lease.

State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp said she didn’t think the deal was improper but there were good questions raised “about how in doing this we have the widest competition possible.”

Department of Natural Resources Secretary Joseph Gill said his agency now plans to open the lease up to a bidding process. He did not give a timeline for issuing the request for proposal but said it typically takes as long as six months.

Gov.-elect Larry Hogan will be sworn-in on Jan. 21.

Gov. Martin J. O’Malley said it is not uncommon for the state to enter into deals with private companies that are similar to the food hub proposal.

The delay could ultimately mean an end to the deal with Braver, who has donated $40,000 to Democratic candidates including Gov. Martin J. O’Malley, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Franchot.