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The Maryland Board of Public Works, from left: Treasurer Nancy Kopp, Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

Hogan sends a loud message at BPW meeting

Governor raises questions on ‘emergency’ contract

ANNAPOLIS — Anyone looking for how Gov. Larry Hogan would affect the Board of Public Works didn’t have long to wait.

Hogan, who is developing a reputation for punctuality, started the meeting on time and entered the room with both Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp.

But it was the first item — a $40,000 emergency contract through the Department of Human Services — that Hogan used to set the tone for the meeting of a board charged with overseeing procurement and approving state contracts and spending.

“I just want to have a separate vote on the issue,” Hogan said. “I don’t believe these kinds of after-the-fact things should take place for things like hiring PR firms.”

The state hired Augusta, Maine-based Advocacy Advisors through a no-bid contract for $40,000 to handle public relations related to the nearly 3,000 unaccompanied minors who entered the country illegally while fleeing from countries such as El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

The Department of Human Resources hired Advocacy Advisors in August. The consultants were brought in to “address any media-related information regarding these unaccompanied minors,” an agency official told the board Wednesday.

State law requires that emergency contracts be reported to the Board of Public Works within 45 days. The agency did not advise the board of the contract until mid-December.

Such snags were of perpetual interest to Franchot, who would frequently be the lone voice raising questions about state procurement policy and voting against the contracts, much to the consternation of former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley.

“It’s like a redheaded Eskimo when an agency is told that what they have done is wrong,” Franchot said Wednesday.

Hogan abstained from the vote, which was not needed to approve the contract, but made it clear that he did not agree with using the emergency contracting provisions in state law for such matters.

“I think an emergency contract should actually be for an emergency,” Hogan said. “If a pipe bursts and  you have to fix it, that’s an emergency. Hiring a firm to come in and give you PR advice is not an emergency.”

Franchot had another idea:

“Feel free to get the money back from the agency on behalf of the taxpayers,” Franchot told state Budget Secretary-designee David Brinkley. “It’s wrong. It’s not the right way to do business.”

Franchot later reacted to the new tone set by Hogan.

“I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven,” Franchot said.

Following the meeting, Franchot said he expects that Hogan will eventually nix a contract to send a message, something the comptroller has advocated for over the last few years.

“There will be one down the road,” Franchot said. “All you have to do is reject one and everybody gets the message.”

Hogan, presiding over his first board meeting, told one agency head that the questions were not meant “to beat you up.”

“I think all of us share the idea that we have to fix some of these glitches and do procurement in a better way,” Hogan said.

Procurement issues weren’t the only thing on Hogan’s mind. The governor and the board also had to address the requests of school systems around the state asking for money for construction and renovation projects. Each year in January, school officials and other leaders from around the state come to the board to press their individual cases in a process often referred to as “beg-a-thon.”

This year, Hogan focused on school systems maintenance programs and wanted to know how each was taking care of the buildings that are paid for, in part, with state money.

Hogan questioned David Lever, executive director of the state Interagency Commission on School Construction, about delays related to a report on how each system is maintaining its schools.

Lever attributed the delays to staffing issues, an explanation the governor rejected.

“To me, for you to say that you’re two, three, four years behind in doing the assessment in maintenance and not doing the report card because you’re short of employees is ludicrous,” Hogan told Lever. “It’s money well spent for us to get you the help you need so that you can get caught up. We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars here.”