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Md. school construction chief persona non grata at State House

David Lever. (file)

David Lever, outgoing executive director of the Interagency Committee on School Construction. (File photo)

ANNAPOLIS — The outgoing head of the state’s school construction program has been told he’s no longer welcome at the State House — at least at functions run by Gov. Larry Hogan.

Hogan confirmed that he has told David Lever, the executive director of the Interagency Committee on School Construction, not to attend Board of Public Works meetings and instead demanded that the committee send another representative. The board today voted to defer decisions on several school construction funding requests after the committee sent no one.

In a surprise move, Lever arrived at this morning’s board meeting but was told by Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot that the board had delayed those requests and would not reopen the discussion on the matter.

“We wanted someone else to attend,” Hogan said, confirming that he requested Deputy Director Joan Schaefer, who has already been named as Lever’s interim replacement beginning in September, to attend Wednesday’s meeting.

Both Hogan and Franchot expressed a desire to work with someone else besides Lever.

“The director has already resigned, not doing the work,” Hogan said, adding later that Lever was someone “we don’t have much faith in. We asked him not to attend. We asked the department to still be here.”

When several school construction and renovation funding requests were called for a vote, Schaefer was not present. Sheila McDonald, the executive secretary of the board, directed staff to go into the hallway where the meeting is broadcast to see if anyone from the committee was in attendance while the board took up other items on the agenda.

Lever had been spotted about 20 minutes before the meeting taking a phone call outside the State House press offices before going upstairs to the meeting. But a board staff member did not see him and Lever walked into the board meeting after Hogan and Franchot voted to delay action on the requests, which included a relatively small funding increase for a nearly $900,000 air conditioning project at Federal Hill Preparatory School in Baltimore.

Two other items included reimbursement to the state by the city related to the transfer of Pimlico Middle School from the city school system to the city government and another involving the disposition of relocatable trailers in Caroline and Montgomery Counties.

None of the deferrals appear to hold up major projects, but they gave Hogan and Franchot another opportunity to express their displeasure over the issues of late school maintenance reports and a critical legislative audit on the issue as well as the ongoing dispute related to air conditioning in classrooms.

Franchot, during the meeting, called Lever “a very nice guy who didn’t get the job done.”

Following the meeting, Franchot said he held no personal animosity toward Lever but agreed with Hogan that it would be better for someone else to represent the committee before the Board of Public Works.

“Absolutely, and sooner rather than later and someone who will have as a priority taking care of what we have,” Franchot said. “The taxpayers deserve it.”

“This gentleman has failed the state as far as taking care of schools,” Franchot said.

Lever left the meeting, slipping past reporters.

Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp. who voted against deferring decisions on the school issues, said she, too, was concerned about school maintenance issues but worried about Hogan’s and Franchot’s continuing public spat with Lever.

“I have no problem with deferring motions,” Kopp said. “But to tell people not to come and then defer them because they didn’t show up … this ongoing battle is not doing anyone any good.”

Hogan’s request to deal with other officials of the Interagency Committee on School Construction rather than Lever, who resigned in protest in May, highlights the ongoing tension and irritation regarding school maintenance issues and un-air conditioned classrooms in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

Lever resigned in protest in May in a scathing two-page letter, complaining that the Board of Public Works was running roughshod over his organization. He delayed his departure until Sept. 1 to give the committee time to search for a replacement. Last month, the committee named Schaefer as a 60-day interim replacement and said it would seek to find a longer-term interim director who could serve until a legislative panel makes recommendations about possible changes to the committee.

In May, Hogan told reporters he was pleased that Lever resigned.

“My only regret is that it doesn’t take effect immediately. There’s really no reason for him to stay until September 1,” Hogan said at the time.

The committee now answers to the Board of Public Works. It is widely believed that the legislatively appointed 21st Century Schools Commission will seek to move the committee out from under the Board of Public Works, which is led by the governor, in attempt to prevent Hogan and Franchot from using meetings to highlight their concerns over maintenance issues and the lack of air conditioning in classrooms in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.