O'Malley: SHA employees 'let us down'
Gov. Martin O'Malley said Wednesday he is "very, very disappointed that two long-term employees let us down," his first comments since the Friday release of a scathing report about activities in the upper ranks of the State Highway Administration.
The Office of Legislative Audits examined the revolving door between SHA, which has nearly a $1 billion annual budget, and private contractors after a tipster called a fraud hotline to report questionable activities. The Democratic governor said his administration is cooperating with the auditor -- who is poised to release more details in the weeks to come.
Among the auditor's initial findings: A high-level employee in SHA's Office of Construction apparently solicited funds from contractors for a golf tournament in which he had a financial stake, and then expedited awards to some of the same companies. In another instance, an SHA manager retired and 12 days later began a job with an engineering firm that benefited from a $16 million procurement he helped arrange while he was still with the highway administration.
Neither employee works for the agency any longer, and neither is named in the report.
O'Malley appeared to view the findings as isolated rather than systemic.
The two employees, he said, "fell short of what we expect in the administration." He said employees with private experience are valuable "but not if it leads to cutting corners."
Longtime State Highway Administrator Neil Pedersen announced his retirement several weeks ago, making comments similar to O'Malley's that employees had disappointed him. His retirement became official June 30, the day before the audit was released, but he will continue to work through the fall for the state as an SHA consultant.
O'Malley said Wednesday that he did not fire Pedersen or ask him to retire.
"He served at the State Highway Administration for many, many years, and for the most part did a very, very good job," O'Malley said.
Darrell Mobley, who had been a deputy secretary at the Maryland Department of Transportation -- SHA's parent agency -- since January has been tapped as the highway administration's interim chief.
O'Malley said he will support Mobley and Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley "if they determine further discipline needs to happen."
As The Sun's Michael Dresser reported Saturday, former SHA employee James Hagerty said he brought the golf tournament sponsorships to the attention of the auditors several years ago. He said that after raising concerns about the supervisor's activities, he was the target of job retaliation.
Asked whether SHA officials had responded adequately to reports of questionable behavior, O'Malley said he wasn't aware of any specific examples of problems. But, he added, "if that's another shortcoming that needs to be addressed, we will do so."