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December 9, 2011

Pipkin calls for transportation chief to step down

Senate Minority Leader E. J. Pipkin called Friday for Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley to step down in light of this month's highly critical audit of the State Highway Administration.

Pipkin, an Upper Shore Republican, charged that the audit of SHA -- an arm of the Transportation Department -- showed that Swaim-Staley has done "an unacceptable job" and bears responsibility for the contracting abuses identified by legislative auditors.

"Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley has presided over a mess," Pipkin's statement said. "She has stated that she has been working hard to change the SHA culture to one that closely manages all aspects of the contract process. Frankly that response is not good enough. Let’s face it, Secretary Swaim-Staley did not know much of what was going on in the agency she heads."

The most recent audit released showed that SHA had in many cases extended contracts -- or moved money from contract to contract -- without the required approval of the state Board of Public Works. A previous audit, released July 1, found ethical violations in the agency's construction and procurement areas and focused on a "revolving door" culture involving the SHA and its contractors.

Pipkin said the recent audit showed "an agency run wild without adequate oversight, coordination and review."

In June, with the release of the first audit imminent, state Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen abruptly stepped down. Last month Swaim-Staley announced that Melinda Peters, who headed construction of the Intercounty Connector, would become the new administrator in a promotion that bypassed Pedersen's former deputies.

Raquel Guillory, press secretary for Gov. Martin O'Malley, rejected the call for Swaim-Staley's replacement.

"We continue to have confidence in the secretary," Guillory said. "She acted aggressively to make changes at SHA, including a new head of that agency. We're confident that all of the steps that have been taken address many of the issues in the audit."

There is a little history between Pipkin and Swaim-Staley. Pipkin was the legislature's most vocal critic of the Maryland Transportation Authority's recent toll increase, while Swaim-Staley, as chairwoman of the authority board, led the process that led to setting the new toll rates.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:51 PM | | Comments (0)

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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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