The Maryland Public Policy Institute
When the O'Malley administration picked a developer last year to build a projected $170 million headquarters for the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), it blasted the decision far and wide to the media.
When it dumped the developer, Carl S. Williams, it didn't even post its news release. As of Monday, the release, dated Oct. 19 and sent to me anonymously the same day, is still not up on the Department of General Services website.
You'd think the administration would want to announce the fact that it will be saving taxpayers tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars by shelving plans, at least temporarily, to move the 300-person agency to Prince George's County from Anne Arundel County, where it resides in a state-owned building that fully meets its needs. (The current space costs about $1.5 million per year, whereas rent at the new location was projected to cost more than $3 million, not including any state financing for the project.)
Instead, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown doubles down in the not-released news release on plans to build the costly, unnecessary and unpopular with everyone but Prince George's County officials, the administration and developers that were going to make money off the project. It's so bad even the employees union rejects the move as too expensive. When does that happen?
In it he said, "We remain committed to moving the DHCD headquarters to Prince George's County. ... I am confident that the state's process for identifying a new partner in this project will be conducted in a transparent, thorough and expeditious manner."
That second sentence is the only hint that the last decision was not "transparent, thorough and expeditious." Last December I broke the story in The Daily Record that the developer, Carl S. Williams, was not remotely qualified to build such a huge project.
Among the marks against him, I reported that one of his businesses was the subject of a foreclosure sale of $5.5 million in 2008; that he was rejected for a loan by the DHCD -- the same agency whose headquarters he hoped to build; that he owed about $2 million to a bank as a result of a court case; owed about $74,000 to his former public relations firm; and that his business was considered "forfeited" by the state, which means it likely owed back taxes.
Subsequent reports in other papers showed he owed more than $124,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest to the state.
In regard to transparency, the state never released the names of the people besides Williams who were part of his bid to develop the New Carrollton project for the DHCD. Given the well-documented history of pay-to-play schemes in Prince George's County, it would have been especially prudent to make all information on the decision available for the public to review.
It's good news that the state rejected Williams. But it should also halt plans to move. Taxpayers should not be asked to pay for an expensive, politically motivated project with no benefit to residents, state agency employees or the people they serve.