July 2, 2013 3:40 pm ET
Concerns Raised over Transportation Secretary Appointment
The announcement of Governor Martin O’Malley appointing former Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith as the Secretary of Transportation is raising some red flags around the county, particularly when you consider that there is a potential conflict of interest in the works.
You see, Mr. Smith is employed by Smith, Gildea & Schmidt—a well-known law firm in Baltimore County that has been involved in several controversial developments. These include the Yorkway planned unit development(PUD), which came to fruition, and the Fort Howard project, which did not materialize.
At the time the Yorkway PUD was submitted by Councilman John Oleszewski, Sr., Mr. Smith was county executive and not working with Smith, Gildea & Schmidt; he joined his son’s firm after leaving office. But now that Mr. Smith works for the law firm that has its hand in county development issues, some are questioning his appointment as Transportation Secretary.
Ms. Jennifer Bevan Dangle of Maryland’s Common Cause brings up an interesting point: “It give us a lot of concern over Mr. Smith’s appointment as Transportation Secretary while still working for his law firm since, in his position, he will control government funds.” She adds further, “This has the potential of a conflict of interest and should be reviewed by the state Ethics Commission.”
Above, you see a photo of Governor O’Malley, Transportation Secretary Smith, and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. The most perplexing thing to me is that all three have a legal background, so one would think that they might know a thing or two about an issue like conflict of interest.
What is even more troubling to me is that the announcement of Mr. Smith’s appointment is prominently displayed on the home page of his law firm. (I believe you’ll find an explanation of something like this in the dictionary under “overt.”)
It does not take a rocket scientist to see the potential problems that may arise from Mr. Smith’s appointment. After all, as Transportation Secretary, Mr. Smith will have access to large amounts of taxpayer funds and will control how they are spent regarding state contracts, the bidding process, and other areas that eventually will involve the necessity of legal counsel.
The question is what role—if any—will Mr. Smith’s law firm play in such situations. If the past is any indicator, then the odds are greatly in favor of a complicated situation arising.
After all, we saw in the Yorkway deal how involved with the transaction Smith, Gildea & Schmidt became. In fact, I wrote about this in the past. We also saw the firm’s heavy involvement in the now-defunct Fort Howard land deal.
So, those of you that believe there is nothing to be concerned about should remember the old saying that goes something like: “Those that forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”
I think that Mr. Smith’s appointment, in relation to his position at the law firm, needs to be addressed by the state ethics commission or, at the very least, Mr. Gansler’s office.
In the meantime, the vigilant among us should be watching to ensure that no “funny business” occurs. I, for one, will be keeping a very close eye on the situation.
Stay tuned, dear readers, because this one could get very interesting.