Audit Finds Waste in Cell Phone Use Maryland is spending millions of dollars a year on government workers' cell phones with little or no accountability for how they are used or how much the state is paying telephone companies, according to a study by legislative auditors.
"It's pretty ugly," Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George's) said yesterday. "It's a boondoggle.
"There was no accountability on the use of the cell phones. There was no accountability on what we were getting for our money from these vendors."
The General Assembly's Office of Legislative Audits said that the Department of Budget and Management does not keep statewide statistics but that at least 6,700 state employees had government-subsidized cell phones during fiscal 2002. The cost to the state for those phones was $5.3 million.
The audit found numerous flaws that resulted in a waste of tax dollars. Based on available data, the auditors estimated that the loss was at least $500,000.
State employees are supposed to pay for personal calls, but the audit said state agencies generally did not seek reimbursement for personal use of cell phones.
A sampling of calls made on 47 phones showed that 57 percent of the calls were for business and 18 percent were personal calls. Auditors could not determine the purpose for the rest of the calls.
The audit also criticized state agencies for not developing policies to monitor cell phone use and assignment.
Montgomery to Buy Potomac Parcel Montgomery County has agreed to purchase the largest block of privately held forested land in the county from a developer as part of Montgomery's open space preservation program, county officials confirmed yesterday.
The 258-acre stretch of pristine Potomac woodlands will cost the county $9 million. It is known as the Serpentine Barrens because it sits on an outcrop of serpentinite bedrock. The property is home to at least 22 species of rare, threatened, endangered and watch-list plants.
"This was extremely important to protect," said Montgomery County Council member Howard A. Denis (R-Potomac-Bethesda). "It's one of our crown jewels."
An earlier plan backed by County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) would have enabled McLean-based developer Miller & Smith to build on one-third of the land and set aside the remaining two-thirds for preservation, at no cost to the county.
Instead, the Montgomery County Planning Board and the council made the property the sixth natural resource site protected under the county's Legacy Open Space program, which calls for the county to spend $100 million over 10 years to acquire land for protection from development.
Planning Board Chairman Derick Berlage said the property was "right at the top of everyone's list of parcels that we wanted to protect if at all possible."
Senate Backs Natural Resources Pick The Maryland Senate unanimously approved yesterday Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s appointment of former delegate C. Ronald Franks to be state secretary of natural resources.
Franks served one term as a Republican member of the House of Delegates from Queen Anne's County, from 1991 to 1994, and also worked on Ehrlich's gubernatorial campaign.
A vote on his nomination was scheduled for last Friday but was postponed at the request of Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) because Franks had not responded to a question from Frosh about his views on the Chesapeake Bay agreement signed in 2000.
Frosh asked the Senate on Tuesday to approve the nomination, telling senators that Franks had assured him that he does support the latest bay cleanup agreement.
Malvo, Now 18, Loses Va. Guardian Sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo turned 18 yesterday. The birthday means little change in his legal status, because he has been charged as an adult. He still faces a possible death sentence if convicted in the Oct. 14 shooting of FBI analyst Linda Franklin in a Home Depot parking lot.
The shooting was one of 20 -- 13 of them fatal -- allegedly committed by Malvo and John Allen Muhammad in Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and the District.
Now that he is 18, Malvo no longer will have a court-appointed guardian. Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Jane Marum Roush had previously ordered that guardian Todd G. Petit be removed from the case when Malvo turned 18.
Malvo is no longer eating the vegetarian loaf Petit had objected to. In fact, he has switched to regular meals and is eating meat. Defense lawyer Michael Arif said the vegetarian diet was something that stemmed from Muhammad's influence and has since waned.
"He ate meat when he lived with his mother. This only started when he was hooked up with Mr. Muhammad," Arif said last month.
Lincoln Summer Home Project Funded The National Trust for Historic Preservation got a $2.35 million boost for its Lincoln summer White House restoration project from the budget Congress passed Thursday, according to a trust spokeswoman.
Known officially as the President Lincoln and Soldiers' Home National Monument, the white frame building in Northwest Washington was where Lincoln and his family spent the summer months during his presidency. In 2000, President Bill Clinton proclaimed it a national monument, and the trust undertook the restoration of the building on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home, about two miles north of the U.S. Capitol.
Loudoun Seeks Help Naming New Park The public is being asked to help name a new 34-acre park in the South Riding area of Loudoun County. The park, at Donegal and Dabner drives, has a basketball court, three tennis courts, a volleyball court, two soccer fields and parking.
Names should be submitted in writing to Cynthia H. Welsh, Director, Loudoun County Parks, Recreation and Community Services, P.O. Box 7000, Leesburg, Va. 20177-7000, or to PRCS@loudoun.gov. Include your full name, mailing address and phone number. The deadline is March 14. For more information, call 703-771-5351.
"We have over 1 million cubic feet of snow to remove. We're not just pushing the snow. We're picking it up to dump someplace else."
-- Sandra Dobson, spokeswoman for the Maryland
State Highway Administration. -- A1
Compiled from reports by staff writers Matthew Mosk, Leslie Shepherd and Linda Wheeler and the Associated Press.