The Washington Post

Franchot spars with Md. senators over cost of travel to hand out awards

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, center, and his wife meet with Attorney General Doublas F. Gansler. (Photo by Deb Fiscella/Center Stage Marketing)

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) fired back Friday at a pair of state senators who earlier in the week said they were troubled by his travels around the state to hand out “questionably invented awards.”

“With the authority of this office comes the right and responsibility to visit communities across our state,” Franchot said in response to a letter from Sens. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery) and David R. Brinkley (R-Frederick), who questioned the legitimacy of the awards and the expense and time involved in awarding them.

In the letter sent to Franchot on Wednesday, the senators said they had information that the comptroller had created four awards since 2010, which they called “completely unrelated to your role as our chief tax collector.”

“These include the ‘Schaefer Award,’ the ‘Silver Hammer Award,’ the ‘Doing Better With Less Award,’ and most recently, a ‘Golden Apple Award,’” wrote King and Brinkley, members of the Budget and Taxation Committee, which oversees Franchot’s office.

“We see no reason why any of your state duties or responsibilities justifies the taxpayer expense of paying for a driver, security, gas, car mileage, or the manufacture and purchase of questionably invented awards,” the pair wrote. “This does not even mention the time spent away from your office in which you should be working to carry out the actual job and responsibilities you are charged with doing.”

The letter also requested copies of Franchot’s travel records.

On Friday, Franchot explained the criteria for the four awards — the Golden Apple, for instance, honors people who support public schools. He said the total cost of the actual awards was just over $5,000 (not including travel and other expenses).

“For easy reference,” Franchot said, that is “a fraction of what it costs the taxpayers of Maryland to house a lawmaker in Annapolis for the 90-day session.”

“With all sincere respect, the insinuation that I can only ‘carry out the actual job and responsibilities’ of this statewide office by sequestering myself in Annapolis — which, experience has shown, means soliciting the perspective of other elected officials in hallways and back rooms, or joining lawmakers for the usual round of evening receptions that are commonplace on State Circle — personifies the sense of disconnected arrogance that has alienated far too many people from government,” Franchot wrote.

John Wagner is a political reporter covering the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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