The Maryland Ethics Commission said Wednesday that the state ethics law does not apply to the head of a Rockville firm bidding on the light-rail Purple Line while he also serves on the transition team for Gov.-elect Larry Hogan.
In a letter to Jim Soltesz, president and chief executive of the Soltesz civil engineering firm, the commission said the law does not cover members of a governor-elect’s transition team because they are not public officials or state employees. However, the commission said the law does cover some interactions between bidders on a public-private partnership, such as the potential Purple Line contract, and the state’s executive branch.
Because of that, the letter said, “The transition team may wish to consider taking steps to limit your involvement to issues outside of the Purple Line project to avoid any appearance” of a conflict of interest.
The letter from Jennifer K. Allgair, the commission’s general counsel, said Soltesz sought its “guidance” on his role, serving both on the transition team and as a member of one of four private consortiums competing for a public-private partnership to design, build, operate and maintain the line, in addition to helping to finance its construction.
Bids are due March 12 for what state officials have said would be a 35-year contract for a 16-mile line between Bethesda and New Carrollton. While Hogan (R) said during the campaign that a $2.4 billion Purple Line would be too expensive, he has said he won’t announce a decision on the project’s future until he takes office Jan. 21.
Soltesz did not return multiple phone messages to his cell and office numbers late last week and this week.
At a press briefing Wednesday, Hogan said he saw no conflict of interest in Soltesz’s dual roles. He said Soltesz told the transition team about his participation in the Purple Line bid process. Soltesz is leading a review of state regulations, and none of his work will touch on the Purple Line or other transportation issues, he said.
“It was never an issue,” Hogan said. “I was honored to have some of Maryland’s top business leaders, some of the smartest people, join our transition team. He’s one of the smartest guys I know.”
When asked by a reporter Wednesday whether he would continue the Purple Line project, Hogan said he was still undecided but added, “Obviously, the fact that we have a $1.35 billion shortfall has a real implication on any decisions on any future state spending, which would include the Purple Line.”
Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.