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The Drip5:27 pmDec 13, 20120

Inside City Hall: Rapprochement

Above: Mayor Rawlings-Blake (right) and Comptroller Joan Pratt at yesterday’s Board of Estimates meeting. Between them: City Council President Jack Young.

They talked.

After six months of blistering public comments, an inspector general’s investigation, a lawsuit and more, it’s news that Baltimore’s No. 1 and No. 3 elected officials are speaking again.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Comptroller Joan M. Pratt both agreed, in separate interviews yesterday, that they have met one-on-one and are apparently ironing out their differences.

“We’re meeting, we’re working together,” Rawlings-Blake said, while attending the opening ceremony of a PriceRite supermarket in Pigtown.

An hour earlier at City Hall, Pratt also conceded that she and the mayor had directly spoken – something Pratt had repeatedly denounced Rawlings-Blake for not doing since the two came to blows last June.

The blows had to do with Pratt’s complaints – first publicly aired at a June 13 Board of Estimates meeting – that the mayor was “illegally” and “underhandedly” trying to install Voice-Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) telephones in violation of city bidding rules.

“Phonegate” we dubbed the controversy.

City Hall Reality Show?

Pratt’s charges were rejected by City Solicitor George Nilson, got a more receptive response from Inspector General David McClintock (he found the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology squandered money but did nothing illegal), then were pursued in a lawsuit filed by Pratt, followed by countercharges by the mayor, etc. etc.

Through it all – for six long months – the mayor and comptroller wouldn’t speak to one another, according to Pratt.

Yesterday, the mayor tried to make light of the dispute.

“You all like to turn City Hall into a reality show,” she said, referring to the media. “This is probably bad news for you, but, yes, we’re working together.”

The budding rapprochement – Pratt hasn’t yet withdrawn her lawsuit, though there were hints yesterday she might – was evident at yesterday’s Board of Estimates meeting.

Pratt was still critical of a $2.4 million renewal of a Digicon contract that figured in the original blowup, but Rawlings-Blake made it a point to say her administration would address Pratt’s questions by the end of business today.

This measured response was in contrast to the brusque dismissal of Pratt’s concerns as “baseless personal attacks” by the mayor’s spokesman, Ryan O’Doherty, over the summer.

By virtue of her lock on Board of Estimates votes, Rawlings-Blake succeeded in awarding the contract to Digicon yesterday (over Pratt’s “nay” vote).

Clearly, the two officials have a ways to go – beyond personal cordiality – if their goal is to craft a coherent strategy to deal with the reality that the city’s phone system is woefully obsolete and very costly to operate.

After yesterday’s meeting, Pratt suggested that she was making headway in her attempt to win passage of a $7.4 million contract to IBM to upgrade and modernize the network with new phones.

That contract, which she says will lower the city’s monthly phone bill by $400,000, has been in limbo ever since “phonegate” erupted.

–Fern Shen contributed to this story.

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