Baltimore’s three top elected officials – at loggerheads over a conduit deal with BGE – did agree on one thing today:
That a vote on the measure by the full complement of Board of Estimates members will be delayed until the April 5 meeting.
Two weeks ago, Comptroller Bill Henry and City Council President Nick Mosby failed to appear at a board meeting where Mayor Brandon Scott and his two appointees planned to act on the controversial issue.
The administration was prepared to approve an agreement that ended BGE’s $28 million annual payments to rent space in the city’s under-the-streets electrical and telecom system in return for the utility’s promise to invest in major improvements.
While the deal was underlaid with legal complexities and contingencies, the political blowback was simple and fierce.
Mosby and other electeds denounced the proposed agreement – first disclosed by The Brew in January – as a giveaway to a for profit company in defiance of voters’ wishes, expressed in a charter amendment approved overwhelmingly last November, that banned the sale or transfer of the 700-mile system.
On February 15, Mayor Scott, Acting City Solicitor Ebony Thompson and Public Works Director Jason Mitchell voted to approve the deal, after Thompson said the absence of Henry and Mosby amounted to abstentions.
The two no-shows, meanwhile, appeared before a gaggle of reporters in front of City Hall and declared the vote illegal because all five members (or their designees) were needed to constitute a quorum to hold the meeting.
Both before and after the vote, the City Council has held “investigative hearings” where the mayor and BGE were raked over the coals.
Elephant in the Room
The fight continued less acrimoniously today when a vote on the BGE deal – set as the meeting’s finale – was deferred at Henry’s request.
All five members approved kicking the conduit can down the road for another month.
After wading through 428 pages of other agenda items, the panel turned back to the elephant in the room.
The mayor and city solicitor staunchly defended their February 15 vote, saying BGE had taken the matter as a done deal to the Maryland Public Service Commission as part of its recently filed rate case, which proposes to boost electric rates 5% over the next three years.
Scott said the agreement was “the best deal” because it required the company to assume the capital costs of aging infrastructure in lieu of rental fees.
“Never, and I repeat, never, have I done anything or made any decision that was not in the best interests of those who call this great city home,” he said.
Thompson reiterated BGE’s claim that the deal will “secure a $50 million savings in rate increases for our residents.”
“We’ll just have to agree to disagree,” Henry said, addressing Scott and Thompson sitting to his side.
Henry repeated his assertion that the February 15 vote was null and void, saying he had an opinion by former City Solicitor Jim Shea that a quorum of five is required to convene the board.
Denounced by Mosby
Mosby once again denounced the deal with BGE as “anti-democratic.”
Referring to the Scott administration’s claim that the conduit system lost $7 million a year – only to drastically backpedal from that figure last week – Mosby said that “time after time the administration has contradicted itself with the communications provided.”
He said the BGE contract was “rushed” in secret by the Scott administration, then “forced down the throats of the citizens of Baltimore.”
Also speaking from the floor today was Kobi Little, president of the Baltimore NAACP, and Charles Washington, vice president of BGE.
They respectively denounced and praised the electric company as “racist” and “inclusive” in its treatment of employees.
Kobi further asserted that BGE’s chief counsel was ”trying to intimidate and bully me” through text messages and Voicemail.