Did Brandon Scott outfox Bill Henry and Nick Mosby when he went ahead and held the Board of Estimates meeting today without them present, approving the BGE conduit deal with his own vote and those of his two appointees?
Or did Baltimore’s mayor break the rules, convening a meeting and taking a vote when he had no right to do so?
Standing outside of City Hall today, Baltimore’s No. 2 and No. 3 elected officials said Scott overstepped his authority.
“Let me be clear: there was no meeting of the Board of Estimates this morning,” Comptroller Henry said, standing with City Council President Mosby, three of Mosby’s allies and former Mayor Jack Young, who has been a vocal opponent of the BGE deal.
“The rules and regulations for the Board of Estimates make it clear that a quorum for the board is all five members or their designees,” Henry said.
As he spoke, his staffers handed out copies of the rules that say “the five members of the Board or the members’ designees as specified in the Charter constitute a quorum.”
Scott defended his insistence on approving the agreement, saying he acted “in the best interests” of city residents.
“This is a historic deal that results in millions of dollars of additional investment into the conduit while also ensuring the city retains 100% ownership over every inch of the conduit system,” Scott said in an afternoon statement.
“We are committed to moving forward with our city business despite the absence the City Council president and the comptroller,” Acting City Solicitor Ebony Thompson added in the statement.
“Neither the City Charter provisions nor the rules of the BOE allow that detrimental result.”
It was the latest turn in a surprising day that featured unusually raw remarks by the city’s two highest elected officials and their surrogates.
Knowing they were up against an unfavorable vote given the “strong mayor” make-up of the spending board, Henry and Mosby sat out the meeting, thinking it could not go forward.
But Thompson gave Scott the green light to hold a vote anyway, asserting that three members constitute a quorum and that by their absence, having sent no designees, Mosby and Henry would be counted as “abstentions.”
The Scott administration appeared to be following earlier BOE rules that said a quorum is reached with a simple majority.
Mosby said he called on Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown to issue a legal opinion on the dispute.
Washington Blasts Scott
Meanwhile, a prominent state lawmaker from Baltimore denounced Scott, saying the lack of transparency in his handling of the conduit matter is “destroying any credibility left” in his administration.
“This latest antic displays a level of disdain for Baltimore City voters and the democratic process that he has sworn to uphold,” said State Senator Mary L. Washington in a series of Twitter posts today.
“This act, and many leading up to this outcome, is an abuse of power,” said Washington, who briefly campaigned for mayor in 2020.
Politics over Policy?
Washington’s strong comments underscore the political nature of the conduit controversy, along with the policy debate it has generated over the prospect of turning over financial decisionmaking of the 700-mile network of underground pipes to a powerful private company.
While no local lawmaker has signaled support for the BGE deal, only members of the Council allied with Mosby spoke out today.
Standing with him at a news conference outside of City Hall were Eric Costello, who chaired last week’s special conduit hearing, and Councilmen Mark Conway and Robert Stokes.
Signing a letter to Scott Objecting to the deal were Mosby and all of his Council committee chairs – Sharon Greene Middleton, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer and Danielle McCray – in addition to Costello, Conway and Stokes.
“We write this letter imploring you to do what is best for our constituents and the City of Baltimore by refraining from moving forward with this matter until we have all had an opportunity to review the relevant facts necessary for a fully informed decision,” they wrote.
“Perhaps the most troubling part of this entire situation is what can only be described as your administration maneuvering around 76% of voters who participated in the November 2022 General Election and approved Question E stopping the transfer of ownership of the conduit system,” they added.
“We must always respect the will of voters, even if it doesn’t align with our personal beliefs,” the group declared.