There it was back on the agenda . . . the issue that had sparked open City Hall warfare between Mayor Brandon Scott on one side and City Council President Nick Mosby and Comptroller Bill Henry on the other:
But none of Baltimore’s three top elected officials had a question for a city representative who appeared before them when the BGE conduit agreement came up at Wednesday’s Board of Estimates meeting.
“That was a lot easier than you expected, right?” Mosby quipped to Veobia Akilo, chief of staff for the Transportation Department, making clear no one was going to grill her.
Sitting next to Mosby, Mayor Scott clasped his hands, tipped back his chair and started chuckling.
Should have “been here two months ago,” cracked Acting City Solicitor Ebony Thompson, sending the mayor into full-blown guffaws as Comptroller Bill Henry joined in the merriment.
“I guess from the administration that’s good,” Mosby murmured. “That’s it.”
Thus ended the dispute that led Mosby and Henry to boycott a board meeting in February to protest the mayor’s plan to give Baltimore Gas and Electric extensive control of the city’s underground conduit system in return for promised capital investments.
CharmTV video of 4/5/23 BOE meeting. Conduit exchange starts at 1:06:55.
How could Scott cut this deal in defiance of voters’ wishes, expressed in a November referendum, to ban the transfer or sale of the 700-mile underground cable system, Mosby, Henry and other electeds wanted to know.
Along with ardent speeches, there was procedural sparring.
When Mosby and Henry failed to appear at the BOE meeting, Scott, Thompson and Public Works Director Jason Mitchell went ahead and ratified the deal, counting the absence of Mosby and Henry as abstentions.
The two no-shows then declared the vote illegal because there was not a meeting quorum.
As TV cameras rolled, there was talk of a civil lawsuit and a review by the state attorney’s office. This was followed by three City Council “investigative hearings” – hosted by Mosby and Councilman Eric Costello – where the mayor and BGE were raked over the coals.
“Time after time,” roared Mosby, “the administration has contradicted itself with the communications they’ve provided.”
“This is about people unfortunately doing what’s done – spreading disinformation for reasons that are not in the interest of taxpayers,” retorted Scott in an interview with WYPR’s Midday with Tom Hall.
Amid the political ruckus, several critical aspects of the agreement got lost.
They include the dropping of the city’s own minority and women’s business provisions to appease BGE and criticism of the deal as “completely lopsided in BGE’s favor” by members of the DOT conduit division.
At first, the law department and Scott had said the conduit system lost $7-8 million a year – a claim the Finance Department later walked back.
Then Solicitor Thompson latched onto BGE’s assertion that the new deal would shave $50 million from Baltimore ratepayers’ future electric bills.
Until pressed at the final City Council hearing, Thompson failed to explain that those savings would be spread across the company’s statewide system over four years. That would mean the potential savings to BGE’s 282,000 ratepayers in Baltimore would amount to about $3 million a year.
The end game began when Henry got the mayor to agree to a second vote on the BGE agreement.
That vote was scheduled for Wednesday’s meeting.
But it never took place.
Instead, Mosby read out the names of five organizations that had sent letters to the board opposing the deal. They included the Loch Raven Improvement Association, Commercial Utilities and “a group affectionately known as the Conduit Users Group,” Mosby joked.
“Is anyone here to represent that group?” he asked.
None appeared. He asked if anyone else wished to address the board.
“Hearing and seeing none, this will be reported as ‘noted.’ And that will conclude this item,” Mosby said.
Which meant that the earlier vote approving the agreement stood, that Scott had “won” and that Mosby had moved on to a new issue.
Yesterday, the Council president emailed a “Dear Neighbors Alert” to constituents complaining about the “near total giveaway” of a city parking garage.
“I was again the lone, dissenting vote against this agreement because I firmly believe we must get better value for our city-owned assets,” declared Mosby, who last month announced he will continue to fight for the people by running for a second term.