Inside City Hall
Inside City Hall: Did Lisa Harris Jones stall the polystyrene cup ban?
Above: Lisa Harris Jones is co-host of podcast “Inside Out” with public relations guru Damian O’Doherty.
A proposed Styrofoam cup and container ban had been unanimously approved in committee and had strong support leading up to today’s scheduled second reader vote in the Baltimore City Council.
Or so advocates thought.
“I thought it looked pretty good and that it was coming up for a full Council vote at the 5 o’clock meeting. But then I find out they met at 3 o’clock and it’s been sent back to committee?” said George Peters Jr., of Hampden, founder of Zero Litter and an active advocate for the ban.
Asked to explain his reason for pulling the bill, Councilman James B. Kraft (the bill’s chief sponsor), said later that “there were just some concerns about the bill and we’re going to go back and do some work on it.” Kraft zipped off to an event involving visiting school children and didn’t elaborate.
Peters said he’d had an inkling something was going on when certain Council members who were friendly to the bill appeared to be avoiding him in recent days – and not returning his calls.
“These are people where we each have each other’s cell phone number and, suddenly, crickets,” said Peters, who was nevertheless taken aback by today’s turn of events.
Paid Lobbyist for Chemistry Council
How did Council support for the bill – aimed at getting the cups and containers out of the city’s waste stream, streets and waterways – abruptly erode?
Sources say lobbyist Lisa Harris Jones, registered to represent the American Chemistry Council before the City Council “on polystyrene and related matters,” was in City Hall today working the bill hard.
Jones has been in the news because of her close relations with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other elected officials that her firm, Harris Jones & Malone, lobbies.
Did Not Speak to Kraft
Jones confirmed tonight that she was in City Hall, but said, “I did I did not speak with Councilman Kraft concerning his decision to send his bill back to committee.”
She received $12,500 last year from the Washington-based Chemistry Council, while her husband and lobbying partner, Sean Malone, picked up $6,250, according to disclosure forms filed with the Baltimore Ethics Board.
Asked to discuss her substantive critique of the bill on her client’s behalf, Jones told The Brew, “I’m not authorized by my client to speak about that.” But she provided a copy of her client’s oral testimony delivered to the committee last week.
“We support the concept [of] litter education and prevention, waste minimization and recycling, and supporting programs that address all litter and waste to keep the city of Baltimore clean,” said Mike Levy, director of the Chemistry Council’s Plastics Food Service Packaging Group, in the statement.
Jones, whose firm represents nearly half of the total businesses seeking favors from City Hall, has been in the news because of her close personal friendship with Mayor Rawlings-Blake.
Her Las Vegas wedding last month to Malone – officiated by the mayor and attended by numerous other elected officials attending a shopping center conference – raised eyebrows.
Then the disclosure that the mayor and her daughter stayed over the Memorial Day weekend at Jones’ Rehoboth Beach vacation house stirred even more controversy. The mayor has said she paid Jones $400 for the weekend beach house stay and produced a check made out to the lobbyist.