City Council President Nick Mosby and Comptroller Bill Henry boycotted this morning’s Board of Estimates meeting after calling on Mayor Brandon Scott to delay action on a hotly contested conduit contract with Baltimore Gas and Electric.
Scott responded by calling on his two board appointees – Acting City Solicitor Ebony Thompson and DPW Director Jason Mitchell – to establish a quorum.
Treating the absence of Mosby and Henry as abstentions, Scott, Thompson and Mitchell approved the contract 3-0-2. They then ended the session without addressing 150 pages of additional board items.
The public display of open discord between the mayor and Baltimore’s second and third highest-ranked elected officials – punctuated by a long pause midway through the meeting – is unprecedented.
Scott acknowledged that fact by saying he thought “we’d have a normal BOE meeting.” But “left with no choice, this is how we had to do this.”
In a statement released by an aide, Henry and Mosby called on the mayor to delay the contract until the March 15 board meeting. “The city should not rush into this agreement,” they said.
The public display of discord between Scott and Baltimore’s second and third highest-ranked elected officials was unprecedented.
Scott defended his plan to end 120 years of franchise fees paid by BGE in return for the company’s capital investment in the city-owned conduit system, saying that he was elected mayor to do what’s in the residents’ best interests, “no political gains, no political gamesmanship.”
“I am a man of principle. I stand on that,” he continued. “I will always do what’s right and morally grounded in the most ethical way.”
“Lopsided in BGE’s favor”
Last Thursday, the City Council held a hastily convened “investigative hearing” into the secretive conduit deal, whose existence was first revealed by The Brew.
At the same time, other business users of the conduit system called on Scott to delay any decision, saying they were unaware of the BGE negotiations and had many questions about its impact and fairness.
“I will always do what’s right and morally grounded in the most ethical way” – Brandon Scott.
An internal report prepared by the city’s conduit division condemned the plan as “completely lopsided in BGE’s favor,” saying that the electric company “will be in the position to dictate conduit upgrades best for their electrical system needs” without regard for the city’s and other users’ interests.
Under a 2016 agreement, the city contracts out conduit management services to KCI Technologies and Commercial Utilities.
Both are politically juiced companies that give heavily to local elected officials.
The city now pays two politically connected firms – KCI Technologies and Commercial Utilities – to upgrade the conduit system.
At last week’s Council hearing, Mosby and meeting chairman Eric Costello gave Commercial Utilities’ president, Ron Adolph, and parent company CEO Kevin Johnson a forum to vent about the BGE contract.
The city has paid Commercial roughly $100 million since 2016 to upgrade and modernize the conduit system, mostly using franchise fees paid by BGE.
“Simply a lie”
Today, Scott described BGE’s pledge to contribute $120 million in capital improvements over the next four years a tremendous win for the city.
Anyone who says otherwise was “pushing misinformation,” Scott said, because “it is simply a lie.”
Last November, city voters approved a charter amendment that banned the “sale, transfer or leasing” of the 700-mile underground cable system to private hands.
Mosby, Costello and five other members of the Council have seized on the contract language – which gives BGE “sole discretion” to determine what improvements will be made to the network – as evidence that the Scott administration is acting contrary to voters’ wishes.
This week the group called on the mayor to allow the Council to ask further questions and continue to investigate the contract.