Early in my tenure as chair of the Maryland Stadium Authority, the wife of a long-serving employee died. As a newcomer, I wasn’t sure whether I should attend the services, but I felt it was my responsibility to be there. I am glad I went.
After I paid my respects, I stayed and watched as many of the authority’s roughly 130 employees arrived at the funeral home in eastern Baltimore County. They came from all over the region, and I saw them embrace their bereaved colleague (who is a pretty tough guy) and share their tears. I saw the close bond that existed within the organization.
This instance was one of my first clues that Stadium Authority employees are a unique group. During the next 7½ years, I got to know them better and to meet their spouses and children. I came to learn that they are the best of the best. Their dedication to doing great work for the citizens of Maryland is rarely matched in my experience.
No matter the person or position, Stadium Authority employees are dedicated to building its reputation and are proud of its record. Since its founding in 1986, each wave of employees has been dedicated to strengthening the organization’s reputation, and no employee seeks an individual spotlight. They work hard and find satisfaction in knowing they do great work and they are part of something larger than themselves. The average tenure of Maryland Stadium Authority staff is measured in decades, not years. Where do you find people like this?
During the eight years I served as chair, Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland Legislature continued to send new challenges. As the volume of work mounted, I was concerned that some members of the Stadium Authority team would push back. But, in truth, exactly the opposite happened. These great people welcomed the work and the challenges. They inspired me.
Now, under the memorandum of understanding executed by Gov. Wes Moore and Orioles Chairman and CEO John Angelos, the Maryland Stadium Authority as created 37 years ago will cease to exist. The rationale they use is a move toward more efficient operations, but what it really means is that hundreds of millions of dollars that belong to the citizens of Maryland will be given to the Orioles to spend as they see fit.
The decisions to spend that money for short-term benefit or to make sure the useful lives of the stadiums are extended for many decades will be made by the Orioles and not the Stadium Authority. The likely result is underinvestment in infrastructure and systems. At some point in the future, the team owner will say the team needs more money because the stadium is deteriorating. We see this with sports facilities all over the state and around the country where team owners have full control over their stadiums.
This is exactly the opposite of what has been the norm at Camden Yards. No longer will contractors be hired through a procurement process, thereby avoiding all the protections the process is established to ensure. No longer will contracts to spend taxpayer dollars be subject to the approval of the Board of Public Works. No longer will Maryland Stadium Authority employees make sure contractors perform work to the organization’s standards. This arrangement needs a lot more sunlight.
Unfortunately, the phenomenal and loyal Stadium Authority employees are collateral damage. Employees have been notified that certain jobs will be eliminated, and others are assuming they too will at some point be let go. The typical high morale is fast evaporating. The governor and the Orioles say they will seek to find jobs for people, but most employees work at the Stadium Authority because they are stadium operations and management professionals and they want to be part of something special. They are invested in their careers, their benefits and their retirements. Shouldn’t these actions be stopped until an actual lease is executed and approved by the Board of Public Works?
Speaking truth to power is hard, but I speak out because this arrangement is the wrong decision and because it is having a devastating impact on people who do great work for the citizens of Maryland. I don’t think “nobody left behind” means much to them today. I hope, if you read this, you will join me, speak out and help correct this mistake before it is too late.
Thomas Kelso was chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority from 2015 to 2023.