Once more, with less feeling.

Baltimore’s mayor-controlled spending board on Wednesday again considered the $139 million deal with Baltimore Gas & Electric pushed by Mayor Brandon Scott for maintenance to the city’s underground network for infrastructure.

This time all five members of the board were in the room. But — unlike the rancorous first vote nearly two months ago — there was no discussion, and no vote was taken.

The Scott administration has made it clear that there is no decision that still needs to be made on the conduit deal, City Council President Nick Mosby said when the contract came up before the Board of Estimates on Wednesday.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Discussions could have happened “two months ago,” Acting City Solicitor Ebony Thompson commented, drawing laughs, as the disputed contract was met with silence from the board members this time around.

Wednesday’s meeting came seven weeks after the Board of Estimates was first scheduled to make a decision on the contract giving BGE access to the city-owned conduit, the 741-mile underground network of tubes housing wires for streetlights, cable and internet service.

But whether or not that Feb. 15 vote actually happened has been the subject of fierce disagreement between the mayor and other elected officials since then. In a dramatic show of political muscle, Scott and two of his appointees forced the contract through the spending board despite a boycott by Mosby and Comptroller Bill Henry, who have maintained since that the vote taken in their absence was illegitimate.

The non-action Wednesday amounted to a tacit agreement from Mosby and Henry that the contested vote from February counted — a fizzle after the fireworks of earlier this year.

The contract allows BGE, a private utility, to receive access to the city-owned underground conduit by footing the bill for repairs to the network instead of directly paying city fees — terms that have drawn backlash in some corners of city government in light of last year’s citywide vote barring the sale or privatization of the system.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Disagreements over the conduit deal roiled City Hall earlier this year after a draft was leaked to the news media, leading to a series of multi-hour City Council hearings, an unlikely alliance between Mosby and Henry and hints of possible legal action.

Mayor Brandon Scott speaks to media after the Board of Estimates meeting at City Hall in Baltimore, February 15, 2023.
Mayor Brandon Scott speaks to the news media after the Board of Estimates meeting at City Hall in Baltimore, Feb. 15, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

But while other elected officials cast doubt on the process that led to the deal, the Scott administration forged ahead, maintaining that the deal ensures much-needed investment for a declining city asset while retaining “100% ownership” of the system. Days after the February dust-up, BGE filed the agreement to the Maryland Public Service Commission, where it is part of a 10-month-long case to set the utility’s new gas and electric rates.

No lawsuits over Scott’s handling of the deal have been filed so far. The lasting implications of the dispute for Baltimore’s three citywide elected officials remain up in the air.

BGE, meanwhile, has argued before the City Council and the Board of Estimates that the deal will deliver $50 million in savings to its ratepayers. The utility has asked state regulators for a rate increase of about 5% a year for customers receiving both gas and electric services.

After the contract came up again at the Board of Estimates a month ago — only to be deferred — Scott took the opportunity to defend his decision to press forward without his colleagues. “If there was a better deal to be done, that deal would have been done,” the mayor said at the time. “This deal is done. The vote from last week is valid.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Henry, meanwhile, stood by the tactics he and Mosby deployed and turned to the voters of Baltimore to decide whether they think their elected officials handled the situation fairly. Without a judge to weigh in, the comptroller said then, “it’s clear that we just have to agree to disagree.”

After trading barbs a month ago, the mayor reached out and shook the comptroller’s hand.