Between The Lines


December 15, 2003

No thanks, just pay up

Scott Vogel thought he'd get a "thank you" after he pored over invoices and discovered the city had been overbilled for some light bulbs.

Instead, the city gave him a bill.

It charged Vogel, vice president of Shepherd Electric Supply, $117.70 for the cost of assembling public records for his review.

The charges are mostly for staff time, five hours' worth -- he got two hours for free. The city has the right to pass on those costs under the Maryland Public Information Act, according to the city's Law Department.

Vogel, who recently took part in a bitter bidding war over a $1.1 million lighting contract, was looking up the billing records of a competitor, C.N. Robinson Lighting Supply. That company says the overbillings were honest mistakes, which it rectified with an $895 check to the city.

C.N. Robinson got its own bill for perusing invoices from the winning bidder, B&B Lighting Supply Inc. Robert A. Mills III, president of C.N. Robinson, found the city overpaid B&B by $40,000.

"They didn't give me a `thank you' either," Mills said.

-- Laura Vozzella

Sure to quack you up

Want to hear a duck quack? Call the Parking Authority of Baltimore City.

Confused? That's understandable.

A phone call to the authority's main number begins normally enough: a recorded voice announces business hours and prompts callers to seven choices: press 0 for the operator, 5 for garage parking, 6 for leaving a message, and so on.

The last prompt, however, is where things get strange: "To hear a duck quack," the recorded voice states, "please press 7. Thank you."

A caller who pressed 7 last week was, as promised, greeted by the sound of a quacking duck that sounded more like the laugh of the Penguin from the TV show Batman.

We wanted to call and ask the authority "What's with the duck?" But we didn't want to ruin it for everyone else. Give it a try: 443-573-2800. We'll ask next week and let you know what the quack is going on.

-- Doug Donovan

Prenatal party-planning

After Tuesday's Baltimore County Council work session, Bryan P. Sears, a reporter for the Towson Times, stopped to chat with Kevin Kamenetz, the council chairman, whose wife, Jill, was due to have the couple's second baby later in the week.

"Do you know what the baby will be?" Sears asked.

"A Democrat," Kamenetz responded.

-- Andrew A. Green

What goes up ... slowly ...

The O'Malley brain trust might want to think about instituting ElevatorStat. On Thursday at the city's Charles Benton Building on East Fayette Street, just one of seven elevators was working. Grumbling riders complained it wasn't the only time they'd had to wait several minutes for a lift.

This sad state of affairs inspired one intrepid FedEx delivery man to minimize his pain. After riding the elevator up, he hopped off at the 11th floor to drop off a package, but not before pressing 14. That way, by the time the elevator stopped at 11 on its way back down, he'd be there waiting. And he was.

-- Scott Calvert

A more formal choice

Just like in city rowhouse neighborhoods, parking is scarce enough in the Rodgers Forge that residents become fiercely protective of the parking spaces they dig out of the snow.

But make no mistake: This isn't Hampden or Little Italy. Instead of plastic lawn furniture, at least two households in the Forge had marked off their spots after last week's snow with ladderback dining room chairs.

-- Andrew A. Green

Forgotten flora

The petal-pushers at Flower Mart thought it would be fun for Baltimore to have an official city flower. So they've been planning to have people vote on one at the annual floral event in May.

Then, they hoped, the City Council and mayor would make the pick official.

Trouble is, the city already has an official flower, the red rose, chosen by public ballot at the 1955 Flower Mart. (No particular variety was specified.)

Baltimoreans used to celebrate the city flower each year on Rose Day, the second Monday after Easter.

But times change and flowers get forgotten.

Before the rose was chosen, the City Council pondered the proper municipal bloom by having bouquets of several flowers paraded before them in the arms of "scantily clad bathing beauties," according to a news account from the time.

-- Laura Vozzella

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