BGE workers in the field don't deserve public's heat

March 23, 2006|By DAN RODRICKS

A friend who works for BGE -- a man in a van who responds to gas leaks and downed electrical lines -- says, "The customers are not happy." He and his house-calling co-workers, the real frontline guys for BGE, have been catching flak about the large, looming electric bill increases, though they had nothing to do with it.

Apparently, the flak has been heavy in spots. We got an e-mail from inside Constellation Energy, BGE's holding company, asking for relief for the guys in the field. (The plea came from a Constellation employee who works in personnel services but asked not to be identified by name.)

"Please, fellow Maryland citizens," she wrote, "recognize that Joe Meter Reader and Joe Lineman are very, very far away from the rate issues. They are slobs like you and me, trying to just make a living. They are out there in 7-Elevens, Burger Kings, etc. wearing their jackets with the BGE logo. They are being threatened, harassed, insulted, and blamed by some very unthinking, emotional folks. Be kind to them."

Everybody got that?

Lay off the BGE guys. If you want to vent, vent toward the State House, the Public Service Commission or Constellation. Write a "Dear Mayo" letter today. You'll feel better, maybe.

For the record

In Sunday's column, I left two important names off my list of Maryland delegates who voted for electricity deregulation in 1999. Kenneth D. Schisler and Charles R. Boutin were among the yea-sayers. Of course, those palookas are no longer in the House of Delegates. Today -- or for the time being -- they are looking out for Maryland consumers from seats on the Public Service Commission!

Morhaim explains

Here are some of the reasons Dan Morhaim, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, gave for his 1999 vote against electricity deregulation in a recent letter to his Baltimore County constituents:

"I was not convinced that market manipulation would save consumers' money. The leading advocate for this was Enron, prior to its collapse. Even then, at the height of their success, the case they made did not make sense. It was based on theories of market manipulation, not fundamental efficiencies in the way electricity is generated or transmitted.

"There were insufficient protections for people who might not be able to pay their utility bills.

"The bills did not do enough to protect the environment from power plants, nor did they support development of alternative, environmentally friendly ways of power generation.

"The artificial rate caps, while helpful to consumers in the short run, worked against creating the very market forces the bills purported to create.

"The $500 million payout to BGE for their `stranded costs' [in projected losses from sales of power-generating facilities] has turned into an enormous windfall for the company, with the state and consumers having no way to recoup that investment. Additionally, this payout is now being used by BGE to boost its value in the proposed merger [with Florida's FPL Group], further increasing the multimillions of dollars going to its top executives."

(He means "Mayo." Like I said, write a letter.)

Hiring policies

William Paul Hickman hasn't been in prison for five years, and he hasn't used heroin in seven. But he says his criminal record -- thefts related largely to 10 years of trying to support a drug habit -- keeps him, at the age of 53, from getting a job in sales. He can't seem to catch a break.

"My qualifications are good, and I ace the interviews," Hickman says of his experiences trying to land jobs with furniture stores and other chains. "The people who I interview with seem to like me. But ... "

But those people work for large corporations, many of which have strict policies against hiring ex-offenders, particularly in this security-obsessed post-9/11 world. Local managers don't get to make judgments on a case-by-case basis. We note that as another consequence of the trend toward national chains -- fewer opportunities for the ex-offender to redeem himself in the modern job market.

"Is it not logical and fair to think that, when a man pays for his actions with whatever society deems a fair price, he should be allowed to redeem himself, be allowed to move on?" Hickman wrote in an e-mail to The Sun. "Is it not the right thing to do to give a man a chance to be a man again? Is that also better for society?

"What happens when this large [population] becomes our throwaways? We become bitter, hopeless, angry and, in some cases, criminal."

In fact, in Maryland, the criminal recidivism rate is about 50 percent; without significant reforms in corrections policy, half of the men and women released from our prisons this year will be back inside by 2009.

"Are none of us ever going to be allowed to become humans again?" Hickman writes.

"And now, after I've had my little say, I'd like to ask for your help. I'm in a tailspin -- an ex-offender locked out ... because of my past. I'm a decent man, good employee, and now a law-abiding citizen, but still locked out. I need help! I need to feel whole again, to feel like a man again, to stay away from that deadly revolving door."

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

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