Ambassador, spare that tree!


October 29, 2006|By LAURA VOZZELLA

The doorbell rings and it's somebody dressed up, pretending to be someone he's not, and he wants something. Trick-or-treater? Or Utility Tree-Trimming Ambassador?

If you've never heard of tree-trimming ambassadors, that's because the state had second thoughts and never created them. For some reason, officials thought they might take some flak if people on utility-company payrolls went door to door in state uniforms, not to beg for candy, but to persuade homeowners that trees growing near power lines ought to be pruned or chopped down.

Officially, the ambassadors would have been state employees. But the utilities would have paid their salaries. So says Steve Koehn, the state forester, who confirmed the gist of what had been related to me as a tale of secret utility-company influence in state government.

"There was some initial thought that the utility companies may or could have underwritten the position, though they would be state employees," he said. "It didn't come to fruition. There was some discussion of the appearance, that [it] looked a little hinkey."

But Koehn said there was no nefarious intent behind the plan, which was discussed a couple years ago by the Maryland Electric Reliability Tree Trimming Council, which has representatives from utility companies as well as Maryland's Public Service Commission, Department of Natural Resources and Department of Planning.

The idea, Koehn said, was to create a liaison between homeowners (who often like their trees unchopped) and the utilities (who like their power lines free of trees). Someone who looked like a neutral third party would approach homeowners - "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help" - and try to smooth the way.

Of course, that third party might not look so neutral if his paycheck could be traced back to BGE or PEPCO. But Koehn said the utilities weren't so keen on the underwriting idea, which had been proposed because the state was short of money.

"The concept of this liaison position did not come from the utilities," he said. "I didn't have a ton of utilities running to my door."

Dubba-dubba-dubba-dubba, BAT-MAN!

Somebody keeps vandalizing Ron Bateman's campaign signs, by cutting out or painting over the letter e. The candidate couldn't be happier. "Bat man for Sheriff" has a pretty good ring to it.

"Everywhere I go, the parades I'm in, people are yelling out, `Batman!'" said Bateman, a Democrat running in Anne Arundel County. "I'm in the company of a superhero, and I like that. ... When it was my turn to give a speech [at a recent fundraiser], I had a Batman shirt under my dress shirt, and I unbuttoned it and bared my Batman shirt and the place roared. I have no idea who's doing this, but they're having fun with this and so am I."

For Ehrlich, hook, line and sinker

Who: Gov. Robert Ehrlich

What: "Governor Ehrlich will present a comprehensive comparison of his record of achievement in stark contrast with the failed record of his opponent on the issues."

Where: Bass Pro Shop, Arundel Mills


Spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver said the governor appeared at the store last week NOT because it was the start of bear season. And NOT because the governor would rappel from the ceiling. But "because it's a thriving business and the management of the store is an Ehrlich supporter who offered up his venue. There really was no hidden meaning."

Connect the dots

St. Jerome's, just a couple of blocks west of M&T Bank Stadium, tried to lure football fans after yesterday's Navy-Notre Dame game with this invite: "Did you promise God something special if the Irish scored a touchdown during that last drive of the UCLA game? Or, do you just want to avoid that `near occasion of sin' while waiting in traffic after the game? Then join us for Liturgy after the ND-Navy game this Saturday." ... Kim McCoy from Northern Anne Arundel County credits the county executive race for helping her 4-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, learn her letters. The pre-schooler was told to come to class with a word beginning with the letter "L." She surprised the teacher with "Leopold."

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