Audit says PSC failed to get state approval for $453,000 contract
The state Public Service Commission awarded a $453,000 no-bid contract to a Washington law firm and paid a $27,000 court-ordered judgment without getting approval from the Board of Public Works, a legislative audit found.
The audit, which examined the period from Jan. 9, 2004 to Dec. 10, 2006, also found that the commission overbilled utilities to support its operations by $2.2 million.
"It happened before I got here, and it won't happen again," said PSC Chairman Steven B. Larsen, who was appointed this year by Gov. Martin O'Malley. Additional appointments effectively gave the Democratic governor control of the panel.
According to the audit, the PSC entered into a sole-source contract with a law firm during the 2004 fiscal year to provide services related to the out-of-state bankruptcy case of a company regulated by the PSC. The firm was Washington-based Dickstein Shapiro, a PSC spokeswoman said. The PSC did not get approval from the Board of Public Works and did not publish the award, the audit said.
The auditors faulted the PSC for failing to get approvals for a $27,000 judgment it paid to a former employee in fiscal year 2005. The suit was the result of then-PSC Chairman Kenneth N. Schisler's attempt to fire several veteran commission staffers without the approval of a majority of the board. Schisler was appointed by Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
The PSC, which is supported by assessments on the utilities it regulates, overcharged those companies in the fiscal years 2006 and 2007, the audit found. The PSC failed to account for document filing charges and other fees, resulting in the overcollection of about $2.2 million, the auditors found. Auditors suggested that the PSC consult with its attorneys to determine whether the money should be returned.
Andrew A. Green
Stolen device is radioactive
A piece of construction equipment containing radioactive material was stolen from a work site in Waldorf, state environmental officials said yesterday.
The device, a moisture density gauge, contains small amounts of radioactive material and is used to measure moisture in soil and concrete.
Contractors first noticed that the gauge was missing Monday morning, when they arrived at a trailer on the work site and saw that it had been broken into and that various pieces of equipment were missing. The contractor, Laurel-based Greenhorn & Omara Inc., then called the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Ray Manley, chief of MDE's radioactive material and licensing compliance division, said the device is locked and, as long as it stays that way, it won't cause any harm. Even if the thieves manage to open the device, Manley said, it's unlikely to cause problems.
State officials said anyone finding the device should report it immediately to MDE's Radiological Health Program at 866-633-4686, the Charles County Sheriff's Department at 301-932-2222 or Greenhorn & Omara Inc. at 301-982-2800.
: Takoma Park
Council urges impeachment
The Takoma Park City Council has unanimously approved a resolution urging Congress to go forward with impeachment proceedings against President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
The resolution accuses Bush and Cheney of abuses that include misleading the nation on the war in Iraq, allowing the torture of prisoners and overstepping the powers of the executive branch. Similar resolutions have been passed in cities and towns nationally, including Detroit and San Francisco.
At a meeting Monday, all five council members present voted for the measure. Mayor Kathy Porter also expressed support.
Organizers said that while the measure carries no legal authority, they hope it will encourage Maryland's delegation in Congress to take action.
Alonso reports to state board
The Baltimore school system's new chief executive officer, Andres Alonso, made his first appearance before the Maryland State Board of Education yesterday and briefly outlined what he had been doing in his first 14 days on the job.
He had already met with board member David Tufaro. Alonso said that shortly after he was named to the job last month, Tufaro sent a personal e-mail to his office in New York talking about the city schools but not identifying himself as a state board member.
"I got this passionate letter," Alonso said. He called the staff and asked them to set up an appointment to meet the man, and later he recognized his name.
Alonso said he would welcome meetings with any other board members, adding that he has been out in the community "incessantly" to spread the word that the school system should be accountable to the public.
Board members offered support and suggested that they expected him to be successful. The state board typically warmly welcomes new city school leaders, but the relationship has sometimes faltered - as it did 18 months ago when the board attempted to take over some failing city schools.