Berlin Needs To Hold Consultant Accountable

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It was welcome news this week to hear the Town of Berlin is seeking some sort of “fair” compensation from the consultant that unnecessarily cost the municipality about $435,000.

Berlin Mayor Gee Williams reported as much this week and intimated the town would go to court if necessary to recoup some of the money the town will have to spend to right the mistake. While power issues can be complicated, the simplest way to explain what happened is the town contracts with a consultant, Booth and Associates, to manage its power operations. The town meets each December with the Maryland Public Service Commission to review the town-owned electric company’s purchased power cost adjustment.

That review found the town missed a peak power generation period in February that should have been tracked by the consultant. The end result being the town needs to recover $435,876 from property owners. Rather than pass it all on to the consumers, the town opted to use $100,000 of its significant reserves to soften the blow, resulting in property owners seeing their electric bills increase by $2.50, starting this month, to make up the shortage.

We think using some of the reserves as well as the slight increase to consumers is a reasonable approach to addressing this large error so long as whatever compensation the town does receive back from Booth and Associates is divided equally among the property owners in town to return the electric payments to their normal level. After all, the consumers did nothing wrong here.

Along with holding the consultant responsible for the fiscal hit, it’s how the town arrived at that decision that has also attracted concern. Councilman Thom Gulyas is, “aggravated as hell we didn’t know about this until after the fact.” He said, “We had no input on this whatsoever. It appears the town administrator and the mayor made this decision. I’m furious about that.”

Mayor Gee Williams responded to those concerns this week with a letter to the editor. He defended the town’s position on it and the decision regarding how to address the shortfall.

The mayor said it’s his and Town Administrator Laura Allen’s, “job to take care of things as they happen.” He also said the matter would have come up before the entire council at the end of last year but the town cancelled two meetings at the end of the year. In the end, the mayor said after some hindsight retrospection he would not do anything differently in the situation.

Surely, the council should have been briefed on this matter before a decision was made, even it was simply through an email, but the most critical issue here is how far the town is willing to go to recoup some of the money that was lost because of this mistake by the consultant. It’s a big deal and mistakes like this are inexcusable.

The town needs to see some sort of payment from the consultant because it didn’t do its job. If no “fair” agreement can be reached, it’s worth litigation and certainly worth shopping the free market for another company.

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