As legislators convene in Annapolis for a special session on electricity rates, the leader of Harford's delegation will likely abstain from the debate, despite casting a vote for deregulation six years ago.
Del. Barry Glassman, a northern Harford Republican who works as a claims adjuster for BGE, said the ethics counsel for the House of Delegates has advised him to stay away from the vote to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Earlier this year, Glassman abstained from voting on the House bill that passed during the regular session.
"The ethics guy just thought, at this stage, that I'd be better off abstaining. I don't want to appear to have a conflict or do anything that appears as though I have a conflict," Glassman said.
But critics are questioning why Glassman, while employed by BGE, voted in 1999 for the deregulation of the electricity industry. Glassman said that vote pertained to other energy providers - such as Pepco Energy Services and Delmarva Power, which serve a portion of his district - in addition to BGE.
"It's more than a little disingenuous to say BGE was only part of that 1999 bill," said Michael G. Comeau, chairman of the county Democratic Central Committee and a former delegate. "I would guess that if you could turn the clock back, Barry would've been well-advised not to vote at all."
Baltimore County Republican Del. Patrick L. McDonough, one of the leading voices against planned rate increases and the merger of BGE's parent company, Constellation Energy Group, with Florida Power and Light, praised Glassman for staying out of the discussion this year. McDonough also represents a portion of Harford County.
McDonough said Glassman should abstain from any bills pertaining to energy rates, regardless of whether they include other companies.
"He's in a tough spot, but I think he's taking an honest position," McDonough said. "I wouldn't want him voting on these issues. He would have a conflict of interest, as far as I'm concerned."
Kim McCarthy, 37, a Bel Air resident who is anticipating a utility bill of more than $260 next month, said she was disappointed when she called Glassman's office and was told he could not help her.
"If it was morally wrong and unethical when he voted for deregulation and worked for BGE in 1999, it is now morally wrong and unethical that he chose not to participate in finding a solution for his constituents," McCarthy said.
Glassman said the sweep of the 1999 vote across several utility companies allowed him to vote. He said he thought the bill would help consumers.
"Back then, deregulation applied to all utilities, and we thought it was going to lower the rates for everybody," Glassman said, noting that he does not work in management for BGE. "At that point, I was following the Republican leadership."
Every member of Harford's delegation voted for deregulation, which passed overwhelmingly in the Senate and House.
Glassman also abstained this year from voting on Senate Bill 1102, an emergency bill that would have restructured the Public Service Commission, the state agency that regulates all utility companies.
Comeau said it was unfortunate for Harford residents that the leader of the county delegation is unable to participate in an important issue.
"This is the most important issue of the election, and unfortunately, because of circumstances, we've got a delegate who, at least now, has his hands tied," Comeau said. "The people of Harford County don't have the same voice they would have on all other issues."