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Quirk: Criticisms of County Council’s handling of economic consultant contract are baseless

Quirk: Criticisms of County Council’s handling of economic consultant contract are baseless
Baltimore County Councilman Tom Quirk poses for a photo at the Catonsville Fire Station in Catonsville in 2016. (Jen Rynda / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

On behalf of my colleagues on the Baltimore County Council, I am writing to take issue with David Plymyer’s commentary, “A conflict of interest in Baltimore County” (July 29), in which he makes numerous illogical assumptions and factual errors to further his own evidence-lacking conclusions. Mr. Plymyer strangely attacks our legislative body for debating publicly the question of whether to maintain our $6,400 per year contract with Sage Policy Group, Inc. rather than focusing his attention on the result of our deliberations in which we decided collectively and in a bipartisan manner to commence a competitive procurement of a new contract.

His suggestion that we should have simply disqualified Sage as a vendor based on the personal views of CEO Anirban Basu — or based on the company’s corporate clientele — suggests that Mr. Plymyer would not be an effective elected official should he wish to consider this line of work. While my colleagues and I discovered through our deliberative process that certain legal and contract compliance concerns may indeed exist with Mr. Basu’s lobbying activities, we were right in not rushing to judgment on the serious question of a conflict of interest. Our legislative process functioned exactly as it should with public testimony and council deliberation leading to the informed decision to withdraw the contract rather than bringing it to a vote prematurely.

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As elected officials, my colleagues and I are aware that government procurement decisions must seek to ensure the best use of taxpayer dollars. In this case, Sage has been providing economic analysis and personal income forecasting services to Baltimore County’s spending affordability committee since 2010, and Mr. Basu has been providing discussion facilitation services to the county auditor’s economic advisory committee (which also includes individuals from various elements of the business community) since 2002. For these services, the cost to taxpayers has been very reasonable. In recent years, the cost has totaled approximately $1,600 per quarter or $6,400 annually. Neither service influences the County Council’s “regulatory” responsibilities, as Mr. Plymyer tries to suggest. Rather, our spending affordability committee relies on the data‐driven personal income forecast to help develop its legislatively‐mandated spending guideline recommendations, and our legislative auditors rely on the economic analysis and real‐time observations of our economic advisory committee members in formulating their independent revenue forecast. These purposes are in no way related to the County Council’s zoning or PUD sponsorship decisions, as he also alleges.

It is disingenuous and, frankly, appalling that Mr. Plymyer brings up the council’s role in land development as the “gotcha” motive for our consideration of this contract with Sage when, in actuality, the services in question merely furnish economic indicator data to our analysts. In short, he seems to care more about seizing every opportunity to criticize the council than he does about getting his facts straight. The personal vitriol Mr. Plymyer appears to have for members of this council is puzzling and unfortunate. It is equally unfortunate that The Sun is so quick to propagate his evidence‐light narratives.

Tom Quirk, Catonsville

The writer, a Democrat, is chairman of the Baltimore County Council.

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