Time for a New Baltimore County Economic Analyst?

By Peta Richkus.

Editor’s note: We are pleased to publish testimony presented by Ms. Richkus to the Baltimore County Council during their June 25, 2019 Work Session concerning the proposed contract award: Agenda Item FM-17, Economic Consultant to the County Council. The proposed award would be a Sole Source contract to Sage Policy Group, Anirban Basu, Chairman and CEO. The contract award will be voted on during the regular Council Legislative Session on July 1, 2019, 6 pm, in the Council Chambers, Historic Baltimore County Courthouse, 2nd floor.

Good afternoon Chairman Quirk, Council Members. My name is Peta Richkus and I live here in Towson.

First let me say, I don’t envy your having to read all the information that comes to you. This Agenda Package alone is 75 pages long. Your Auditors have done yeoman’s work preparing the Fiscal Notes for this month’s contract items. But based on the discussion, or lack of discussion, I worry that some of the information they are providing may be going unnoticed.

As a former Primary Procurement Officer for the State of Maryland, I know the Board of Public Works would have many serious questions about an Agenda that includes what appears to be six (6) retroactive approval requests and two (2) red flags about potential violations of the County Charter.

But secondly and specifically, I have concerns about the proposed renewal of the County’s consultant contract with Sage Policy Group.

Mr. Anirban Basu, Chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group, has served as chairman of the Baltimore County Economic Advisory Council (BCEAC) since 2002 and provided economic analysis and personal income forecasting services for the Spending Affordability Committee (SAC) since 2010. That’s a long time.

No doubt his on-going work with SAC and BCEAC is and has been very much appreciated. In lieu of a contract, perhaps Mr. Basu – and the other citizen members of these committees – should be compensated for participation instead.

But in the run up to last month’s Council vote, in three (3) Center Maryland videos against the modest revenue enhancements recently approved by the Council, I believe Mr. Basu crossed the line from independent consultant to lobbyist. In my view, his heavily promoted public opposition was a violation of his fiduciary responsibility to the County.

 

It’s one thing to manage potential conflicts of interest when you provide economic analysis for energy suppliers, law firms, and real estate developers; for Associated Builders and Contractors, the Construction Financial Management Association, Maryland Realtors and Marcum Construction Industry Group.

But when Mr. Basu acts as a public advocate against the County’s best efforts to achieve fiscal sustainability, he undermines the appearance of objectivity that is necessary for credibility, and he raises the question of conflict of interest.

So yes, I think it’s fair to ask – Mr. Basu having been economic advisor to the Council all these years of declining fiscal sustainability, Sage Policy Group having been awarded 100’s of thousands of dollars in contracts paid for by County taxpayer dollars and having many clients whose interests may not always align with the County’s – why wouldn’t the County seek a new outside advisor for independent economic analysis?

From a Public Procurement perspective, I respectfully suggest that now would be a good time for the County to open the process for a new economic analyst

 

5 thoughts on “Time for a New Baltimore County Economic Analyst?

  1. The testimony and following Q&A on FM-17 can be viewed on the County’s video of the meeting at the 1 hr 7 minute mark.

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  2. (Sent to Council Secretary Thomas Bostwick)
    Dear Mr. Bostwick,

    Please forward to our Council members this example of the kind of economic analysis bias that can plague a purportedly objective economic assessment or forecast. This May 28, 2018 article was written by Jacqueline Coolidge, a retired economist who spent 15 years at the World Bank, including as their Lead Investment Policy Officer.

    Feedback on Sage Policy Group report “The Coming Storm: How Years of Economic Underperformance are Catching up with Montgomery County”
    https://m.dailykos.com/stories/2018/5/28/1767712/-A-Professional-De-bunking-of-the-Blair-Sage-Smear-Job-on-Montgomery-County-Maryland

    Respectfully, I re-state my opposition to award of a Sole Source contract to Sage Policy Group as proposed on today’s July 1, 2019 Legislative Session agenda as FM-17, and urge the Council issue an open solicitation/procurement for a new Economic Consultant to the County Council.

    Thank you.
    Sincerely,
    Peta N. Richkus
    Towson MD

    Like

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