Before he departed for Arizona Tuesday to deliver a speech on the economy, President Biden was asked by a reporter if he would be visiting the border.
His answer? “There are more important things going on.”
Now, if he’d been referring to, say, the fact that the sun will sputter out and go dark in seven billion years then, yeah, that’s more important. But he was just talking about some manufacturing investments he’d be touting in Phoenix.
This is only the administration’s latest attempt to dismiss the border crisis. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said last week, “Some people are so focused on the southern border, and that’s really not the issue.”
And who can forget Vice President Kamala Harris, the sort-of-border czar, repeating Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ assertions that the border is secure?
When folks are this desperate to get you to believe that up is down, black is white, and two plus two equals five, there’s a reason.Biden’s administration has downplayed the border crisis. Getty Images/ David McNew President Biden responded to a reporter that “there are more important things going on.”AFP via Getty Images see also Biden says he won’t go to US border because of ‘more important things’
It’s not just that they know the public disapproves of the border chaos. Past administrations, including Democratic ones, acknowledged public concern over immigration by tightening their policies to make it harder for foreigners to illegally enter.
This administration, on the other hand, is the first in our nation’s history to reject the very idea of deterring illegal immigration.
That’s not because there’s some kind of plan to import voters. Sure, those are ancillary benefits for the left, but the deeper reason this administration, from the president on down, doesn’t think what’s happening at the border is important is that they believe immigration controls are morally wrong — period. They believe that the American people simply have no right to keep anyone out. And if the immigration law requires them to do that — as it obviously does — they’ll do their best to circumvent and ignore the law.
In other words, the Biden administration sees the Immigration and Nationality Act as the equivalent of Jim Crow, and undermining it is the heroic equivalent of escorting black students into desegregated schools.As of October, the immigrant population in the US has gone up by 3.2 million under the Biden administration.Anadolu Agency via Getty Images/ Christian Torres
That’s what Biden means when he says “There are more important things going on” than the border crisis — not that it’s inconsequential, but that you’re a bad person for noticing.
But the consequences are real. As of October, the total immigrant population (legal and illegal) had increased by 3.2 million in the 21 months since Biden took office. Most of that increase, about 2 million, are illegal immigrants, responding to La Invitacion from Biden to cross the border and stay. The foreign-born now make up 14.7% of the population, matching the level of 1910, just before the effects of World War I and new immigration reform bills reduced the flow of newcomers.
The impact of all this on our schools, health care, infrastructure, etc. — not to mention the drugs and crime that are entering because Border Patrol has been turned into the Welcome Wagon — is huge. Maybe most important is the question of whether we can successfully assimilate such a flow. As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said earlier this year, “just the sheer number of people overwhelms communities. And this idea of mass immigration . . . is not conducive to assimilating people into American society.”The percentage of foreign-born people in the US is at its highest number since 1910.Getty Images/ John Moore
That seems pretty darn important to me.
Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.
The vast geothermal energy locked below Earth’s surface has scientists drooling, because it has the potential to provide clean energy to the entire world. To tap into this natural power, engineers must devise a new strategy for drilling a dozen miles into Earth, deep into rock. An MIT spinoff company believes it has the answer: millimeter wave drilling.
“The total energy content of the heat stored underground exceeds our annual energy demand as a planet by a factor of a billion,” Matt Houde, co-founder of Quaise Energy, says in a news release. “So, tapping into a fraction of that is more than enough to meet our energy needs for the foreseeable future.”
It’s just the tapping that’s an issue.
Using research from Paul Woskov of MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, Quaise Energy believes it can vaporize enough rock to create the world’s deepest holes and harvest geothermal energy at scale to satisfy human energy consumption without the need for fossil fuels.
Simply put, geothermal energy is heat contained deep within Earth. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, that heat is a result of radioactive particles like uranium, thorium, and potassium in Earth’s core slowly decaying. It can get quite hot here—like surface of the sun hot at 10,800 degrees Fahrenheit.
To harness this geothermal energy, countries like Iceland convert it to electricity through steam. As water is heated in geothermal reservoirs or aquifers in Earth’s curst, steam is created, which then turns turbines that activate a generator, ultimately spitting out electricity. When the steam becomes water again, it’s returned to the ground so it can go through the cycle all over again.
While this is a nearly limitless form of sustainable energy production, it’s currently being underutilized. According to the International Energy Agency, geothermal electricity generation grew only about 2 percent in 2020 with an added 200 megawatts of capacity, a marked fall from the growth seen in the previous five years. A typical coal plant, mind you, has about 600 MW of capacity, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
To reach net-zero emissions by 2030, global geothermal energy production needs to increase by 13 percent each year between 2021-2030, or about 3.6 gigawatts of capacity. For that to happen, we need better access to this ultra-hot water from Earth’s core. That’s where millimeter wave drilling comes in.
Currently, the world’s deepest drilled hole is the Kola Superdeep Borehole in Russia near Norway. A project of the Soviet Union—and the result of a lesser-known scientific race with the U.S.—it was an attempt to drill as deeply as possible into Earth’s crust, which is on average about 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) thick beneath continents, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. But this hole reaches just 7.6 miles into the crust and took 20 years to complete because conventional equipment, such as mechanical drills, can’t handle the conditions at those depths.
Quaise technology, designed to blast rock with millimeter waves, might be a solution. By replacing conventional drill bits with millimeter wave energy, powered by a gyrotron machine, it’s possible to melt and then vaporize the rock to create many of these deep holes. It took MIT over 15 years to develop the general technique in a lab, eventually demonstrating the millimeter waves could drill holes in basalt. Quaise says its technology will allow it to reach 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) into the ground, where temperatures reach over 900 degrees Fahrenheit.
The plan is to usher in a hybrid design, first using conventional rotary drilling technology developed by the oil and gas industries to cut through Earth’s surface layers. Then, once crews reach the basement rock, they switch over to high-power millimeter waves, which are “ideal for the hard, hot, crystalline rock deep down that conventional drilling struggles with,” Houde says.
Quaise says it will have its first full-scale hybrid drilling rig up and running by 2024. By 2026, the company says its first geothermal system—rated to 100 megawatts of thermal energy—will be operating from a handful of wells. By 2028, it projects it can start replacing fossil fuel-powered energy plants with geothermal plants.
“At these high temperatures we’re accessing, we’re producing steam very close to, if not exceeding, the temperature that today’s coal and gas-fired power plants operate at,” Houde says. “So, we can go to existing power plants and say, ‘We can replace 95 to 100 percent of your coal use by developing a geothermal field and producing steam from the Earth, at the same temperature you’re burning coal to run your turbine, directly replacing carbon emissions.’”
This isn’t a done deal. Quaise says it needs to better understand rock properties at great depth and advance the supply chain for gyrotrons, the linear-beam vacuum tubes that produce the millimeter waves. Currently, the equipment in question is optimized for specialized one-off fusion research projects, but the technology must be produced in quantity and with a robust design suitable for a field environment.
Then comes some additional engineering challenges, such as the proper removal technique for the ash created during the borehole drilling, and the need to keep the bored holes stable and open once completed.
“This will happen quickly once we solve the immediate engineering problems of transmitting a clean beam and having it operate at a high energy density without breakdown,” Woskov says in the news release. “It’ll go fast because the underlying technology, gyrotrons, are commercially available.”
A gyrotron features a powerful beam source, like lasers, but with a different frequency range. “I thought,” says Woskov, “why not direct these high-power beams, instead of into fusion plasma, down into rock and vaporize the hole?”
With geothermal energy sources plateauing across the world because conventional drilling methods proved impractical to handle the hotter and harder crusts much deeper than the shallow depths of 400 feet, the United States Department of Energy has offered a grant to Quaise to increase the company’s experiments with a larger gyrotron to continue improving the vaporizing abilities. Work also continues to grow the power of the drill.
“It’s really engineering challenges we have to answer, which doesn’t mean they’re easy to solve, but we’re not working against the laws of physics, to which there is no answer. It’s more a matter of overcoming some of the most technical and cost considerations to making this work at a large scale,” Houde says.
Courtney Linder contributed to this report.
The Sun Chronicle reports that Atlantic City’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not attraction is closing.
Ripley’s displays all sorts of hardly believable exhibits. I couldn’t find a reason for the closure but I suspect every-day news is so fantastic, a special collection is unnecessary to tantalize and amaze. Perhaps the attendance waned as potential attendees simply viewed the daily news.
To fill the void, I thought I might offer a periodic collection of Bob’s Believe It or Nots — commentaries that might astonish and concern citizens who treasure democracy, freedom and preservation of liberty.
We’ll highlight the absurdity that pervades society, often proffered by our political leaders. We’ll make note of news items that might otherwise slip by or be minimized as unimportant.
Here we go, our first installment of Bob’s Believe It or Not.
As of the end of November, a couple states were reported by The Washington Post to be still counting votes. I fear the next election will come and this one still won’t be settled. Some references suggest the piles of early mail-in votes that are not allowed to be counted until Election Day are the issue. Seems a more efficient counting system is in order.
On Dec. 2, CNBC reported the Biden administration has overruled railroad unions’ right to strike. There is a dearth of detail on the specifics of issues but there seems to be a problem with paid sick time.
Here is the answer: When Texas Instruments was in Attleboro, we were introduced to a new paid time off (PTO) plan. Employees got a defined amount of PTO, depending on longevity. There was no specified time for sick, vacation, personal time; just days allowed. The company expected everyone to act in a mature manner and decide how they wanted to use their allotted time. Most thought it was a good plan but it caused distress for some who did not like having to make decisions for themselves.
So hang on union supporters, the Dems will take all the political contributions you can feed them, but when it’s time — since they apparently know better than union members — your labor negotiations will be muted. More significantly, everyone ought to be incensed that the government is interfering with private business-labor relations.
The Dec. 6 Mass Teachers Association’s newsletter has advised their members of disappointment associated with actions demonstrated by many politicians who were generous recipients of MTA campaign contributions. Only Sen. Elizabeth Warren was singled out as being against the government intervention in that labor contract dispute.
On Nov. 26, NPR reported the Biden administration was positioning Chevron to buy oil from Venezuela. Not long ago we were trying to depose strongman Nicolás Maduro and retire the dictatorship in Venezuela. Now we want to support their economy by buying Venezuelan oil, all well the Biden administration continues economy-stifling “clean energy” policies. Is there some clever, underlying theme in the best interests of the U.S. hidden in this seemingly nonsensical action?
Guns, again, still. On Dec. 1, a Sun Chronicle contributor from Utah noted that Soviet soldiers, returning from the Great Patriotic War, had to turn in their rifles. That did not turn out well for millions of citizens subjugated and oppressed by the Soviet regime.
If you don’t like private gun ownership, change the Constitution. Comparing gun ownership to drivers’ license is a false equivalency. The state says driving is a privilege. Believe it or Not, the Constitution says gun ownership is a right. Big, big, big difference.
Kudos to the Dems. You have to believe (or not) Democratic strategists had to have known that the (likely) illegal taxpayer-funded student loan bailout was never going to pass legal muster. Anyone want to challenge that proposition and insist they are just every-day, plain dumb? The plan was brilliant and perfectly timed. Just before an election tell millions of debtors the Democrats are going to have other taxpayers pay their legally incurred loans (well, not in those words.) Then, with total understanding the program won’t (likely) pass legal challenge, position your party to be able to say: “Look at those nasty conservatives, making the Supreme Court cancel our efforts to help you out. How nasty are they?” Got to deliver credit where due.
The sad and scary part is a lot of people truly believe that “loan forgiveness” is an accurate description of taxpayer-funded loan bailouts. On Nov. 10, CNN reported that legal challenges were mounting for the “forgiveness” program.
Not a published story, but rather an observation: Believe it or not, some people think that on-line platforms like Facebook, Twitter and so forth are actually rational, reasonable, valid forums for intelligent discussion.
These platforms are nothing more than exchanges for entertainment and self-aggrandizing to let others see how cute a cat is chasing a flashlight beam.
And thus concludes the first installment of Bob’s Believe It or Not. As events such as these pile up, I’ll illuminate them in future issues of Bob’s Believe It or Not.
From TONY JOHN, Port Harcourt
The governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Rivers State, Senator Magnus Abe, had declared that if elected into office in 2023 as governor, his administration will unite the people of the state.
Abe made the declaration while addressing a town hall meeting at the palace of Chief Victor Odili, the Onwa of Ndoni in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government area of Rivers State.
He said: “The first thing that we plan to do is that we must bring Rivers people together. If people are not interested, can they make progress? If we are teaching each other to hate each other, to pull down others, to tear each other’s posters, to fight each other and we are buying guns to kill one another will the state progress?
“The first thing we must do is that we must bring Rivers people together in peace, in love with a firm commitment that we are going to make tomorrow better than today.
“If we work together and we are united, the Kalabari man is working with the Ogoni man the Ogoni man is working with, the Hausa man in Rivers State, the Hausa man is working with the Igbo man, the Igbo man is working with the Ogba man, the Ogba man is working with the Obolo man, the Obolo man is working with the Wakirike man, the Wakirike man is working with the Asa people, the Asa people are working with the Ndoki people.
“If all of us work together, would there be any problem in Rivers state that we cannot solve? Would there be anything that will confront us that we cannot work together and look for the solution to that problem? We will unite the state, we will end bitterness, acrimony injustice and hatred.
“We will pass laws that are fair to everybody and we will take out those laws that target other people.”
The SDP governorship candidate said the days have gone when one person would sit in his house or office to write the result of an election, saying the 2023 general election will be one man, one vote.
Abe said: “As we all know next year, by now, the kind of noise that is going on in Rivers State, even the deaf has heard that there will be elections next year, even the blind can see that there will be election next year.
“Even those who have absolutely no interest in politics know that next year election will be different from every other election in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, because the laws have change.
“More important, with the changing of the laws, the people of Nigeria have changed they now know the importance of elections, and they all want to vote next year because they know that their votes will count.
“In the elections of 2023, it will he one man one vote, one woman one vote, one youth one vote, one governor one vote, one Senator one vote, one driver one vote, one farmer, one vote, one vulcanizer one vote, one honourable one vote, everybody would be counted.
“Those elections that we use to do where one person will carry the result sheet and go and write for everybody, at the end of the day when they get into office they now answer all of you.
“Before, when we do election in this country, some people will carry the result sheet and go and write, when they enter into the office they now answer all of you, any money that comes into the state is for all of you, anything that comes into the state is for all of you, when employment comes it’s for all of you, when they want to pass the law, the law is for all of you, at the end of the day you will get nothing.”
Some of the roughly 120 migrants who arrived in downtown Denver in recent days used social media to plan the trip themselves, Denver city leaders said Thursday as they pledged to help the people find long-term shelter.
The mayor’s deputy chief of staff said the migrants were not sent to Colorado by another state’s governor. Officials, however, are still trying to learn more where the migrants came from, including the origin point of a bus that delivered roughly 90 people to the city Monday night.
“There was sort of an informal gathering on social media among those folks themselves,” said Evan Dreyer, the Denver mayor’s deputy chief of staff. “This does not appear to be anything that was organized by another government entity to direct people to Denver. We do not think that was the case — no evidence of that.”
Denver leaders held a news conference Thursday afternoon to answer questions from reporters and offer updates after migrants arrived in the city earlier this week. Dreyer called it a spike in an otherwise steady stream of arrivals in recent months, about 300 people in all.
On Wednesday, the city stood up an emergency shelter at a city-owned recreation center to house the newest arrivals, from Central and South America, including Venezuela. City officials previously said most are in their 20s and 30s, and two are children.
Denver leaders are still trying to determine basic details about the bus or buses that brought them, Denver spokeswoman Jill Lis said.
More migrants are expected in coming days, officials said.
“Definitely we are excited to welcome any kind of support from different community groups and there have been some different community groups that have stepped up to (help),” Lis said. “And that’s exactly why we’re here in the emergency operations center to mobilize and coordinate the collaboration between city agencies and other community groups to make sure we can meet the needs of these folks.”
Now, city leaders will continue to try to better understand how and why Denver has become a destination for migrants.
“They are here and we have a responsibility to try and take care of them and that’s what we are doing to the best of our ability,” Dreyer said. “We think this is probably an ongoing situation and we are working on longer-term solutions.”
The immediate concern for city leaders is to ensure, in the cold weather, migrants are cared for, he said.
The city is paying to house migrants through the general fund and it is seeking federal reimbursement support to help cover the costs, Dreyer added. He could not provide a cost estimate or say how much has been spent so far.
Denver is a so-called sanctuary city and county, meaning it doesn’t cooperate with federal immigration officials in attempts to deport residents living in the city without legal documentation.
U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, suggested on Wednesday the arrival was part of “partisan games” over immigration — a reference to recent moves by governors in Texas, Florida and Arizona to transport migrants to Democrat-led states, on the claim that they should share in the expense of managing the costs of immigration.
Representatives of the governor’s offices in Texas and Arizona previously told The Colorado Sun their offices weren’t involved in sending migrants. A spokesperson for the Florida governor’s office did not immediately return requests for comment.
Texas said it has transported nearly 14,000 migrants to New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., since April. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has said the practice is intended to expose what he calls inaction by the Biden administration over high numbers of migrants crossing on the southern border.
Asylum seekers who recently arrived in Denver are being interviewed to help local leaders understand whether the city is their final destination. If it is not, Denver leaders are arranging transportation to their final destination, said Mimi Scheuermann, CEO of Denver Human Services.
Denver has been coordinating with local nonprofits for the past two to three months to prepare resources in the event of a surge of migrants.
Laura Lunn, director of advocacy and litigation at the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, said it’s crucial the city provides resources to migrants, such as information about how to proceed with the legal system, so that they can seek asylum.
“I would hope Denver remains a beacon of hope for people fleeing violence and persecution,” she said.
Denver’s Office of Emergency Management advised against bringing items to the Denver Rescue Mission or emergency shelters to help the migrants. The agency said it was only accepting monetary donations as of Wednesday afternoon.
Immediate sheltering and housing needs are the biggest challenge for city leaders, Dreyer said. Now, Denver leaders are calling on faith-based organizations, nonprofits and other groups to help provide assistance for shelter and eventually longer term solutions. Those interested in donating or volunteering can visit www.denver.gov/oem for more information.
CORRECTION: This story was updated at 3:40 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 8, to correct the spelling of Jill Lis’ name.
The Maryland Aviation Administration has halted the process of awarding a lucrative contract to manage the expansive concessions operations at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.
The MAA, which runs the airport, issued a terse, one-paragraph notice to bidders late Friday afternoon informing them of the decision, but providing few details.
“In light of legal concerns raised by the Office of the Attorney General, the Maryland Department of Transportation is seeking additional clarification about the Maryland Aviation Administration’s solicitation for a new concessionaire,” the notice said. “The contract will not be scheduled for the Board of Public Works at this time.”
Officials at the Attorney General’s office and at the Maryland Department of Transportation, the aviation administration’s parent agency, told Maryland Matters Monday they could not discuss the decision to put the contracting process on hold.
On Tuesday, court filings revealed that the current holder of the airport concessions deal sued the state on Friday, maintaining that the company the MAA recommended for the new contract is trading on its political connections and is unqualified for the job. An MDOT official said the MAA said the agency decided to pause the procurement process before being notified about the lawsuit.
In its suit, the current vendor, Fraport — which with its corporate predecessors has operated the concessions at BWI for 18 years — seeks to block the MAA’s initial recommendation to grant the new contract to New Market Development Joint Venture, LLC, and wants to have New Market disqualified from the bidding process.
“Under the express terms of the RFP, the inexperienced New Market could not have possibly outperformed incumbent Fraport — or any of the other [applicants] for that matter — most of which have decades of experience in the airport concession industry,” Fraport said in its lawsuit, which was filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. “But for New Market’s political connections, New Market would not have been considered for this important concession contract at the State’s busiest airport.”
Fraport also disclosed its intention to file an appeal with the Maryland Board of Contract Appeals — even though Maryland Department of Transportation officials say that bids for a concession contract cannot be appealed to that entity.
Fraport’s lawsuit was filed by attorneys for the Washington, D.C., based law firm Husch Blackwell LLP. An affiliated company, Husch Blackwell Strategies, has registered lobbyists representing the company in Maryland.
“The Court’s intervention is necessary here to uphold important safeguards in Maryland’s public procurement system and to restore public trust in the way MAA buys services for its citizens,” Fraport lawyers wrote in their lawsuit. “Even just the appearance of impropriety warrants the injunctive and declaratory relief requested here.”
RFP changed twice
The proposal to find a new vendor to operate concessions at the airport — food, drink, retail and other hospitality services — has generated controversy since the state first issued a request for proposal (RFP) seeking bidders this summer. Twice in rapid succession, the MAA changed provisions of the RFP in a way that appeared to favor New Market Development Joint Venture, LLC, a new entity set up by Major Riddick, a veteran political player in Maryland, who established the company in 2021 specifically to bid on the airport contract.
Last month, MAA informed other bidders for the contract that it would recommend New Market Development, pending a review from agency officials, and planned to forward that recommendation to the Board of Public works, which would ultimately award the contract.
As is standard operating procedure, the aviation administration offered losing bidders an opportunity to be briefed on why they weren’t selected. But days later, according to the Fraport lawsuit and other sources, the agency informed the companies that the debriefing would last no longer than 30 minutes and that the losing bidders could not bring their lawyers to the Zoom sessions.
Airport concessions are big business, involving several players at any given time. In addition to BWI, Fraport, a Pittsburgh-based company also operates the concessions at airports in Nashville and Cleveland, and has portions of the business at JFK International Airport in New York and at Newark International Airport in New Jersey.
The new contract to run airport concessions at BWI would run for 20 years, and is valued at billions of dollars. While state agencies have been mum during the procurement process for the BWI contract, and the bidders have been prevented from commenting publicly, several sources said that at most, a handful of companies are seeking the BWI Marshall deal. Most are established players in the industry.
But New Market Development’s bid is noteworthy because the company was just created in 2021, then it hired a few industry veterans, including Brett Kelly, a former top executive with Fraport who oversaw the company’s operations at BWI and other U.S. airports, to help run it. New Market now is also in partnership with another established airport concessionaire, HMS Host.
Riddick, a former chief of staff to former Gov. Parris Glendening (D) and two-time chief administrative officer for Prince George’s County, is no stranger to airport concessions. For the past two decades, while also working as a lobbyist, business consultant and political adviser, he has operated a company called Great Foods LLC, which has fast food contracts at both BWI and at the airport in Pittsburgh.
Even with all the experienced hands at New Market Development, the company did not qualify for the bigger BWI contract when the state first issued its RFP.
The request for contract proposals specified that the winning bidder must have at least seven consecutive years in the business over the past decade — a standard industry practice, according to several veterans in the field. As a brand new entity, Riddick’s company would not qualify.
Yet within weeks, the MAA amended its RFP to say that a company’s experience in the airport concessions business no longer had to be a determining factor in awarding the contract. Instead, the state said that the executives of the bidding company merely had to have seven consecutive years in the field over the past decade, a provision that industry experts described as unusual and troubling.
“MAA provided no rationale for why these changes were made or why having entities rely exclusively on their personnel for experience was beneficial to MAA or the State,” the Fraport lawsuit reads. “If the personnel left the company, MAA would be left with a wholly inexperienced entity to run the concession contract at the State’s largest airport.”
A second change to the RFP, on minority subcontracting, also appeared to favor New Market Development, which already has a person of color — Riddick — as its CEO. That change appears to have also favored one of the other companies bidding for the contract, sources said.
Riddick did not respond to a message left at his office on Tuesday evening.
More public scrutiny
Even before Fraport filed its lawsuit late last week, the bidding process for the airport concessions contract attracted the attention of The Baltimore Sun editorial board. The Sun published an editorial on Dec. 1 urging the state to put off any decision on the airport concession contract. Citing reporting on the contract process in Maryland Matters, the editorial board wrote that the state should not be rushing the process when two-thirds of the Board of Public Works — Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) — are leaving office next month.
“Is this a shady deal? Is there any wrongdoing? Or is it merely the grousing of losing bidders?” the editorial board wrote. “We don’t know…But we do know this much: There is no earthly reason why BWI should be locked into such a contract in the waning days of the Hogan administration. The danger is that outgoing officials, who no longer have to worry about what judgment voters may pass on such a transaction, will be tempted to rush it through to benefit their friends and allies. That’s not to suggest that’s the intent, but the perception is there when any administration is leaving office. And Maryland has a long enough history with pay-to-play arrangements with state contractors and other political machinations, dating to Spiro T. Agnew, to take such allegations seriously. What better protection against this possibility than to have the newly elected governor and comptroller providing fresh scrutiny?”
Hogan, who chairs the three-member Board of Public Works, appears eager to avoid having controversial contracts come before the panel during his final weeks in office.
Last month, the Hogan administration delayed for several months a highly-anticipated BPW vote on a major contract that would have advanced the governor’s controversial plans to widen Interstate 270 and the Capital Beltway, effectively handing the decision to the next iteration of the BPW. And in October, the BPW pulled a scheduled vote to hire a private contractor to provide health services at a state-owned hospital in Western Maryland after facing criticizing from lawmakers, a public employee union and community leaders.
Michael Ricci, a spokesperson for Hogan, told Maryland Matters that the governor was apprised of MAA’s decision to pause the procurement process for the BWI concessions contract on Friday afternoon, before the agency informed the bidders. Ricci did not directly answer a question about whether Hogan is trying to sidestep potentially contentious items at the BPW before his term ends, but said in an email, “Can never really predict what will or won’t come before the Board. This [BWI Marshall] procurement is a good example. It was never on our radar as imminent.”
Hogan leaves office on Jan. 18 and Franchot’s term ends on Jan. 16. The third member of the BPW, state Treasurer Dereck Davis (D), who is almost certain to be elected to another term by the General Assembly in January, has expressed apprehension about a lame duck BPW voting on the BWI concession contract. The BPW has three more meetings scheduled before Hogan and Franchot leave office: on Wednesday, on Dec. 21 and on Jan. 4.
In a commentary published in response to the Baltimore Sun’s editorial urging a halt to the BWI Marshall procurement process, the Rev. Alvin Hathaway, a veteran civil rights activist in Baltimore, praised Riddick and the Maryland Aviation Administration for attempting to advance the interests of minority-owned businesses.
“The airport’s recommendation for award…is a triumph for diversity, equity and inclusion goals for the state,” wrote Hathaway, who disclosed in the op-ed that he is a member of the New Market Development team. “For too long and in too many corners of private-sector dealings, the inclusion of minority-owned firms has been controlled by the largest companies and subject only to their charitable impulses. I am encouraged to see MDOT and MAA ‘walk the walk’ to support the agenda of our state leaders to provide meaningful and significant opportunities to small, local and minority-owned businesses.
“State-controlled public spaces must provide economic opportunity for Marylanders and, where possible, in under-represented communities. New Market Development itself is made up of both and their plan for small and minority-owned firms is ambitious and unprecedented in the industry.”
It isn’t clear what is going to happen next with the BWI contract. In its lawsuit, Fraport asks for a court hearing by Dec. 20 on its request for an injunction by Jan. 1 temporarily blocking the state from taking any action on the airport concessions contract before a fuller trial on the merits of the company’s suit. But that request may have been rendered moot by the Maryland Aviation Administration’s notice that it was pausing the procurement process.
What seems inevitable is that any final decision on the airport contract will be kicked to the administration of Gov.-elect Wes Moore (D). Riddick has already made generous campaign contributions to Moore and to the other incoming member of the Board of Public Works, Comptroller-elect Brooke Lierman (D).
But Fraport and the other companies that bid for the BWI Marshall concession contract also have their share of heavy hitters and political donors — both in the state and beyond.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that state officials did not learn about Fraport’s lawsuit until after deciding to pause the procurement process.
Coming on the heels of a state oversight panel’s demand that Broward County turn over the operation of its troubled 911 call centers to the Sheriff’s Office, a report the county authorized early this year may provide a blueprint to fix the system that has left residents in danger of not getting the crisis help they need.
The 130-page draft report by Fitch & Associates outlines many of the issues that have plagued the understaffed emergency centers for most of the past year, and makes recommendations on areas that should be addressed promptly in the dysfunctional system that is managed by the county but staffed and operated by the Sheriff’s Office.
The report, obtained by the South Florida Sun Sentinel this week, concludes more needs to be done for speed and accuracy. Among the observations:
Four county commissioners reached this week said they either hadn’t seen the report, were scheduled to have the details explained to them by administration, or were still plowing through it and meeting with county staff.
A fifth, Commissioner Tim Ryan, said his take-away so far is that “there is more work to do — especially in the high-level management operations of the system. It’s more than just giving more pay to the 911 operators.”
County Administrator Monica Cepero said ”we’ve been looking through” the draft report, and her staff would be doing one-on-one briefings with county leaders on the findings.
County Commissioner Steve Geller said the final report is expected to be completed this month.
At a Broward regional communications center media open house at the Sunrise call center on Thursday, Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony voiced his support for a consolidated call center operating fully under the Sheriff’s Office where “all decision making and processes are handled at law enforcement or within the Sheriff’s Office’s level, in partnership with those other invested administrators in this county.”
He added that the state-led Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission’s report provides “another independent element to consider and look at,” and said that he had gone through the recently released Fitch report with a highlighter.
But he also suggested that the input from outsiders had gone too far.
“This is an important time in this county’s history when it comes to getting communications right,” Tony said. “We can’t afford to have any more divide, dialogue or any other commissions or formulated government bodies tell us what we need to do here in Broward County.”
The chiefs of police and the fire chiefs support the Sheriff’s Office’s full adoption of 911 operations, Tony said.
“We don’t all like each other all the time,” he said. “And the chiefs have their different purviews, the fire chiefs have their different positions, we are able to disagree on multiple issues, but this is not one we disagree on.”
In February, the county signed off on the $103,950 study by Fitch & Associates, which was to be a routine update to a previous study by the same group. Fitch compiled a 2016 report when the 911 system was dogged by complaints, mistakes and bad publicity.
The woes at the 911 call centers have dogged county leaders for most of the year; a series of South Florida Sun Sentinel investigative articles in the spring detailed how the agency couldn’t fill empty positions — or even keep the 911 call-takers they already have — which has meant sometimes dire outcomes for Broward residents calling for help during their emergencies.
Among the problems uncovered:
Despite the county offering millions of dollars to solve staffing problems, records show the unanswered call issue hasn’t been fully resolved. On Oct. 31, a Hollywood man said he called 911 twice with no response, and received help for his wife only when he called a police dispatch center in Miami-Dade County where he works as a police sergeant. His wife died. Records released from the Sheriff’s Office show that at the time the 911 calls were made on Oct. 31, there were 19 people staffing the call centers, although 22 people were needed on staff during that hour block based on historical call volume.
Veda Coleman-Wright, the Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, said the agency “is conducting a thorough evaluation of what occurred on Oct. 31. Once all the facts have been gathered, we will be able to provide you with accurate answers.”
Regarding the staffing shortage on Oct. 31, she said that since June, 74 operators have been hired and there are currently 38 vacancies — down from 90 open spots in the spring.
After a person is hired, they must attend a 12-week academy followed by about six weeks of on-the-job training, depending on the person’s proficiency, she said. “At this time, new hires are consistently coming on line.”
At the media event in the Sunrise dispatch center on Thursday, Sheriff Tony said that the lack of resources for 911 operators came from the county level and was responsible for the staffing problems, but with the recent raises and new hires, performance has already improved.
“I was proud to see that the county supported us to finally make up for decades of cuts through budget and coming up short which prevented us from having the necessary manpower,” Tony said. “Through that process of retaining the necessary money, we’ve already seen the change in how we are able to perform.”
The office received 3,000 applicants in the first two months, Tony said.
“We almost have an abundance of applications to pull from,” he said, which has led to a “tremendous curve in performance just simply having the necessary personnel, but we cannot stop at the personnel.”
Both Tony and Angela Mize, the Regional Communications Division Director, argued for a new “state of the art” call center to house all operations, saying that the splitting of dispatch centers into three buildings hindered their ability to respond to emergencies on time.
“We are the third largest sheriff’s office in the United States to safeguard a population of roughly 2 million people over 30 cities. And we have yet to have our own house for an independent freestanding state-of-the-art communication center. It is time. It is time to take place here in this county,” Tony said.
“We echo the Sheriff’s sentiment,” Mize said. “We want to be back in a single multi-purpose facility, putting all of our staff and all of our expectations under one roof; that is hands down the most efficient way.”
Mize argued that the amount of demand and expectation on Broward’s 911 operations is unparalleled.
“The amount of expectation on our team is, in my opinion, unprecedented and beyond comparison to anybody else in this nation,” she said. “We are very unique in the stuff that we have to do.”
The Fitch report comes at the same time the county is trying to defend its ownership of the 911 system and fend off efforts to turn it over to the Sheriff’s Office.
The state safety panel created after the Parkland mass shooting has warned that the county’s 911 emergency system still faces some of the same problems that could cause delays in the police response that it did nearly five years ago when 17 people died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Cellphone 911 calls made from Parkland get sent to Coral Springs by design because Coral Springs handles fire and medical services. But that was a disaster in 2018 when children trapped inside a high school during a shooting spree needed police. Coral Springs police said they think they found a workaround to get the calls to the right place faster — but recently blamed both the county and the Sheriff’s Office for taking too long to test the new technology.
In response to the complaints from the city and the ongoing inability to correct recurring issues, the safety commission determined the county ought to relinquish the oversight of the troubled 911 system and hand it over to the Broward Sheriff’s Office, a request that has outraged county leaders who have pledged to try to remove the Sheriff’s Office completely as their 911 provider.
But as the state panel doubles down on its idea of how to fix Broward’s troubled system, it is now demanding change happen quickly.
“While investigating the Broward emergency communications system over the last five years we have received numerous complaints about [the] dysfunction and the ineffectiveness of the regional communications systems,” Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, chairman of the MSD Public Safety Commission, wrote in a letter to the county last week.
He blamed the county for “serious relationship issues” that “cannot be resolved under the current organizational structure.”
Gualtieri said Sheriff Tony has proposed that all responsibility for countywide emergency communications be transferred from Broward County government to the Broward County Sheriffs Office, and the safety commission agrees.
“The current process is too fragmented and there is too much ‘finger pointing’ as to who is responsible for what and especially who is responsible for a variety of under-performing aspects of the entire system. By moving responsibility to the Sheriff, he will be held responsible and if the problems are not remedied everyone knows who to hold accountable,” Gualtieri wrote.
While he didn’t mention the word “subpoena” — a word that was repeatedly voiced at the last safety commission meeting if the county didn’t agree to deliver up control of its $78 million communications system — he did write that the safety commission unanimously voted to have the county commissioners appear at their meeting “if all these issues are not timely resolved.”
The county fired back a letter Monday, saying it was “at a loss” at the suggestion that transferring services to the Sheriff’s Office would resolve issues.
The prospect of turning over the management of the system angered one county commissioner enough for him to ask that the issue be discussed at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting. Commissioner Mark Bogen said he will ask to “have the responsibility be taken away from the Sheriff’s Office” in favor of another provider.
Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @LisaHuriash
Editor’s Note: This article, originally published Dec. 1, 2022, has been updated to include response from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.
©2022 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Visit sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.