District residents can’t be blamed for feeling a bit of déjà vu. As of this morning, Exelon and Pepco have affirmed that they continue to hold negotiations behind closed doors with D.C. officials to revive their now thrice-dead merger deal.
As this divisive, expensive, and scandal-marred chapter for the District drags on, District residents deserve clear answers about whose interests are truly being served. In fact, documents recently released to the Chesapeake Climate Action Network under the Freedom of Information Act — after lots of foot-dragging by D.C. officials — leave us asking these key questions:
- Why did the Mayor apparently mislead the public about who negotiated her settlement deal last fall?
- Why was key settlement information sent by Exelon to the Mayor’s office the day after Pepco inked its $25 million “Soccergate” deal?
- What is happening behind closed doors right now, and will shady politics win the day again?
Documents finally released by the Office of the City Administrator — albeit with lots of suspect redactions — indicate that Mayor Muriel Bowser misled the public about who negotiated her settlement deal last fall and give more indication of a quid pro quo.
FOIA documents suggest that Exelon and Pepco’s main points of contact were actually Deputy Director of the Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel, Ronald Ross, and his boss, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel, Mark Tuohey — not City Administrator Rashad Young or Tommy Wells, head of the Department of Energy and Environment, as the mayor’s office has claimed. No emails surrendered by the City Administrator’s office show Young initiating or otherwise leading settlement communications.
In fact, Ross and Tuohey are the DC officials who receive “financial information” for settlement purposes at 10:55 p.m. on Saturday, September 19th — the day after Mayor Bowser and Pepco announced their highly unusual $25 million naming rights deal. That deal paved the way for Mayor Bowser’s prized soccer stadium project. Did it also pave the way for Mayor Bowser to settle with Exelon and ink the deal rejected last Friday as not in the public interest? The released emails suggest a correlation.
Why would the Mayor’s office not reveal the real negotiators? Notably, Ross is tied to Pepco through his former boss, Kevin Fitzgerald, who was also involved in settlement negotiations. Both worked together at the law firm Troutman Sanders. Furthermore, Ross and Tuohey served together on the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, the infamous body that got D.C. taxpayers to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to build a baseball stadium. Did they play a role in the Mayor’s “soccergate” deal, too?
In response to this new information, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network filed a second FOIA request last week. We’re asking for all correspondence between Ross, Tuohey, Exelon and Pepco related to both the merger and naming rights deals.
Of course, Mayor Bowser has a clear path out of this divisive, expensive, and scandal-ridden mess. As D.C. community leaders and Councilmembers told a cheering crowd of activists on Wednesday, Mayor Bowser can simply end talks with Exelon once and for all and move on to real solutions for affordable, reliable, clean energy.
Three times Exelon has failed to take over Pepco. In each deal, D.C. residents would have gotten the short end of the stick. As Public Service Commission Chairman Betty Ann Kane said in her February 26 dissent, any deal will ultimately be a “whack-a-mole” approach. The fundamental conflict will remain between Exelon’s business model and the affordable, clean energy that D.C. needs.
As Mayor Bowser, the Office of People’s Counsel, Attorney General Karl Racine, and DC Water rightly say “no” to the latest bad deal, they should also say “no” to any new deals.