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Regarding the media reports on Baltimore City Hall and embracing the high bid contract:
We heard from different sources of the Baltimore Board of Estimates recent bid award that was $100 million over the lowest bid for Smart Meter installation. One was a Washington State company and one a Columbia, Md company. For some reason our own state business could not bring in a reasonable bid. Wonder why that is?
Last year I shared with you a conversation with a New Jersey contractor that had just the same experience. He bid so much lower than the company chosen that he could only see one reason......'I have never seen such a level of corruption. Even New Jersey back in the day was not this corrupt'. He said he would never look to Baltimore for bidding again as is happening all the time. That is the point, Baltimore does not want the outside bidder, it has it's list of 'qualified' contractors and corporate insiders. When the Finance Department tells you there is technological advantages with a company that bids $100 million higher this raises red flags all over. We see time and again it is the Maryland businesses that often get these over-cost bid awards and that spells corruption. Just think, in the matter of just a few weeks we see this award and the Harbor Point Exelon award both involving hundreds of millions in public money and both highly contested-----AND WE WATCH AS BALTIMORE SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT SHOUTS OUT FOR CHARITY FOR SCHOOL UNIFORMS....CHILDREN RIDING PUBLIC TRANSIT ALL ACROSS THE CITY TO GET TO A SCHOOL. It is pretty disgusting.
There was more to this Board of Estimate's meeting though as the Minority Contractor lawyer finally shouted out what the problem is----yet another $20 million award without bidding and the excuse this time -PIGGYPACKING WITH THE STATE. The point made by Jolivet (who finds me too anti-BDC) is that the entire minority protection written into the charter is being circumvented by these state-wide awards that are working to kill the small contractor----which is the point. The reason the Washington Beltway economy is booming is not only the Federal agencies...it is that the state is giving all the contract bid awards to large contractors located in the beltway. All around the state, if state money is involved a beltway contractor will get the bid. THIS IS OBVIOUSLY NOT ONLY BAD PUBLIC POLICY IT IS CORRUPTING THE ENTIRE BIDDING PROCESS.
Now, Jolivet will not shout out why is is corrupt but I did-----the beltway contractors use largely immigrant labor (Asian and Hispanic) most of whom experience WAGE THEFT AND NOT WORKER'S PROTECTION because they are not citizens. This is why these businesses can bid lower in many cases. That's not to say the black contractors do not do that as well....but black workers are citizens and the chance of being sued for exploitation grows with citizenship rights. To his credit, Jolivet finally shouted that minority awards need to balance between immigrant and black workers.
The amount of money involved in denying workers pay, insurance coverage, sick/injury claims is enormous and these beltway contractors are getting rich for this exploitation and this is why they are getting the bid awards. THE ENTIRE STATE AND LOCAL BIDDING PROCESS IS CORRUPTED BY JUST THIS ONE ISSUE. THAT DOES NOT EVEN ADDRESS THE HIGH COST BID AWARD THAT IS PROBABLY PAY-TO-PLAY.
WAGE THEFT IN MARYLAND IS AN EPIDEMIC AND IS WHY MARYLAND POLS ARE CALLING IMMIGRANTS TO THE STATE. IT IS ALL ABOUT EXPLOITING YET ANOTHER GROUP OF WORKERS.
Black workers who played by the rules were largely the victims of the massive fraud this past decade that targeted the black and brown middle/working class having much of their wealth stolen in these corporate frauds as well as losing their jobs. Hispanic workers are on to this and they will tell you ----'we will not be the next slave labor'! For now they are but you can see that these workers will fight for legal protections and will not tolerate being used by Hispanic contractors.
Jolivet shouted as well that all of Rawlings-Blake/City Hall's appearance of embracing Minority/Women contractors is window-dressing to something far more insidious. Grooming immigrant leaders to use/abuse their workers for profit. If you look at ground floor City Hall the posters show all of these Minority Contractor events AND THEN THEY SAY 'INVITATION ONLY'. The idea that a government is openly allowed to 'pre-qualify' by what all know is a random selection process and then have invitation only events for these groups is BIZARRE. What it shows it a complete loss of public ethics and Rule of Law and an attempt to create a public system with its own rules. THIS IS THE CRONY AND CORRUPT THAT MAKES BALTIMORE A BANANA REPUBLIC! We are making great strides in ending this and rebuilding a first world democracy in Baltimore!
Politically-wired firm wants $100 million more for city contract than competitor . . . And it may get it! A BREW INVESTIGATIVE REPORT on the convoluted process to replace city and county water meters with "smart" meters. Mark Reutter October 9, 2013 at 7:41 am
“Consider It Connected” is the Dynis slogan. Here is the entrance to its office in Columbia.
Three months ago, the Board of Estimates approved a 42% increase in water rates over a two-year period.
If you’ve wondered how City Hall is proposing to spend some of this money, look no further.
Unless the mayor and her staff change course, an obscure company backed by a big political name is in line to win a gigantic water contract.
Dynis LLC, of Columbia, has emerged as a front runner to replace 400,000 water meters with “smart” meters in Baltimore City and County, despite its minimal experience and a $185 million proposal that is fully $101 million higher than its competitor, Itron Inc.
As it now stands, the Board of Estimates – consisting of the city’s three top elected officials, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Comptroller Joan M. Pratt – are expected to award the contract in about a month. Currently, the matter is “under review” by a technical committee, according to the mayor’s office.
The J.P. Grant Connection
What makes the bid by this small company extra intriguing is that Grant Capital Management stands to gain from the deal.
The firm’s founder and CEO, James (“J.P.”) Grant, was Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s top campaign contributor in 2011. A fixture in political circles, he is best known to the public for agreeing to take over the Baltimore Grand Prix in 2012 and 2013 – losing money, he says.
Now he’s in line to make some hard cash by financing the city’s cost for meter replacement program with a master lease purchase agreement.
TAKE A LOOK:
Bid prices opened on September 26, 2013, for WC-1223, a contract to install new wireless water meters for residential homes and businesses in Baltimore City and County.
Liberty Lake, Wash. = $83,516,633.80
Columbia, Md. = $184,748,010.86
Grant is proposing to finance the water meter project at a 3.85% interest rate, according to the bid documents, or one full percentage point above the master lease financing proposed by Itron.
If the Dynis bid and Grant’s financing are approved by the Board of Estimates, ratepayers are likely to face a total bill of about $240-$250 million. (Grant did not disclose the final cost of his proposal – and further states that the city’s interest rate is “subject to change as it is indexed to U.S. Treasuries or Municipal Market Data indices.”)
By comparison, the Itron bid says that the total cost of its financing proposal would be $97.5 million.
Grant has been friends with Dynis’ founder and CEO, Earl Scott, for years. The two men worked together at IBM, and Grant says he’s had “20 years experience working with Dynis,” whose modest one-story headquarters is located near Grant Capital Management’s office suite in Columbia.
Earl Scott, founder, CEO and president of Dynis. (Courtesy of Dynis, LCC)
Like Grant, Scott is a generous contributor to the mayor and other local officeholders.
Dynis gave $4,000 (the limit for individual contributions) to Rawlings-Blake in 2011 and $1,000 to City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young.
Three subcontractors on the Dynis bid – R.E. Harrington Plumbing, L/B Water Services and Early Morning Software – contributed $12,000 to the mayor’s coffers.
The Maryland State Democratic Central Committee is another benefactor of the Grant-Dynis largess. With no legal limits placed on contributions, Grant has kicked in $155,000 (since 2008), while Dynis forked over $10,000, according to state election board records.
Itron has Lisa Harris Jones
Itron is not listed as a contributor to Maryland officeholders in the election board records.
A “smart” meter communicates wireless data between your home and a central office. Here is what a Sensus water meter looks like. (Sensus)
But that doesn’t means that the $2.2 billion conglomerate is bereft of political pull.
In June, it hired City Hall super-lobbyist Lisa Harris Jones to represent its interests in the meter contract.
City disclosure reports show that Jones is on the Itron payroll until December 31, 2013.
Mayor Defends Dynis as Qualified
The Dynis and Itron bids are now quietly sitting at the Bureau of Purchasing. There has been no publicity about the contracts – and few people even in City Hall are aware of the proposals.
The mayor’s office was asked about the Dynis contract – and the company’s ability to undertake such a big project. In response, the mayor’s spokesman, Kevin R. Harris, said, “Dynis was a pre-qualified installation vendor, who submitted a proposal in partnership with Sensus, a pre-approved technology vendor.”
The city’s Request for Proposals (RFP) called for prime contractors with a minimum of five years of experience in advanced metering installation for utilities similar in size to Baltimore.
A review of Dynis’ application indicates that the company’s biggest water projects involved cell transmission communications done for the Altoona, Pa., Water Authority (worth $3 million) and the Aliquippa, Pa., Water Authority (worth $1.5 million).
These two contracts are in keeping with Dynis’s chief expertise in wireless tower repairs. To handle water meter data management, Dynis proposes to farm out duties to Utiliworks of Baton Rouge, La., and to subcontract the supply of Sensus metering equipment to L/B Water Services based in Selingsgrove, Pa.
Scott did not respond to phone calls and emails by The Brew requesting an interview. Grant also did not return messages left at his office.
J.P. Grant and Mayor Rawlings-Blake at a City Hall function last year. (Photo by Mark Reutter)
Under normal circumstances, the Dynis’ high price would eliminate it from consideration by the Board of Estimates. By law, the board is suppose to award city contracts to the lowest responsible and responsive bidder.
But this contract is different.
The bid price will account for only 30% of the final determination of the winner, while 70% will come from “scoring” the Dynis and Itron proposals by a technical review panel.
Because of the heavy weight given to technical scoring, Dynis could easily overcome its price difference over Itron and emerge the “lowest” bidder.
Asked about this arrangement, mayoral spokesman Harris emailed the following: “The technical aspect of this project is very important to the city; therefore, the technical scores was weighted at 70% of the overall score. This is not uncommon when the contact services require a high level of technical proficiency.”
Asked who is on the technical committee, Harris replied, “The city does not release the names of of committee members, but the committee is composed of mostly IT professionals and water engineers.”
A Surprising Appearance
From the beginning, this contract (WC-1223) was limited to a small group of companies.
Five water meter manufacturers responded to the city’s call for interest in the replacement program. Last October, the technical committee ruled that Neptune Technology Group and Badger Meters were “non-responsive.”
Dynis’ main business is the repair of cell towers. (Photo by Mark Reutter)
That left three potential bidders: Itron, Sensus and Aclara Technologies. On July 17, the purchasing department had a big surprise.
Sensus disappeared from the bidding process, and Dynis appeared.
After a review by the law department, it was determined that Dynis’ technical proposal could proceed. Essentially, Dynis had become the prime contractor, and Sensus served as its supplier of water meter hardware and IT expertise.
On July 25, City Comptroller Joan Pratt disqualified the Aclara proposal. “The above-mentioned contract, after legal review, was considered non-responsive due to your company’s deviations, exception, modifications and /or alternations place on the proposal,” the comptroller told the company, writing as Secretary to the Board of Estimates.
On August 6, Nancy Rich, the firm’s senior vice president, wrote back, saying, “We firmly and sincerely believe that Aclara’s bid was indeed responsive.” Rich asked the city to reconsider, but on September 25, the Board of Estimates formally rejected her request.
That opened the way for just two vendors, Dynis and Itron, to give detailed price bids on the contract.
Large Difference in Prices
Comparing the prices between Dynis and Itron on specific items in the contract is revealing. For example:
• Dynis will charge the city $3.5 million for “mobilization” of its workforce, while Itron will charge $2.1 million.
• Dynis will charge $27.3 million for the supply of single-port radio transmitters (200,640 of them), while Itron will charge $22.9 million.
• Dynis will charge $17.7 million for the supply and installation of 3/4- to 1-inch copper pipe, while Itron will charge one-fifth that price – $3.5 million – for the same amount of pipe.
• Dynis will charge $6 million annually for “software support and maintenance” of the new water meter system, while Itron will charge $1.6 million.
Ultimately up to the Mayor
The decision of whom to award this contract comes down to the mayor, who controls the Board of Estimates through her three votes (her own and the votes of her two appointees, City Solicitor George Nilson and Public Works Director Alfred Foxx).
The contract is expected to reach the spending panel in about a month.
We sent questions to her spokesman yesterday to try to gauge her thinking on the matter. Among our questions:
• Is she concerned about the high price of the Dynis bid?
• Could her personal friendship with Lisa Harris Jones, Itron’s lobbyist, or the campaign contributions of Grant Financial and Dynis, influence her thinking?
• What involvement did she or her staff have in the drawn-out proceedings that have now left the city with just two bids to choose from?
We have not yet received a reply. We will publish it when we do.
- Reporter Mark Reutter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
As an aside, I also want to remind people that the goal with Smart Meters is ultimately end public subsidy for energy and go with only allowing people the amount of energy for which they can pay. If you can afford to pay only for 4 hours of electricity a day the Smart Meter will schedule the times you select.
Think about how rates will go up now that O'Malley tied BGE to a national utility corporation. We will see rates tied to the commodities market and ruled by speculation. Think again about how many people are being made impoverished and especially as health care reform sets in with tons of medical bankruptcies. There will be so many people with rationed energy and Smart Meters doing the deed!
The importance of this property is made more so by supporters for protecting this historical property because it was a contingent from Morgan State that made the stand at this counter in Read's store. Morgan State itself was new and these students felt empowerment that comes with education and voice. I am told the Read's event happened before the Woolworth's event that gets the claim to history. Regardless, historical value is decided by those effecting the history and that is why this site has been chosen.
Regarding the ever expanding costs......VOTE THESE INCUMBENTS OUT OF OFFICE AND RUN AND VOTE FOR LABOR AND JUSTICE CANDIDATES FOR MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL.....my goodness, there should be tons of people registering to run for all the offices in the state! We are captured by corporate interests and we need Mr. Smith to go to City Hall and General Assembly!
Cost of stabilizing Read’s building on Superblock rises 40% In a related setback, the developer of the Westside site wants another extension of the land sale. Mark Reutter June 11, 2013 at 4:01 pm Baltimore Brew
The fenced-off front of the former Read’s Store at Howard and Lexington streets yesterday.
The contractor responsible for stabilizing the former Read’s Drug Store building at Howard and Lexington streets – part of the long-stalled Superblock project – is asking for another $129,000 from the city.
J.A. Argetakis is seeking an Extra Work Order (EWO) payment as part of its efforts to stabilize the roof and walls of the long-vacant, city-owned building slated to be recycled into a “big box” retail store.
UPDATE: The Board of Estimates approved the EWO payment at its Wednesday meeting, with City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young voting “no,” and the board’s two other elected officials – Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and City Comptroller Joan Pratt – voting “yes.”
Argetakis was the low bidder to install a temporary membrane roof and rebuild steel framing at Read’s in February 2012. Following tomorrow’s expected approval of the EWO by the Board of Estimates, the project’s cost will have risen 40%, from $349,000 to $489,000 (including an earlier EWO), making it only slightly below the highest of the seven original bids.
The Department of General Services, which manages the contract, offered no explanation in the Board of Estimates agenda for the cost overrun.
Meanwhile, the fate of the entire $150 million Superblock project remains up in the air.
The Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) recently told the Maryland Daily Record that the developer, Lexington Square Partners, wants a sixth extension of its land-sale agreement with the city.
From the Brew Archives:
An inconvenient truth about Superblock (9/21/12)
Last December, the Board of Estimates and City Council approved the sale of the 3.6-acre parcel for $2.85 million – a fraction of the property’s $21.6 million appraised value when the city first entered into the agreement to sell the land in 2007.
Kay Adler demonstrates against the Superblock project and for the full preservation of the Read’s Drug Store last year. (Photo by Mark Reutter)
Private-Sector Economics “Won’t Work”
In addition, the Council and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake agreed to give a $22.1 million PILOT tax break to the group of New York and Atlanta developers after the BDC determined that “private-sector economics won’t work,” in the words of ex-BDC president M.J. “Jay” Brodie.
A representative for the developers said at a hearing before the City Council that it needed the PILOT to obtain a $100 million construction loan and other financing.
Since 2011, when the Rawlings-Blake administration began a major push to win political support for the project – saying it would bring hundreds of new jobs to Baltimore – Lexington Square has promised that private financing would be secured in the near future.
Dozens of buildings on the block bounded by Howard, Lexington and Fayette streets and Park Avenue have lay derelict since the BDC evicted small merchants and acquired the buildings under the Martin O’Malley administration.
The Read’s building became so deteriorated under city ownership that some members of the city’s historic commission, CHAP, worried at a public meeting that the structure could collapse. Or in the words of CHAP commissioner Larry Gibson, it may be subject to “demolition by neglect.”
In addition to a leaking roof and structural damage, the Read’s building contains asbestos that requires remediation before any new construction could begin.
This is so absurd. It seems to me that making Xerox responsible for replacing the cameras or refunding the costs of the original cameras would be the plan of action. It seems the Board again took this bid in steps so as to ease a person into place and then extending costs to the original bid.
As the minority contractors lawyer says time and again....it is not legal to assign these bids in stages. I listen to all the excuses given by the finance department lawyers and you feel you are sitting in on a meeting of Goodfella's.
New speed cameras will cost more, not less, from city’s preferred vendor
BREW EXCLUSIVE: A rejected bidder would have charged the city 18% less for new speed cameras. Mark Reutter April 19, 2013 at 11:35 am
Replacement of this North Baltimore speed camera – and 71 others – will be costly.
Photo by: Mark Reutter
The cost differential is significant because the Rawlings-Blake administration has justified the $2.2 million speed camera purchase as a good investment for the city because Brekford, a small Hanover-based company, is charging “approximately half” the price of its bigger competitors.
That’s how Timothy M. Krus, the city’s chief purchasing agent, described Brekford’s contract at the Board of Estimates last week before the panel approved the $2.2 million purchase of 72 new speed cameras. Krus repeatedly cited Brekford’s “low” price.
Under questioning by City Comptroller Joan Pratt, Krus said, “We’re convinced it’s fair and reasonable.”
“So Brekford’s prices were lower than all the others you contacted?” asked Pratt.
“Correct,” replied Krus.
In fact, Brekford’s price is considerably higher than those that were offered by Xerox State & Local Solutions – and only marginally lower than a third bidder, Redflex Traffic Systems, according to city documents.
$55,000 vs. $46,500
The original bid sheets, which The Brew requested and reviewed, show that Brekford charges $55,000 per speed camera, compared to $46,500 by Xerox and $60,000 by Redflex.
The Brekford figure, signed by the company’s CEO Chandra (C.D.) Breckin, makes its cameras 18.3% higher than the Xerox cameras and 9% lower than the Redflex equipment.
Brekford also charges $2,500 for installing a concrete pad for each portable camera. Xerox said it would charge no fee for the pads, and Redflex would charge $1,500.
During the board meeting, Krus said he did not have the specified bid prices at hand, but cited Brekford’s low price at least four times. Assistant City Solicitor Erin Sher Smyth, standing beside him, nodded her head in agreement.
We have asked Krus to comment on The Brew’s findings by email and phone. We will publish his response when we get it.
(UPDATE: As the workweek ends on Friday at 4:30, there’s been no response from Mr. Krus, or from Ryan O’Doherty and Ian Brennan, the mayor’s spokespeople, who were asked to comment on the Brekford contract.)
Price sheet for the purchase and installation of speed cameras by Brekford (above) and Xerox (below). The unit price (column 4) shows a $8,500 difference between Brekford’s and Xerox’s speed cameras. Overall, Xerox would charge less for the operation of the system than Brekford, but Brekford would give the city a slightly higher percentage of the traffic fines. (Board of Estimates archives)
A Newcomer Seeking Business
An upstart in the traffic photo enforcement business, Brekford started as a security technology provider. A prominent member on its board is Douglas DeLeaver, whose long career in law enforcement includes being chief of the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) Police.
Another director is Jessie Lee Jr., executive director of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, which has longstanding connections to the Baltimore City Police.
The head of Brekford’s speed camera division, Maurice R. Nelson, was hired from Montgomery County’s automated traffic enforcement program.
The small firm – which promises to assist Baltimore “in taking its current program to greater heights” – wrested the lucrative contract from Xerox last November following reports of camera errors and anomalies by The Baltimore Sun.
The contract allows a vendor to share in the proceeds of the fines collected from speeders “caught” by the cameras.
For every $75 traffic ticket generated by the cameras and collected by the city, Brekford is rebated $21. For every $40 ticket, Brekford gets $11.20.
Originally to Cost Nothing
The November contract was submitted to the board as a “revenue contract” that would not cost city taxpayers any money. The vendor would service the city’s 72 existing speed cameras and other upfront costs.
Lauding Brekford’s bid, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake described it not only as “the cheapest,” but the best. “They came out on top,” she declared at the meeting.
But the contract has had problems ever since Brekford took over from Xerox on January 1. In the latest setback, the city has temporarily suspended the program to address “clerical mistakes” that resulted in an undisclosed number of erroneous tickets given out to motorists on The Alameda.
To get the cameras working again, the Rawlings-Blake administration agreed to pay $2.2 million for 72 new speed cameras – replacing the same number of existing cameras – so they could run problem-free on Brekford’s software.
Comptroller Pratt questioned Krus about why the city did not contact the other vendors to see if the city was getting the best price for the new cameras.
“We decided it was not practical to seek competitive bids on these additional cameras,” Krus told the board. Plus it was not necessary, he said, because the Brekford price was so much lower than its competitors.
Exchange with Nilson
The discussion ended with this exchange:
“The awarded vendor was extending these cameras to the city at approximately half the price. . . ” said Krus.
“. . . of the other vendors?” interjected City Solicitor George Nilson.
“Yes,” Krus answered. “Half of their original price.”
“So,” asked Nilson, “if you were to do what the Madame Comptroller would like you to do, you would be going back to vendors who bid twice as much for the same equipment?”
Krus agreed, at which point Board President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said, “Alright. Thank you. I call for the vote.”
Mayor Rawlings-Blake and her two appointees, Nilson and Ben Meli, representing Public Works Director Alfred Foxx, voted for the $2.2 million award, as did Jack Young.
Pratt’s was the single “no” vote.
Redflex’s prices were 9% above Brekford’s, but its installation cost for concrete pads was lower. (Board of Estimates archives)
Regardless of how you look at the stats we all know that EWO are a way of life in the city. Why is that? We have no staff qualified to make assessments and with enough experience as to be able to anticipate future problems. That is what our city public works department is tasked to do. Just as with every public agency from Baltimore to the State of Maryland politicians fail to fund government and have cut middle-management to skeleton crews meaning the public has no staff able to provide serious protections against malfeasance and waste. We should have staff that analyze the situation and set the cost. Instead, we are made to simply let contractors set the price.
The problem starts with the privatization of the public works department. When all this work was done by public work employees and we had the equipment to do it, we had the staff that would be qualified to do every aspect of the job and with that comes the ability to visualize the big picture. We also saved tons of money having the equipment and people who were paid well as public sector employees. There is consistency in how work is done, what materials are used, and preparation in times of emergency. The fact that every time we have to wait until we get to the problem belays the fact that our public works people do not know the state of the system.
I can't even imagine what kind of jigsaw puzzle we have underground with dozens of different contractors coming from different states, with changing employees, and different suppliers of materials. What in the world will we do in a few decades when all this work needs upgrading? We will not have a clue as to what is underground, we we will need to do the job, and how to fix it.
I'm not accusing anyone with this project, but all of this is driving massive fraud and waste working against the very reason these pols give for privatizing!!!!
IT IS INSANE TO PRIVATIZE OUR PUBLIC SECTOR!
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Inside City Hall: How an EWO grew by 4,285% Board also approves $4 million-plus in consulting contracts and $2.5 million for EBDI. Mark Reutter February 27, 2013 at 1:55 pm
Traffic backs up on the Jones Falls Expressway last year for sinkhole repairs whose full financial effect is coming due now.
Two months ago, the Board of Estimates approved a final EWO (Extra Work Order) for emergency repairs on the Jones Falls Expressway, where a sinkhole caused by collapsed drain pipes had closed two lanes at 29th Street last spring.
The price tag of the EWO – $4,729 on a $1.99 million job – was sufficiently modest to warrant no mention on this website when the item went before the spending board on December 12.
At this morning’s meeting, however, the panel rescinded the EWO – an unusual step, taken without discussion – and ratified a new EWO for $202,608.55.
That’s a 4,285% (nearly 43-fold) increase from the original overrun, so we wondered what accounted for the difference.
The contractor, John Brawner of Cockeysville, did not wish to publicly comment on the matter, a spokesman saying “we submitted all the information to the city.”
So we contacted Frank Murphy, acting director of the city Department of Transportation, who said this: “The initial accounting of the difference of the overruns and underruns was $4,700, but that did not account for three bid items – Class 2 Excavation, Excavation Support and Temporary Traffic Signing. The overrun of the three items was approximately $200,000.”
Here’s the Background
When the sinkhole appeared last winter, causing a small dip in the lanes nearest to the median strip, DOT closed the lanes, and Murphy said the repairs “could cost up to $1 million.”
The agency sought bids from four “pre-qualified” contractors. One company – Howard T. Baker – was found to have an expired qualification, and two others – Potts & Callahan and Cianbro – declined to bid on the project.
That left Brawner as the only bidder when the board approved, at DOT’s recommendation, the emergency award of $1,997,975.
The agency accepted the contractor’s price based on information “we had prior to the excavation,” Murphy said, but “the full extent of required work couldn’t be known until the excavation revealed what the subsurface conditions truly were.”
Murphy said that when Brawner dug down to reach the damaged pipes, one buried 21 feet under I-83, there were unanticipated problems. About 70% of the cost overrun approved today was for additional excavation, 25% for shoring up the excavation site and the balance was for additional traffic signing.
The board – comprised of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, City Comptroller Joan Pratt and two appointed officials – unanimously approved the expenditure in a voice vote.
The city will partly pay for the EWO by withdrawing funds from a neighborhood streets construction reserve fund.
$4 Million in Consulting Contracts
Also by voice vote without discussion, the board approved a long list of consulting contracts.
Rummel, Klepper & Kahl (RK&K) led the list with more than $1.7 million in contracts, followed by Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson’s pick up of nearly $1.4 million. The highlights:
• up to $2 million jointly to RK&K and Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson to provide bridge-design services over three years to the city Department of Transportation. “The consultant will assist the Engineering and Construction Division by providing bridge design services including, but not limited to bridge inspections, attending meetings, plans, specifications and cost estimates,” according to the board’s agenda.
• $850,179, in six separately issued contracts, to RK&K to supply inspection and other services to the Bureau of Water and Wastewater. The largest contract calls for management oversight of sewer improvements along Stony Run, a tributary of the Jones Falls, and water meter installation in Northwest Baltimore.
• $399,302 to Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson for on-call services for the Bureau of Water and Wastewater. The engineer will prepare contract documents, cost estimates, permit applications and arrange community meetings pertaining to the replacement of obsolete water mains along Falls Road in North Baltimore.
• $438,084 to Dewberry & Davis for construction-related services for “small water main replacements” along Keswick Road, Mohawk Avenue, West Forest Park Avenue and the Carver Vo-Tech High School area.
• $333,403 to STV Inc. for design services to DOT for planned intersection improvements at Falls Road and Northern Parkway, Liberty Heights and Rogers avenues, Frankford and Corse avenues, and Frankford and Hamilton avenues.
• $278,072 to URS Corp. to monitor the overhaul of the city’s 158 speed and red-light cameras, several of which have recorded erroneous speed readings. Among other duties, URS will prepare monthly progress reports.
• $188,369 to CC Johnson & Maholtra to provide continuing services for the McComas Street Pumping Station. Among its services: maintaining a status log, monitoring testing requirements, responding to requests for information and preparing operation and maintenance manuals.
• $127,663 to EMA Inc. to complete Phase 1 of the city’s new water and sewage billing systems by evaluating vendor technologies and drafting a request for qualifications by potential bidders.
Funds for EBDI and McElderry Park
The board also awarded $2.5 million in federal Community Development Block Grant Funds to East Baltimore Development Inc. (EBDI) to demolish mostly residential buildings north and east of Johns Hopkins Medical Center. (The controversial renewal project is described in a new book reviewed by The Brew.)
The funds will meet the required match of $2.5 million approved by the Maryland General Assembly in 2011 for demolition purposes by EBDI.
The board also approved a $938,773 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to improve community safety in the McElderry Park section of East Baltimore.
The grant will be used “as a part of a broader strategy to enhance neighborhood revitalization through cross-sector community-based partnerships,” according to the board’s agenda, with the ultimate goal of reducing juvenile violence and “to find alternatives to criminal activity for the residents of McElderry Park.”
THE BOARD OF ESTIMATES FINALLY TURNED ON THE CAMERAS AND IS NOW ON TV CHANNEL 25. PLEASE GATHER A GROUP AND HAVE A 'DEMOCRACY NOW' CLUB WHERE YOU SIT AND WATCH THESE CITY HALL MEETINGS.....BALTIMORE CITY SCHOOL BOARD MEETINGS........
IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO KNOW THE ISSUES IN TIME TO SPEAK OUT AND NOT TO FALL FOR WHAT OTHERS ARE TELLING YOU! KNOW THE FACTS AND SHOUT LOUDLY AND STRONGLY. WE NEED YOU TO SHARE THIS BLOG OR CREATE YOUR OWN NEWSLETTER TO SHARE WITH FAMILY, FRIENDS, AND CO-WORKERS!
Baltimore Brew Inside City Hall: Squabbling over transparency Mark Reutter October 24, 2012 at 5:30 pm
In Washington, party affiliation and competing ideologies can afford a reliable cover for politicians struggling to elbow each other out of the way and claim the public limelight.
Forty miles to the north, in a city where every elected official is born and bred into the same party and the humdrum of meat-and-potato constituent service trumps lofty principles – public recognition is limited and relations among bigwigs can get testy.
Such was the case today when Baltimore’s two highest elected officials fought over who should take credit for, of all things, government transparency.
It all started when the mayor’s press office issued a release with the headline, “Mayor Rawlings-Blake Announces Expanded Broadcast of Public Meetings.”
In the release, Rawlings-Blake assumed credit for the live broadcasts, starting today, of the meetings of the Board of Estimates (plus Municipal Zoning and Appeals Board and Board of Liquor License Commissioners) on cable TV25.
“I’m pleased,” the mayor was quoted as saying, “that we are able to increase access to government meetings.”
In short order came a rival press release – “Mayor Unscrupulously Seeks Credit for Council President’s Good-Government Initiative.”
This release, courtesy of City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, charged that the mayor had no right to take credit for the broadcasts because she had tried to block them.
“The truth, in fact, is that the idea to televise these important hearings was the brainchild of Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. ‘Jack’ Young, who along with members of the Council worked for nearly two years to televise these hearings.”
As supporting evidence, the release included a 2010 Baltimore Sun article saying the mayor’s finance office objected to the Council’s plan for live broadcasts, saying the cash-strapped city couldn’t afford the $45,000 needed to support the venture.
Only after Young, the Council and “a host of good government advocates” championed the measure did the mayor reluctantly relent, the release said.
“Because of My Efforts”
Thus, during the inaugural live broadcast of a Board of Estimates meeting today, viewers of cable TV25 were beamed the sight of Young saying, “So because of my efforts, citizens will now be able to watch these proceedings via the city’s cable station and online.”
Taking the mantle of a crusader slaying a political dragon, Young continued, “For too long, citizens were kept in the dark about decisions made by these powerful boards because they were not televised or streamed online. I am thrilled that we have ushered in a new era of openness and accessibility.”
Cameras stationed in the Hyman Aaron Pressman Board Room for televised hearings of the Board of Estimates, Zoning Board and Liquor Board. (Photo by Mark Reutter)
The mayor also expressed pleasure that “by making government more open and transparent, we can help residents better understand our decision-making process and how they can become involved in the life of the city.”
This quote comes from the mayor’s aforementioned press release. After conferring with her press aide, the mayor did not recite the release verbatim during today’s meeting. Instead, she generically thanked her cable and communications team and lauded public accessibility in general.
Throughout today’s broadcast, the two politicians did not look at – or speak to – each other from their side-by-side seats. After the cameras were turned off, heading in different directions, they provided little transparency as to their public or private thoughts.
MY LETTER TO BALTIMORE'S COMPTROLLER. I WANTED HER TO SEE THAT THE PUBLIC UNDERSTANDS THE CIRCULAR NATURE OF THE BOARD OF ESTIMATES' MOVEMENT OF MONEY. IT IS REALLY RIDICULOUS. BASICALLY THESE DEVELOPERS ARE PAYING ALMOST NOTHING FOR CONSTRUCTING THESE BUILDINGS DOWNTOWN AND LITTLE OF THE MAINTENANCE. YOU MUST REMEMBER THAT THE MONEY COMING FROM THE DEVELOPERS ARE SIMPLY THE TRILLIONS IN FRAUD .....THAT IS WHY YOU ARE SEEING A FLOOD OF DEVELOPMENT IN ALL CITIES ACROSS THE COUNTRY....THEY ARE SPENDING THE MORTGAGE FRAUD MONEY THEY WERE NEVER FORCED TO RETURN.
Hello Ms. Pratt,
I am the academic who requested time with you to ask a few questions and you directed my to write my question before we met. I would like an opportunity to meet on this as these questions don't capture the essence of the topic.
As I shared on the phone we are looking at local and state governments across the country and especially at Comptrollers whose duties are to receive and account for taxes and their expenditure. We are seeing a shift from a transparent taxpayer in taxpayer out that was well-documented and easy to track, to one of tax deference and donation as tax that will be very complicated to track and is not transparent. This makes your job harder and it makes the average citizen nervous as we cannot assess the quality of the system.
So, when the Board of Estimates assign tax breaks for development to a corporation, the city loses that revenue while the corporation wins revenue. When that same corporation makes a charitable donation to a 'gifting' agency for a selected charitable service, let's say greening programs, that corporation can write-off that donation from its taxes. That is revenue for the corporation, but none for the city (the money is in the hand of the private non-profit). That non-profit aligns that greening donation to a project that happens to be associated with the giver's interests.....say a park near corporate offices.
Now, we are seeing corporations not only getting tax relief from city for property and maintenance, but they are shedding future expense and capital improvements with these 'giving' donations. All of this is what is causing our local and state structural budget deficits and what lead to government coffers being empty for all other community activities.
1. Comptroller has a responsibility to the citizens of the city to see that tax policy is fair and balanced in public interest. How do you approach that duty in the case given above?
2. How does a Comptroller verify all the terms of these conditions? The contract for the tax break with the city.......the money flowing to and from private non-profits like 'giving' groups.....contractors hired to complete the work entailed at each level?
I would like not only to hear from you as to how you have handled this in the past but also to get an idea of what needs to be done to make the system reflect this change in revenue flow for governments. The conversation will be broad of course due to time but I would like a diagram of procedure for a similar case example.
Thank you for your time,
MAYOR RAWLINGS-BLAKE MUST FIND REVENUE FROM THE CITIZENS OF BALTIMORE TO PAY FOR ALL THE CORPORATE WELFARE. WE ARE TALKING BILLIONS OF OUR TAXES GOING TO LUXURY DEVELOPMENT......SHE'S READY TO MAKE US PAY FOR THE ALLEYS.
City hikes fee for alley repaving
Mark Reutter September 26, 2012 at 7:03 am Baltimore Brew
Baltimore’s ubiquitous alleys have potentially become more expensive to property owners.
The Board of Estimates is increasing by 2½ times a property-owner’s share of the costs of repaving or reconstructing an alley abutting their property.
Beginning today, the fee will climb to $3.33 per square foot, up from the current $1.375 per square foot.
The board has approved stepped increases to $3.50 per square foot next year and $3.68 per square foot in fiscal 2015.
50% Share of Cost
The fees reflect the estimate that alley reconstruction has averaged $6.35 per square foot and is increasing by 5% a year.
While the city can recover two-thirds of the cost by law, current practice is to charge residents 50% of alley repaving to reflect the shared use by garbage trucks and other city services.
Each year, the city paves about 10,000 linear feet, or 1.9 miles, of the 1,100 miles of alleys under its maintenance. The backroads are repaved on a complaint basis or at the request of City Council members, according to Department of Transportation spokesperson Kathy Chopper.
“Once a request is received, the location is inspected and if the alley is in need of reconstruction, DOT will hold Apportionment and Review Hearings for owners of property abutting the alley,” she said.
Notices of the hearings are sent to property owners, along with the estimated assessment.
Annual expenditures for alley maintenance by DOT have dropped from $167,999 last year to the current $72,396. In the 1990s, the city had $3 million a year to spend on alley repaving
I WANT TO THANK ARNOLD JOLIVET OF THE MMCA FOR FINALLY DOING THE RIGHT THING AFTER STANDING IN FRONT OF THIS BOARD OF ESTIMATES WITH OVERWHELMING EVIDENCE OF CORRUPTION IN THE WAY THE CITY GIVES OUT CONTRACTS. THIS IS NOT ONLY A MINORITY BUSINESS PROBLEM, AS THESE AWARDS ARE OFTEN GOING TO NATIONAL COMPANIES UNDERMINING ALL LOCAL BUSINESS PEOPLE. WHAT THIS BOARD DOES IS TO GIVE THE BID TO A NATIONAL CORPORATION AND THEN ALLOWS THEM TO SUBCONTRACT TO NUMEROUS SMALLER COMPANIES.....SOME OF WHICH MAY BE FROM MARYLAND.
WHAT THIS DOES IS GIVE ALL DEVELOPMENT DECISIONS TO THAT NATIONAL COMPANY......WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO MAKE THE LOCAL BUSINESS OWNERS SUPPLIANTS TO THIS? AT THE SAME TIME, YOU LOSE THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE CITY THESE LOCAL BUSINESS PEOPLE HAVE IN DEVELOPING AND IMPLEMENTING THESE CONTRACTS.
HERE IS MY RESPONSE TO AN ARTICLE ON THIS IN THE BALTIMORE BREW:
I'd like to make the point that was critical in the discussion between this contractor and the Board that wasn't mentioned in the article: The Board has on several occasions given contractors chances to become compliant when a rule was not met. The argument given in this case was that since the bid was so much lower and a savings for the city, and since the business was in good standing with the city, why not allow the bid process be repeated so as to let this business man meet compliance rules as has been done in the past.
I think what most people know that attend these meetings is that the Board uses metrics for these decisions that can be so arbitrary as to send the decision to whomever they want regardless of qualifications and as history shows, it is indeed the same few that get all the city's contract business. If you tie this with the political contribution history shared in this article you see a system needing checks and balances.
That, I think was the point being made by the gentleman and his legal representative.
The way Baltimore awards contracts is under fire again, but this time it is in the form of a multi-million dollar lawsuit, which alleges the process of handing out big bucks is broken. The Maryland Minority Contractors Association, Inc. 1 has filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit against the city alleging the city did not fairly bid out millions of dollars worth of contracts.
"To me, it's unacceptable. Unacceptable. We don't mind being excluded if we're not the low bidder," Arnold Jolivet, managing director of MMCA, Inc. 1, said. "It is just extraordinarily dumb the way the city awards contracts without a bid." Pless B. Jones, Sr., president of The Maryland Minority Contractors Association, Inc., sent a letter to city officials addressing the lawsuit. "We have been made aware that Arnold Jolivet, using the acronym MMCA, has filed suit against the Mayor and City Countil of Baltimore. This organization is not a party to and has nothing to do with that proceeding," Jones stated in the letter. "We would like nothing more than, for once and for all time to end the confusion surrounding our name." The lawsuit highlights a three hundred thousand dollar contract awarded to Greibo K Design for providing services for the city's 2012 African American Festival and a $43,000 contract awarded to Johnson Controls to investigate the city's energy consumption.
The lawsuit says both companies were awarded favoritism without advertising or competitive bidding. The lawsuit also alleges skirting the procurement process has cost taxpayers $50 million. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says she has proven time and time again that this is not how her administration operates. "I think it's silly and it's unfortunate we've reached out to work with them on efforts to strengthen our minority and women owned business programs, they choose to sue instead," Mayor Rawlings-Blake said Aug. 2. "It's baseless. And, I'm looking forward to having the courts say that as well." The minority contractors say they are asking for an injunction that would prohibit the city from awarding any contracts until this matter is resolved.
"When African-American businesses aren't getting contracts, they don't hire people within their community where their business is located. As a result of that, mothers and fathers don't work and children don't eat.," Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Council's Baltimore chapter, said. "When we hear about an African-American business presenting a lower bid, and the city deciding to go with the higher bid, we begin to wonder and question why." Thursday, September 6 2012, 06:30 PM EDT
Comptroller's concerns highlight need for change in city charter 12:45 p.m. EDT, June 26, 2012 Baltimore Sun
Comptroller Joan Pratt's concerns about MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blake's handling of the purchase of a new IT phone system for local government highlight the questionable make-up of the Baltimore spending panel known as the Board of Estimates ("Nilson says city phone purchases were legal," June 23).
The Baltimore City Charter establishes that the primary fiscal board of the city be composed of all three citywide elected officials, along with the director of public works and the city solicitor.
The problem with this make-up is that the un-elected members of this board serve at the pleasure of the mayor, thus allowing for her to push any fiscal priority through without a proper system of checks and balances.
Other cities' panels, as well as the state's Board of Public Works, are composed solely of elected members who are answerable to those who elected them. Until Baltimore officials offer the voters the opportunity to change the panel so that it is made up of only the elected members — the mayor, city council president and comptroller — the political infighting we have witnessed as of late, will be only for show, as the comptroller and council president will continue to have no real power when our mayor walks in the door with the needed three votes to pass anything he or she pleases!
Hassan Giordano, Baltimore
Copyright © 2012, The Baltimore Sun
I would suggest that this is just the tip of the iceburg and that Pratt may feel that there is serious threat of an audit coming. What would have been overlooked is now becoming a case of fraud in which she could be implicated. It's much different when light is shining on these transactions. It's the accountability that has been missing for what Carl Stokes said is 30 years. We will see more of this as audits by the public, media, and watchdogs pressure this city council to move away from all these subcontracting and business tax credit deals, bringing city money back to the people and communities. It is also about reelection as the citizens in the communities other than enterprise zones are withering from neglect and will go to the polls next election with that on their minds.
You can look at these Board of Estimate awards and see a bulk of the year's annual budget going out the door to these enterprise zone developers. There will be a shortfall no doubt that will be answered by cuts in some city service or program later this year. There was talk of the institution of agency audits every two years by Stokes and Young......this person couldn't see how they can afford to implement accountability and besides, they don't audit in surrounding localities........THAT IS THE POINT!!!!!! WE ARE DEMANDING CHANGE!!!!!
Mayor’s former tech chief at center of attack over bid irregularities
Comptroller Joan Pratt says Rico Singleton violated city rules to install VIP video phones. Mark Reutter June 15, 2012 at 7:44 am
Rico Singleton’s new office turns out to be a mailbox at The UPS Store on Lombard and Calvert streets.
Categories Following his forced resignation in February as chief of the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology (MOIT), Rico Singleton has been contacting and lobbying his former colleagues at MOIT on behalf of technology companies.
Singleton operates as RS Consulting, whose main office is listed as Suite 182 at 211 East Lombard St. The address turns out to be a UPS Store. The manager of the store confirmed that Singleton rents box 182.
Singleton is also the resident agent of Novetsoph Consulting LLC that was incorporated six weeks ago.
In an angry outburst on Wednesday, City Comptroller Joan Pratt said Singleton was involved in city software and information technology contracts since he resigned under a cloud four months ago.
Pratt later read portions of an email from Singleton to acting MOIT Director Robert Minor saying that he was an advisor to IT companies doing business with the city.
Joan Pratt reads portions of an email from Rico Singleton to MOIT after the Board of Estimates meeting. (Photo by Mark Reutter)
Singleton further said he could not bid directly on city work because of conflict-of-interest rules involving ex-employees.
The email indicated that Singleton was involved in top-of-the-line Cisco video phones recently installed in the offices of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Bernard C. “Jack” Young and other city officials.
Singleton was removed on Feb. 28 as Chief Information Officer and director of MOIT by Rawlings-Blake after an audit found that, at his previous job as deputy chief information officer for New York State, he had negotiated for a job for his girlfriend and tried to get a position with a computer vendor he had hired.
The contract with software security company McAfee was unnecessary, according to New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, and cost taxpayers $1.5 million.
At the time, Rawlings-Blake called the New York State allegations “deeply disturbing” and said they were not known by her office when Singleton was hired in late 2010.
Singleton, whose hires as MOIT director raised eyebrows, dropped out of sight after tendering his resignation from the $160,000 city post. He could not be located yesterday.
The contract under fire by Pratt was first reported in The Brew last January. It involved the Board of Estimates award of $12 million to 11 technology companies for computer hardware and software for city agencies.
Digicon Corp., based in Rockville and Herndon, Va., was awarded the largest share of the contract, $3.2 million. According to Pratt, funds from this contract were used to install the video phones for City Hall, which, she said, cost taxpayers $659,000 during a time of budget cutbacks.
“None of the items of the contract allow for the purchase of telephone equipment,” Pratt added.
Pratt said that overseeing telephone service for city government is the duty of her office under a 1949 law. “The mayor is trying to usurp the responsibility of the comptroller’s office,” she said.
Several times Pratt accused Rawlings-Blake of telling “an untruth” about her lack of knowledge of the phone installations. Pratt said the mayor evaded her when she tried to express her concerns directly.
“I was told you were out of town,” Rawlings-Blake said.
“I called you on the phone. You never called [back],” Pratt responded.
“Baseless Attacks,” says Mayor’s Spokesman
Ryan O’Doherty, the mayor’s spokesman, disputed the cost of the phones. He placed the cost of the trial installation at about $20,000.
In response to Pratt’s allegations, O’Doherty said yesterday, “The city solicitor has advised that there are no factual or legal merits to the allegations made [by Pratt]. . . Obviously, the mayor is disappointed with the baseless personal attacks that were made.”
Mayor Rawlings-Blake listens to Pratt’s criticism at the Board of Estimates. To her left is City Solicitor George Nilson. (Photo by Mark Reutter)
Pratt delivered her remarks with uncharacteristic vigor at the weekly Board of Estimates meeting. She often turned to face the mayor with whom she shares the dais.
The mayor avoided eye contact and stared stoically at the rear of the room. At one point, she interjected, “I’m very proud of the work MOIT has done, saving taxpayers money.”
$7.5 Million IBM Contract Deferred
In addition to the Digicon contract, Pratt clashed with the mayor over a $7.5 million telecommunications contract that was before the board on Wednesday.
The board was scheduled to award the contract to upgrade the city’s telecommunications system to IBM. Pratt protested and asked that it be deferred for one week. The contract was instead delayed for three weeks at the request of the mayor.
Following the board meeting, Pratt continued to denounce the “illegal” video phones installed in the mayor’s office until she was silenced by her longtime aide, Danice H. Lewis.
Documents Not Released
Lewis maneuvered Pratt to a side exit and later promised that the comptroller would release all relevant documents after she met with Rawlings-Blake later in the morning.
Pratt has since reversed course.
Declining to release any documents or emails yesterday, the comptroller said through another aide that she will defer public comment until she meets with Rawlings-Blake at some unspecified future date.
(Rawlings-Blake is currently in Orlando, Fla., where she will speak on crime prevention and several other topics today at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.)
Sitting between Pratt and Rawlings-Blake at Wednesday’s meeting was Council President Jack Young.
Asked by Pratt if he had a new video desktop phone at his office, Young said he did. He quickly added that he had not requested the phone, but it simply appeared one day
Once sour, the mayor’s now sweet on more regular audits Fern Shen June 12, 2012 at 11:33 pm Baltimore Brew
Categories Just two weeks ago, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was dumping all over a bill requiring city agencies to be audited every two years, saying it was too expensive.
Today, at a Baltimore City Council hearing on the bill, the mayor sent down a letter to City Comptroller Joan Pratt saying that Pratt’s Department of Audits should conduct regular audits and should have a proposed schedule of planned audits in place “by the middle of this month.”
Bill sponsor Carl Stokes found the whole thing “weird.”
“At two hearings now, the mayor’s Finance Department has said, of my bill: ‘off-the-wall bad, not necessary, cost-prohibitive to do it and it shouldn’t be done,’” the District 12 councilman said, in a phone interview after the hearing.
“Now we have this letter that it can be done, that it’s a good government thing, but the Finance Department hasn’t changed its opinion of the bill that I know of.”
Advocates were trying to figure out whether the letter suggests a shift in the Mayor’s thinking on audits or just an attempt to shift the public focus to the office of the Comptroller. (This spring, the mayor increasingly was being criticized by radio call-in guests and Council members about Baltimore’s failure to conduct regular audits of city agencies.)
Stokes predicted, regardless, that as soon as Monday the Council will approve the idea in the form of a charter amendment that would place mandatory biennial audits on the November ballot. (Momentum for the idea grew earlier this year when it was revealed that many agencies have not been audited in decades.)
“This could mean people are acknowledging that audits need to happen a little more than every 30 years,” Stokes said.
First in Line: Recreation and Parks?
For budget hawks and opponents of the mayor’s recreation center privatization plan, the Recreation and Parks budget has been a sore point. Rawlings-Blake’s transition team recommended over two years ago that Rec and Parks get a full audit.
The mayor’s letter today singled out that agency:
“I would very much appreciate a review of municipal agencies that have not benefited from recent audits of financial transactions. In particular my transition team recommended that we request audit of financial transitions [we're guessing this is a typo and she means transactions] of the Division of Capital Planning of the Department of Recreation and Parks.
I know that at my direction my department had previously expressed a desire for the department of audits to conduct such a review but that process and the city auditor’s response were not memorialized in writing. Therefore I make the request formally today.”
Making Audits More Regular
Even if Rec and Parks does finally get a thorough review of its books, some critics said, the story illustrates the value of codifying regular audits in the city charter.
“The fact that it has taken the Mayor nearly two-and-a-half years to get the Recreation and Parks audit underway, even after it was recommended to be done by her own transition committee, makes the point that audits of agencies must be a requirement of the government, and not a choice of a personality in the government,” said a former head of that department, Chris Delaporte.
Delaporte said the charter amendment would take the political pressure off the mayor to do or not to do an audit because it required the audits be conducted automatically, on a regular schedule by an independent outside auditor.
The mayor’s letter also says:
”Additional audits of the financial transactions of large municipal agencies not subject to recent reviews should be conducted on a routine basis as well. Such audits could be conducted in the order of significance and size, including General Services, Transportation, Fire, and other large agencies.”
Delaporte praised the bill for making sure that audits happen on a specified schedule – “not on peoples’ whims.”
“I think the mayor helped this along with her letter, and I, for one appreciate her willingness to get underway right now,” he said
MAYOR RAWLINGS -BLAKE STAYS WITH THE SAME BOARD OF ESTIMATE MEMBERS AMID MASSIVE FRAUD CONTROVERSY.......SAYS BUSINESS TAX CREDITS FOR LUXURY DEVELOPMENT STAYS AND SUBCONTRACTING TO CIRCUMVENT WORKERS WAGES AND RIGHTS WILL CONTINUE.
Foxx, Nilson reappointed to city posts
by Rawlings-Blake Mark Reutter June 6, 2012 at 2:51 pm Baltimore Brew
Categories Two veteran City Hall administrators and members of the Board of Estimates, Alfred H. Foxx and George A. Nilson, have been reappointed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
The reappointment of Foxx, as director of the Department of Public Works, and Nilson, as city solicitor, was disclosed without fanfare in executive nominations submitted to the City Council this week.
A low-key civil engineer and former branch director of the Army Corps of Engineers, Foxx will soldier on as head of the city’s biggest department (by annual budget), which has become a lightning rod of criticism for longstanding billing errors at its water bureau.
Foxx has tackled the billing problem by hiring new personnel and embarking on a major overhaul of the city’s water meters. DPW plans to install high-tech meters that will eventually do away with individually read water meters and the practice of estimating water bills.
ALFRED H. FOXX (Photo by Mark Reutter)
Foxx, 60, entered city government as head of the Transportation Department in 2001.
After serving in that post for nearly a decade, he was appointed director of DPW in July 2010 by Rawlings-Blake.
With 2,550 full-time employees, DPW is responsible for street cleaning, residential garbage pickup and operating the region’s water supply system, municipal landfills and sewage treatment stations.
Its current $404 million operating budget is expected to increase to $431 million next year, mostly to pay for water and wastewater improvements.
City’s Top Lawyer
Responsible for overseeing the law department, George Nilson represents the mayor, City Council and departments in litigation and supervises the city’s legal business. He has a staff of 99 and a budget of $8.9 million.
The 69-year-old was appointed by former Mayor Sheila Dixon in January 2007 after a long career in private practice and as deputy Maryland attorney general.
GEORGE A. NILSON (Photo by Mark Reutter)
Both Nilson and Foxx are paid $160,000 a year, according to 2011 city records, and require the approval of the City Council.
I want to say that it is the Baltimore City Comptroller's Website that does not allow you to copy information from her site to share with the public. If I could, I would show you, that despite a statement saying Board of Estimate meeting minutes will be available about 45 days after meetings/or quarterly which is every three months, there is nothing there as of yet for 2012....it is June, we are half-way through the year. You can get these minutes if you go to her office and make photocopies (I haven't tried it so I don't know yet if you actually can) The public has no time to react to decisions made when their access to information comes several months later. THAT IS NOT TRANSPARENCY.
Board of Estimate Meeting 5/23/2012
Here are a few things of interest:
We must cut public sector pensions because then Mayor O'Malley and now Mayor Rawling-Blake decided to underfund pensions back in the 1990s. Pensions up until that time always managed to get funded in full, but when the Third Way policy took hold of Democratic Party, the idea became to defund these pensions so they bacame untenable financially. Then, force the unions to cut their benefits....which both O'Malley and Rawlings-Blake are now doing......they defunded them and then they cut pension and health benefits. Make no mistake, some changes needed to happen, but now, we see a middle-class sector being pushed to poverty with health co=pays that will lead to limited/no health coverage. ALTERNATIVE PENSION BENEFIT
OPTIONS GENERALLY MEAN 401K's that are worker funded. WE WANT PENSIONS OUT OF THE MARKET AND WE WANT WAGE INCREASES TO REPLACE BENEFITS LOST!
Through this amendment, the City is further engaging the consultant to explore additional total compensation options, as well as additional actuarial services, including determination of the cost of alternative pension benefit options for new hires. As part of this request, funding will be reserved for the City Council to explore options after the consultant presents recommended pension benefit alternatives for new hires, should the Council choose. This amendment makes the total contract amount $269,000.00.
Again, we want development, but the development companies are rich......Hopkins has a $2 billion endowment that could invest in loans......it is cuts to jobs, pensions, wages, healthcare coverage at every level of government that is fueling affluent development of urban areas. This is development that businesses paid to do and they then reped the profits. Now, a good chunk of the development start-up comes from me and you. Remember last time, the city buys these lots for thousands of dollars and sells them to the development team for $1. THIS IS NOT A JUST SYSTEM FOLKS!
10.DAHAE, LLC 2002 Greenmount Ave. F/S $151,000.00
On March 30, 2011, the Board approved the acquisition by condemnation of the leasehold interest in 2002 Greenmount Avenue for the amount of $49,000.00 based upon the City’s independent appraiser’s fair market valuation of the property. However, the previous owner offered an appraisal valuation of $450,000.00. The parties agreed to settle the action for the amount of $200,000.00. Therefore, the Board is requested to approve an additional $151,000.00 in settlement of this case.
Funds are available in account no. 9910-904713-9588-900000-704040.
At the Board of Estimate meeting talks of state of the art athletic facility being built on Locust Point ....it is directed to serve the sales professionals who work at these new corporate offices in the enterprise zones. This is one of the new recreation facilities Mayor Rawling-Blakes speaks as she justifies closing and selling community recreation centers. Will the youth losing these rec centers be going to this new recreation facility? Will you? I think not.......but your tax money and enterprise zone business tax credits will!
Will tax revenue escape from these zones......contracts of 10-15 years says not.
I attended the Board of Estimates meeting on 5/16/2012. Here are my main concerns:
THE MAYOR'S STAFF WANTED THE REPORTERS IN THE ROOM TO BE SURE TO STOP BY A PRESS CONFERENCE IN WHICH THE MAYOR IS LAYING OUT SUMMER PROGRAMS FOR CHILDREN. SHE ALL BUT CUT ALL YOUTH ORIENTED BUDGETS, SO I'LL BE WATCHING WHAT'S OFFERED.....INTERSHIPS AT HOPKINS? WE NEVER STOP GIVING TO THAT INSTITUTION! I see $1 million designated for this.
MEANWHILE.....ANOTHER MEGA-HOPKINS PROJECT PREVAILS!
The recipient today was the HABC described below. It too is a low-income agency whose funding is to help underserved communities. The community today is Barclay, home of.........yes guessed it.......Hopkins Homewood campus. The city buys condemned properties for hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars with taxpayer money and then gives the houses to the development corporations working with Hopkin's Homewood Development for $1 through this agency (HABC). The development corporation then rehabs the properties and sells them, so the community gets the new housing units for free and probably a good profit for the development corporation. What was once underserved and blighted becomes an affluent community. The many current residents who are poor will not be able to afford to live there anymore. Most of the requirement for low income is met by single occupancy housing, meaning few underserved children will be attending the school. The specs say there will be mixed income housing, but no one has seen any sign of these contract requirements being met at other locations. Hopkins keeps promising to throw a mixed income into the mix, but we will see. The spec call for hiring people from the community for the construction, but like the East Baltimore project, the current residents don't seem to be getting the jobs.
$257,602 worth of property in the Barclay for Phase 2 development
Project financing includes a $498,682 Rental Housing Production Program (RHPP) loan from DHCD, $9,613,600 from the Housing Authority of Baltimore City and a Developer contribution of $116,250. The development also receives cash assistance of $8,676,132 through the ARRA's Section 1602 Tax Credit Exchange Program, which funds capital improvements in affordable multifamily rental housing projects that have previously been awarded federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits.
Total costs projected at $90,000,000.
The Housing Authority of Baltimore City
Two Agencies, One Name The Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) was established in 1937 to provide federally-funded public housing programs and related services for Baltimore's low-income residents. HABC is the fifth largest public housing authority in the country, with more than 1,000 employees and an annual budget of approximately $300 million. The Agency currently serves over 20,000 residents in more than 10,000 housing units. HABC's portfolio includes 28 family developments, 17 mixed population buildings, 2 senior buildings and scattered sites throughout the City. Baltimore's Housing Choice Voucher program provides an additional 12,000 families with rental housing subsidies each year.
The Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) was created in 1968 to consolidate local community development efforts with housing and building code enforcement. With just over 500 employees, HCD strengthens City neighborhoods by attracting investors, developers and home buyers. Through the administration of CDBG, HOME, City bond funds, and other creative financing mechanisms, the Department finances and guides strategic development projects to meet housing and neighborhood needs. To hold property owners accountable and keep neighborhoods safe, HCD monitors construction and building activity and enforces the City's housing and building codes. The Department also provides a host of valuable community services, administers the Head Start program, operates three day care centers, and administers a host of energy assistance programs to residents in need.
During the past few years, HABC and HCD have essentially been restructured to operate as one agency to the maximum extent possible. A new organizational structure unifies the neighborhood building and community support functions of the two agencies yet maintains the financial, legal and programmatic integrity of both. This new collaboration, known as Baltimore Housing, coordinates planning and development efforts, eliminates redundancy, and fosters program accountability.
AGAIN, I DON'T DENY THE NEED TO GROW AND IMPROVE, BUT ALL OF THIS IS DONE AT THE EXPENSE OF THE LARGER BALTIMORE COMMUNITY AND THE CURRENT RESIDENTS OF THESE COMMUNITIES. THEY ARE THE ONE'S FOOTING THE BILL FOR MOST OF THIS THROUGH THEIR TAXES .... CUT ENTITLEMENTS....CUT POVERTY PROGRAMS....CUT PENSIONS......CUT WAGES.........TO BUILD AFFLUENT COMMUNITIES.
I attended the Board of Estimates meeting on 5/9/2012. Here are the main concerns I had with this meeting.
Park Heights Development Corporation/Renaissance
Now, I understand the need to focus resources in targeted areas for successful development. The amounts of money that are flowing to these handful of chosen developments is staggering in a city with such levels of poverty and communities with need. The development is always directed at the affluent over those who occupy the community now. The path towards social mobility requires those in these communities get the benefit, but they are systematically removed through planning and so never benefit.
JUST TODAY.....$491, 167 for marketing and community engagement.
I am sitting at this meeting with two fellows behind me from the Park Heights project. Another gentleman working with the project stops and states VERY loudly 'keep that money coming ...we are getting an incredible amount ...the energy credits alone are huge and we are getting more funding from New York'. The two men behind me groaned very lowly 'that was bad' the other 'that was very bad'....'what's that on the wall'?......'its a camera; they started recording these meetings for transparency'. (I MUST SAY THAT CAMERA IS A RESULT OF SHOUTING LOUDLY AND STRONGLY)
I want to say this....the problem with this development is that a large portion of tax money is funding these projects. Whether the list of Federal tax credits or state tax credits (see Maryland State Comptroller site to see list), or just Baltimore general fund revenue.....this one community development is funded by cuts in public sector services, public sector wages and benefits, Federal, state, and local cuts in entitlements and poverty programs. That is from where these tax credits come. AS THE GENTLEMAN WHO WAS ELATED SAID....THEY ARE POURING INTO HIS PROJECT!
The Board verified that the Fire Department will see its wages frozen another year and acknowledgement of negotiated benefit cuts and fire station closings for a net savings for the city as well as the sale and/or closing of city recreation centers in differently targeted communities....
My day at the Board of Estimates gave a view of how taxpayer money is being allocated in ways that hurt the citizens of the city. There is a vision of what a selected few want Baltimore to be in the future......and it doesn't include many of the current residents. That is why there is a disconnect in how money moves in the city. The second point I wanted to make from this action was regarding the protest of the minority business owner on rejection of his bid on a contract.
I have spoken at length about Baltimore's policies that neglect union/labor rights and wages. I have also spoken about the detrimental downsizing of city and state employees and wages/pensions. This was a devastating blow to the minority middle-class....teachers and administrators, police and fire, transit workers. All this happened as business tax credits moving billions over the decade to luxury, high-end development with arrangements fencing in the future tax revenue to these same developments.
This minority business owner's argument sounded convincing to me. I know from visiting sites and talking with labor that blacks face heavy discrimination these days. All standards protecting minorities and women in contract bidding have been set aside and the city fails to meet these standards routinely. Here you had a case where a long-serving local company with a record of performance in the task open for bid.....and with a bid that was $375,000 under the company awarded the contract, was denied the contract. The rating system used placed him slightly under the chosen company. A local, minority company bidding $375,000 lower loses to a Texas company with no history with the city.
What was telling as well was that the Mayor, charged with protecting the interests of her constituents, walked out of the Board of Estimate meeting just as this case came forward......her stand in made the decisive vote against this local company.
The Texas company will come to Baltimore bringing its own workers from a right to work state with no minimum wage laws and no knowledge of the citizens and what they want. Our construction sites across the city are filled with workers from PA, WVA, OH, VA, and NC. I've spoken to workers from TN....all right to work states with low wages.
Whereas African-Americans may be losing out on the increase employment of hispanics who join the ranks of lower than minimum wage rate, these hispanic workers know that the system isn't working for them. They know they are being exploited and fear the same fate as other minorities fighting for workers rights in America....and in Maryland.
All this affects the entire city culture in that the middle-class citizens must watch and experience the violence and criminal behavior that comes from chronic unemployment and poverty wages. You can bet that those few that plan Baltimore's future and have the votes of our politicians are living behind gates and private security as the quality of life falls for the 99%.