A 2008 report funded by the A.S. Abell Foundation says that Baltimore has the most stringent procurement rules in the country. Every city expenditure over $5,000 needs prior approval by the Board of Estimates and every contract over $25,000 must be competitively bid.
No other big city adheres to such strict rules, we’re told. That includes Baltimore – when it decides not to follow them.
A case in point took place yesterday when the spending board handed out $637,741 to P. Flanigan & Sons for paving work that was never put out for competitive bid and never received prior approval by the board.
The mechanism used to skirt the bid rules are “EWOs,” or extra work orders, appended to board-approved contracts. There is no public notice of these extra orders, only notification in board records when the work is paid by the city.
EWOs have been periodically criticized as circumventing the city’s bidding rules, but they regularly pass through the spending board headed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young.
In yesterday’s example, Flanigan got paid for extra work under TR 10324, a contract awarded last June to prepare Inner Harbor streets for the Grand Prix race.
The $4.1 million road contract was itself controversial because the Flanigan firm and family are such heavy contributors to local political campaigns. The Brew, for example, disclosed that Rawlings-Blake received $13,500 in Flanigan contributions since 2008.
Bids Too Slow and Costly, DOT Says
While getting the downtown streets ready for the race, the city Department of Transportation asked Flanigan to replace worn concrete slabs about two miles south, on Key Highway near McComas Street.
The reason: because the city realized that repairs were urgently needed on Key Highway. “We needed to get Key Highway done immediately in order to provide a detour before the closure of the Fort Avenue Bridge,” Jamie Kendrick, deputy DOT director, said yesterday.
Putting the work out to bid would have been a waste of taxpayer’s money, Kendrick said.
“Processing a bid costs $50,000-$60,000 when you include advertising, staff costs and overhead. Because time was short and because the contractor [Flanigan] was working in the area, we went ahead. The convergence of these factors – time, availability and proximity – all made sense.”
So DOT submitted two extra work orders to TR 10324, saying in a change-notice-request form: “The scope of work mirrors the infrastructure improvement project” in the Inner Harbor and “the department obtained a cost proposal from the contractor who is already working in the Key Highway area.”
Flanigan’s cost proposal included about $350,000 in direct repairs. In addition, there were about 50 other charges to the city. These included $62,100 for “temporary concrete barrier, 2,300 linear feet,” $36,000 for “temporary pavement striping tape, 12,000 linear feet,” and $11,500 to “remove and reset temporary traffic barrier.”
In addition, Flanigan was paid to return to Pratt and Light streets shortly before the running of the Grand Prix. Its mission – to install crack sealants and make “partial depth” patches. The price tag – $74,400.
The three EWOs were approved without comment by the spending board yesterday. Funds for the projects came from federal and state highway allocations to the city.
Other Spending Items
In a meeting lasting five minutes, the board also approved:
• $16,105,000 to nine employment agencies to provide temporary personnel to city agencies between Nov. 1, 2011 and July 31, 2013. There was no breakdown of costs among the temp agencies. This contract was not placed out for bid, but represents the renewal of a $5 million contract approved by the board in 2009.
• $800,000 to Merkle Response Services for lock-box services for the Department of Finance. This award was not bid out, but is a renewal of a $2.23 million contract in 2007.
• $750,000 to Oasis Design Group of Fells Point for “on-call landscape architectural design services” for the Department of Recreation and Parks. The agreement is for three years or until the price limit is reached.
• $500,000 to Harbor Truck Sales/Baltimore Freightliner for parts, service and warranty repairs for Freightliner trucks. This contract was not bid out, but is a renewal of a 2009 contract worth $450,000.
• $200,000 to Clean Harbors Environmental Services for the collection and disposal of household hazardous waste.
• $100,000 to Security Equipment Co. for the supply of parts and services for New Holland construction equipment. This is a renewal of a 2008 contract of $120,000.