“Did you pick your neighbors?” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake wanted to know.
Asked to comment yesterday on her aide’s hiring of a neighbor to a $60,000 position at the minority business development center, the mayor responded with her own set of questions.
“He was a neighbor? That is relevant because?”
After a pause when the question was repeated, Rawlings-Blake said, “Did you pick your neighbors? Did you choose a neighbor because you were looking for a job? It seems like a coincidence to me.”
This was the mayor’s first public response to a Brew article describing how the top positions at a newly created minority business center were filled by partners in a failed hotel scheme – one of whom, David Mosley, lives next door to Sharon Pinder, director of the Mayor’s Office of Minority and Women-Owned Business Development.
The mayor did not respond to whether she knew about the Mosley-Pinder connection when she signed off on the two jobs last December, which will pay Mosley $60,500 a year and Vernon Marrow $93,500 a year.
The two men were partners at ESmith Legacy, a real estate firm whose local office was closed shortly before Mosley and Marrow were selected by Pinder to run the Minority Business Development Agency’s Business Center.
Co-founded by retired NFL football star Emmitt Smith, ESmith Legacy is facing a lawsuit by a Washington, D.C., architecture firm over a failed Hyatt Hotel project in Harlem, New York.
The Business Center was formally opened in March after the city secured a grant from the U.S. Commerce Department to provide advice and organize strategic partnerships for minority companies seeking to expand their business overseas.
Mosley and Marrow, whose resumes indicate no prior experience in running a government program, are the administrators of the business center – Mosley reporting to Marrow and Marrow reporting to Sharon Pinder.
The two men are still listed as business partners on ESmith’s website.
Asked if she had confidence in Pinder and the way the program is being run, Rawlings-Blake said, “I have confidence that we will administer the grant and do it as best as we can.”
She added, “It’s too important to help us to grow businesses not to get it right, and I will get it right.”
Neighbors and Friends
Since The Brew described the relationship between Pinder and Mosley – the two families have lived side-by-side at a plush Howard County subdivision for 15 years and have entertained together, according to a social item in the Afro-American – the administration has declined to respond.
The Brew submitted a series of question as part of a Public Information Act (PIA) request.
On Tuesday, the administration responded by providing documents for three of The Brew’s nine questions. (See list below.)
In response to the other questions, Assistant City Solicitor Mark J. Dimenna wrote:
“The Office of Minority and Women-Owned Business Development (MWBD) is required to withhold personnel records from your inspection, which includes resumes. Lastly, MWBD is not obligated to answer your questions or perform research in response to your request.”
The mayor’s office has not made Sharon Pinder available for comment before or after the publication of the story.
The mayor’s spokesman, Kevin Harris, instructed Pinder in an email “please do not respond” to The Brew’s questions, while City Solicitor George Nilson, in an email to Harris, pointed out that some Brew questions “need not be answered” by the mayor’s office.
The questions submitted to the mayor’s office were:
1. copy of employment contract and all related agreements pertaining to the hiring of David Mosley as Contract Services Specialist by Mayor’s Office of Minority and Women-Owned Business Development (MWBD).
2. same for hiring of Vernon Marrow as Contract Services Specialist by MWBD.
3. copy of the job descriptions for each job above.
4. copy of resumes submitted to MWBD by David Mosley and Vernon Marrow – or a statement that there was no resumes submitted.
5. how many persons applied for job 1 and for job 2?
6. how many persons were interviewed for job 1 and for job 2?
7. copy of public advertisement for job 1 and the public advertisement for job 2 – or a statement that there was no advertisement/s.
8. emails from and to Sharon Pinder and other staff or parties pertaining to the decision to hire Mosley and Marrow.
9. did your personal friendship with David Mosley and/or with Vernon Marrow affected your hiring decision/s?
The MBDA Business Center, located at the Johns Hopkins at Eastern Building on East 33rd Street, is one of 50 such facilities in the U.S. and Puerto Rico funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency.
The center was created through a three-year, $900,000 MBDA grant.
The agency’s national director, Alejandra Castillo, attended the center’s opening ceremony in March along with Mayor Rawlings-Blake and Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D, 7th).