Baltimore Deputy Mayor Letitia Dzirasa today changed her ethics statement to acknowledge that her husband’s company has a large contract with the city, hours after The Brew disclosed that Mayor Brandon Scott and other members of the Board of Estimates were about to approve a $250,000 cost overrun.
The fresh slug of money going to Fearless Solutions LLC, owned and operated by her husband, Delali Dzirasa, was not previously disclosed by the deputy mayor, as required by Section 7-22 of the city ethics law.
“This represents an amendment,” she wrote in disclosing the contract this morning, swearing the new information is “true to the best of my knowledge, information and belief.”
At the same time Dzirasa was changing her ethics forms, Mayor Scott was defending the Fearless contract, which The Brew reported was not subject to competitive bidding, as was the previous website designer.
Bidding against other vendors, Virginia-based Interpersonal Solutions LLC offered $286,367 in the last go-around to redesign the baltimorecity.gov website – a fraction of the price the Scott administration is now paying Fearless.
“There is nothing wrong with this contract and this process,” Scott told reporters after the BOE meeting. “I want to be clear, this is a professional service contract, and it was done the same way that all professional service contracts are done in the city.”
“No conflict of interest”
In a statement to The Brew this afternoon, the mayor’s press office said:
“Dr. Dzirasa has made all necessary disclosures and has repeatedly kept Ethics updated on developments. This item has never been a conflict of interest for Dr. Dzirasa. Neither Dr. Dzirasa, nor her direct team, has had any involvement in the contract process or in the execution of the project. . . Similarly, the mayor had no direct role in this selection process.”
From Fearless spokesperson Kristi Halford came this statement:
“Dr. Dzirasa was employed by Fearless prior to her appointment as the city’s health commissioner. Since then she has had no involvement in the operations of Fearless nor does she have any ownership interest.”
Last April, Scott promoted Letitia Dzirasa, a Johns Hopkins-trained doctor who served since 2019 as health commissioner, to deputy mayor of equity and human services.
A month later, Fearless’ $1 million redesign contract was doubled to $2 million “to incorporate modifications of the scope of work,” according to city records.
The $250,000 cost add-on approved today was attributed to “unforeseen complexities of the city’s current web environment” that pushed back the redesign’s launch date from last fall to March or April 2024.
According to Halford, all of the overruns were the result of requests made by the Baltimore City Information and Technology office, explaining:
“The increase in cost reflects changes in the scope of work requested by the BCIT office. The increased technical complexity in transitioning from one outdated platform to a higher-level platform and the challenge of converting various different types of City assets into a common web design has expanded the scope of work needed, requiring additional time and effort.”
In response to a reporter’s question about the $250,000 expenditure, Scott said, “You guys sit there and hear how change orders and cost overruns and things happen once the work actually starts. This is no different. You’re talking about all the stuff that the city is literally mandated to have on its website.
“Taking a website that should have been redone over 10 or 15 years from the bottom up and making sure that now as we produce a better product that this is something that residents can interact with in an easier way.”
“Not at liberty to say”
Asked why the administration did not go through an RFP (Request for Proposals) or other competitive process to make sure that taxpayers were getting the best deal, the mayor replied:
“Well, they [taxpayers] are. This is a professional service contract. And what BCIT did is that they also went out and talked to multiple contractors and decided to go with Fearless. This actually, as you know, [was] talked about going through the BOE. So this is not something that we’ve been hiding.”
Reporter: “So they [BCIT] did take other bids?”
Scott: “They did. They talked to other contractors, and BCIT decided on this contract.”
Reporter: “Are you able to say what other contractors?”
Scott: “I am not at liberty to say at this time.”