Can the man who ran Jiffy Lube run a school for the state's toughest juvenile offenders?
That's a question two special committees will wrangle with starting today, now that they have the bids from private contractors who want to run the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School.
At least 35 private concerns expressed interest in the state's request for proposals, but only a few bids were expected. Juvenile Services officials will not comment on how may bids were received or who submitted them.
Possible contenders include non-profit agencies such as Northeastern Family Institute of Danvers, Mass., and companies that specialize in private corrections facilities.
Almost certain is a bid from Youth Services International, a corporation founded in January by W. James Hindman, best known as the man who made millions on the 10-minute oil change.
Hindman has made no secret of his desire to run Hickey. He was talking about his interest in the school long before the General Assembly changed Hickey's budget language to clear the way for a private contractor to run the institution.
Hindman has sought advice from juvenile justice professionals throughout the state and the nation. He even announced his intentions on television.
In fact, Hindman's high visibility led some legislators to suspect that the decision to take Hickey's management private was a sweetheart deal designed just for him, said state Sen. Barbara Hoffman.
"Hindman is aggressive and he's local," Hoffman, D-City, said. -- "But there's no inside track on this. If he should win part of it, he will probably be scrutinized more than anyone."
But what is Youth Services International and what can Hindman bring to Hickey? Hindman has declined, through representatives, to grant interviews until the contract is awarded.
An examination of incorporation papers and requests filed with DJS indicates he will be drawing on people he knew at Jiffy Lube, both on the board of directors and in the executive office, such as Henry D. Felton and Joan Stephens.
He also has hooked up with Adam Shapiro, formerly with the Glen Mills School in Concordville, Pa. That private facility, which houses several Maryland youths assigned by the courts or Juvenile Services Department, long has been considered a model by state legislators such as Sen. Thomas Bromwell, in whose district Hickey lies.
Those Hindman has consulted as he put together Youth Services International describe him as a sincere, motivated man who is intrigued by the challenge of succeeding where the state has failed.
Hindman also has told several people that his experience in an Iowa children's home was a primary motivation in his desire to run Hickey. After his parents divorced, Hindman and his two younger brothers lived in the Boys and Girls Home in Sioux City. When his father returned, Hindman, then 12, chose to stay at the orphanage.
He worked his way through Morningside College in Sioux City with help from a football scholarship. By age 35, he had made his first fortune in nursing homes. But he left that business to coach football at the Community College of Baltimore and Western Maryland College, where he built a winning team while helping to finance the program.
According to corporate lore, Jiffy Lube came about after a college student challenged Hindman to prove it was still possible to make a million dollars. He bought the tiny Salt Lake City-based chain of quick oil change franchises and took it for a meteoric ride -- perhaps too meteoric, as Pennzoil ended up taking over the company in 1990.
Hindman went on to buy a controlling interest in Sylvan Learning Center franchises.
One children's advocate who asked Hindman what he could bring to the care of troubled youths whose lives are quite different from those who lived at the Boys and Girls Home in Iowa, said Hindman replied, "I'm a dynamic and charismatic guy."