Grant Consultant's Disappearance Delays Projects

September 01, 1991|By Darren Allen and Carol L. Bowers | Darren Allen and Carol L. Bowers,Staff writers

Where is Todd Black?

That's what administrators in three Marylandtowns are asking about Black, a Bel Air resident who operated a grant application and engineering consulting business out of an office onWest Courtland Street in Bel Air.

The administrators say Black has done nothing wrong, but they areperplexed by their inability to reach him for important information he has on projects he was working on as a consultant.

The projectsinclude two multi-million-dollar sewage treatment plant expansions in the Carroll County town of Manchester and Frederick County town of Brunswick. And, town administrators in Aberdeen said they need Black to answer questions so they can complete financial data on a community development grant project he worked on.

The administrators say they are puzzled that Black ceased to return their phone calls in June, then disconnected the telephone at his business office at 21 W. Courtland St.

"On the most recent project, we had some last-minute questions," explained Simon Ruderman, Aberdeen's planning director. "We've tried to reach him for a couple of weeks, and he's been unavailable."

Black, 43, administered two community development block grants awarded to Aberdeen by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1985 and 1986 for housing rehabilitation, storm drainage work and road improvements. Ruderman said he and the town were pleased with Black's work -- but his sudden, unexplained absence has been an inconvenience because the project must be wrapped up.

Officials in Manchester agree.

Black, who was paid $46,000 by Manchester for workperformed through June, had promised to work through September. But he has not returned repeated telephone calls made in early June from the Carroll County town.

Manchester officials say that in late June, Delta Planning's Bel Air phone number was disconnected, and bills for Delta's services stopped coming. Black also didn't show up for a monthly Manchester Town Council briefing he usually attended, which town officials found highly unusual.

"We had no idea where he was,"said David M. Warner, Manchester's projects administrator who since July has more or less learned how to do Black's job. "It's like he disappeared."

Ruderman and John Kendall, manager for the town of Brunswick, said they heard Black was in Guatemala.

And Albert J. A. Young, landlord of the Courtland Street building and one of the partners who owns it, said Black is "definitely out of the country."

"Whether it's Guatemala, as opposed to Nicaragua or another country, I'mnot positive," said Young. "But I'm pretty sure -- 90 percent sure -- that he's in Guatemala. He's remarried to a woman who is from Guatemala. He's expected back around the holidays. He said he'd be in touch."

Young said Black recently started an import company to import clothing made in Guatemala. "This isn't sudden. He's been exploring changing his line of work for some time," said Young.

Attempts by reporters to reach Black in Guatemala last week were unsuccessful.

The office on Courtland Street, where his mailbox lists Delta Planning Associates, Montage Photographics, NAC XIT Imports and 222 Bohemia Partnership under his name, was dark last week.

But Black -- Delta's sole employee -- apparently forgot to tell his customers in Aberdeen, Brunswick and Manchester of his plans.

"He left us high and dry," said Brunswick's town manager, Kendall. "When I last talked to him, he told me, 'I'll be in Guatemala for about two weeks. I'll be back for

the end-of-year audit.' That was in June."

Black was Brunswick's consultant on various grants for the the town's $6.7 million sewage treatment plant. He also was to serve as engineering inspector.

"When he left, he didn't return some documents we needed for that audit," Kendall said. "We had to spend time reconstructing them."

Black's resume says he has been in the grants and planning and community development fields for 12 years.

State records show that Delta Planning Associates Inc. was incorporated on March 11, 1986, but dissolved in December 1987, nearly two years before Black bid for the grant work in Manchester. Delta Planning was located at 21 W. Courtland St. in Bel Air, a building court records say Black had an ownership interest in until at least last October.

"As far as his work, itwas customary to what other consultants did," said George Keller, chief of the projects management division of the Maryland Department ofthe Environment. "About the only way his leaving like this could have an effect, is making the towns vulnerable during the audit."

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