Company Operated City Parking After Contract Expired

Administrative Snafu Went Undiscovered For 2 1/2 Years

November 17, 1991|By Robert Lee | Robert Lee,Staff writer

An administrative glitch has allowed a Philadelphia company to run $1 million worth of public off-street parking lots in Annapolis 2 1/2 years after its contract with the city expired, a mistake that may have cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.

City Administrator Michael Mallinoff said a tip from "a man on the street" led to the administration's discovery that Park America Inc.'s contract to runthe Hillman Garage, Gott's Court parking lot (until the property wasclosed for construction) and the South and Larkin Street surface lots expired during former Mayor Dennis Callahan's term. The company hascontinued to operate the four lots under terms agreed to back in 1987.

Pointing to a similar contract awarded after an open bidding process this summer in Baltimore, Aldermen Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5, said the city's failure to open its contracts for bid may have cost Annapolis as much as $100,000 per year.

Baltimore city officials said the contract for Baltimore's 390-space Franklin Street Garage was awarded for $143,000 to Penn Parking company, one of the firms expected to bid on the Annapolis contract.

Last year, Park America was paid$248,000 in expenses and profits to run the Noah Hillman garage under similar terms.

The contract for the lots, which last year generated just over $1 million in gross revenue, will be put up for bid in about a one week, he said. Six parking firms have expressed an interest in bidding on the new contract, which includes operating the 508-space Gott's Court Garage when it is completed.

"This process doesn't look right. As long as we've been working on Gott's garage and thecontracts for that facility, and nobody noticed that a contract thislarge had expired? I find that particularly hard to believe," Snowden said.

"It's upsetting that something like this fell through the cracks and it indicates some sloppiness in administration somewhere,"said Finance Committee Chairman Alderman John Hammond, R-Ward 1. "I'm sure we could have saved money if this had been handled properly."

Neither Mallinoff nor former Mayor Dennis Callahan could explain how the contract could have expired unnoticed.

"I'm curious and discouraged," Mallinoff said. "I don't think there was any intentional wrongdoing and I don't think this administration should shoulder any of the blame for this. We inherited the project the way it is now and had no reason to suspect anything was wrong."

"I would have no idea what happened," said Callahan. "I would accept responsibility for my entire staff for the (five) months after it expired. Had I been in office the entire time since then, it would be beyond me how this could have gone on for so long without coming to my attention."

Mallinoff speculated the parking contract may have gotten lost in the events surrounding attempts to construct a parking garage on the Gott's Court site. But Callahan said there was "no tie-in with the Gott's construction" and the failure to renew the contract.

A group of private investors headed by Quille-Crown Parking of Baltimore scrapped their plans to build a parking lot on the Gott's property in November 1989 after a July study showed they would lose more than $300,000 a year.

Central Services Officer Emory Harrison -- the capital projectsadministrator during Callahan's term and the first half of the Hopkins administration -- said neither he nor his assistant, Purchasing Director Brian Snyder, were connected with the parking contract, which had been handled through the Department of Transportation.

Transportation head James Chase was out of town Friday and will not return until tomorrow, an assistant answering the phone said. A $1 million deficit in the transportation department budget prompted Annapolis to shut down its Sunday bus service this July.

Park America has held the contract to operate city parking lots since the early 1970s, said Jay Weitzman, the company's Annapolis representative.

Callahan, Mallinoff and several aldermen had nothing but praise for the company'swork. Park America employees were invited to the public employees picnic in 1989, Callahan said.

Weitzman, whose company donated $250 to the Hopkins campaign, swore "on a stack of Bibles" that he never attempted to influence anybody not to reopen bids for the contract.

Weitzman said he was aware that his contract had run out, but assumed since nobody was pressing the issue that nothing was wrong.

Weitzman conceded that a non-unionized firm that doesn't offer health benefits to its employees would be able to underbid his firm, but said he doubted that it would be able to retain their workers or provide the same quality service as Park America.

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