They clustered on opposite sides of the room -- union workers sporting hand-lettered "Re-bid" stickers standing behind young non-union men in bright red uniform jackets.
The focal points of a month-long debate, the 40 workers for two parking management companies in Annapolis packed City Hall to fight for their jobs. But by the end of Monday night, there were still no clear winners.
After two hours of wrangling over the ethics of saving money at the expense of employee health benefits, the City Council took no action on a bid controversy over managing Annapolis' off-street parking. Instead, the council simply told the administration to take another look at the contract before making a decision.
"My sense of it is that we will probably go with the process as originally intended," City Administrator Michael Mallinoff said yesterday. "We'll review the applicants and make a determination on the lowest responsive bid."
Last month, the council held up the contract after 25 employees of Park America Inc. complained they would lose pay and benefits under a new manager. Park America ran the city's Noah Hillman Garage and two lots for more than a decade, continuing 2 1/2 years after its last contract lapsed.
When the mistake was discovered in November, criticscharged the city had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars by allowing the contract to expire. The administration responded by putting the contract out to bid, with an emphasis on saving the most money.
Towne Park Ltd., a small Annapolis valet parking firm, submitted the lowest bid, at $237,480. Park America's bid was $316,000, but the company quickly pointed out that the difference was due to higher wages and benefits.
A dozen employees of Towne Park sat up front in the council chambers as union workers pleaded to save their jobs.
Although at least four council members said they were reluctant to award a contract to a company that failed to provide health coverage, they indicated the bid request was not flawed enough to start over again. Other aldermen worried about setting a precedent that every city contract must require union wages and benefits.
Alderwoman Ruth Gray, R-Ward 4, questioned: "What kind of message are we sending when we say we don't care about your health benefits?"
But Alderman Wayne Turner, R-Ward 6, pointed out that mandating health benefits would translate into increased costs and, ultimately, higher taxes.
Towne Park workers said Monday night that they have the option of purchasing health benefits. They also said the pay starts at $5 or $5.50 an hour, comparable to wages paid by Park America.
Diane Everett, managerof the Hillman Garage, said her workers earn up to $8 an hour and receive health insurance. While the owner of Towne Park has promised tohire qualified employees from Park America, most have families and could not afford a significant loss in pay or benefits, she said.
Towne Park was the lowest bidder, but the administration could choose to award the contract to another firm, Mallinoff said.
Asked what direction he planned to give, Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins said he's "thinking about it" and weighing the options.