Nation of Islam security wins contract for public housing, despite high bid

May 05, 1994|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore's public housing agency has selected a company affiliated with the Nation of Islam over 10 other firms to provide security at its 16 family high-rises in a contract worth $4.6 million.

The selection of NOI Security Agency Inc. for the one-year pact beginning June 1 increases by three the number of high-rises the firm has been patrolling under a much-criticized month-to-month bid agreement.

NOI received by far the highest rating of four finalists for the contract interviewed by a six-person selection panel, officials said.

NOI's bid was the highest of those four firms, officials said. But agency officials stressed that experience and understanding of problems in public housing security -- not money -- was the prime consideration in awarding the contract.

The bid of the company rated second by the panel, Wells Fargo Guard Services, was $3.5 million, they said, while the other two bids were $4.1 million.

The difference in cost reflects differences in hourly charges for each security officer: $11 for NOI; $8.25 for Wells Fargo; and $9.76 and $9.68 for the other firms.

"Low bid was not the prime criteria," said Daniel P. Henson III, executive director of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City. "I want safety and respect for public housing residents."

"I don't expect this will be a popular decision," Mr. Henson added. "But I feel we've designed a plan that works for public housing residents."

Indeed, the decision to award the contract to NOI was criticized yesterday by Baltimore Jewish leaders and one of the other bidders. Another bidder said he was disappointed but not surprised, while a third said he thought the process had been fair.

Some Jewish leaders conceded that NOI has been doing a good job since it was hired last June to provide security at Flag House Courts in East Baltimore. But they expressed concern about the firm's affiliation with the Nation of Islam, led by Louis Farrakhan.

Minister Farrakhan and other Nation of Islam leaders have publicly uttered anti-Jewish statements. Although NOI Security is privately held company, its officers are members of Minister Farrakhan's group.

"They provide effective service," conceded Arthur C. Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. But he asked, "Why is the city not able to find another security service equally effective, but one not associated with an organization whose spokesmen espouse hatred?"

Added Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, D-5th, who is Jewish: "I understand the responsibility Dan Henson has to provide security to residents. But I have a lot of concern about the connection of the leadership of the Nation of Islam and this security business."

Harold M. Taylor, director of government services for Wells Fargo, was incredulous over the decision -- and the process that led up to it.

"It's absolutely unbelievable," he said. "They'll give the contract to whoever they want to give it to."

Wells Fargo had been providing security to four high-rises in Murphy Homes, he said, but NOI abruptly replaced them in three buildings.

"During the selection process, they take us out and give the work to a competitor, and we're supposed to think this is fair?" he said.

Kenneth J. Matulia, area manager for the Wackenhut Corp., another finalist, said he thought either his company or Wells Fargo should have gotten the contract, but he declined to criticize the choice of NOI. "I don't want to burn bridges," he said.

Melvin A. Bilal, president of Security America Services, a local company that was also a finalist, said he had no complaints.

"I think everybody got a fair shot at it," he said.

Efforts to reach representatives of NOI Security were unsuccessful.

The selection panel -- made up of four Housing Authority officials and two public housing residents -- invited the final four companies to make presentations late last month before making its final recommendation to Mr. Henson.

Anna Warren, a panel member and resident of Claremont Homes, said she was impressed by NOI.

"They will take care of making the people feel safe," she said. "That's what we want."

Housing Authority officials said NOI has a good track record at high-rises where it has worked during the past year.

At Flag House, for example, there has been a 50 percent drop in serious crime, said Authority spokesman Zack Germroth.

The 16 family high-rises NOI will patrol under the contract are contained in four developments and have 6,098 residents.

In addition, NOI will patrol two vacant high-rises slated for demolition.

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