Nonbid contract queried

July 18, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore County awarded a nonbid contract for a television recycling commercial to an advertising agency that worked on County Executive Roger B. Hayden's 1990 election campaign and whose chief executive solicited the business from Mr. Hayden.

The 60-second commercial, airing this month on two local television stations, replaced a series of 1993 advertisements produced by another company that had won the work through competitive bidding.

That commercial, featuring former Oriole pitcher Jim Palmer speaking from Oriole Park at Camden Yards, was not broadcast because Mr. Hayden objected to the use of a city location in an ad about a county program.

The 1993 effort was conceived and written by Charles M. Reighart, county recycling coordinator. Mr. Reighart strenuously objected to the nonbid process and the content of the second commercial effort, which was done by John Marks Associates of Brooklandville for $19,000.

In a strongly worded internal memo May 20, he said: "Awarding business to John Marks Associates, when John Marks gives every appearance of being a close confidant of the county executive, would only make it harder for this entire arrangement to pass what judges generally refer to as 'the smell test.' "

He said he would be "uncomfortable from an ethical standpoint" with such a contract and complained that the Marks proposal would not cover the specific information he wanted publicized.

The county has been getting steady complaints as more than 10,000 homes a month are added to the new "one-and-one" curbside recycling program designed to include all 220,000 county homes by July 1995. The program involves trading one of two weekly trash collection days for a recycling collection day. Many callers have objected to losing a day of trash collection.

The complaints were used as justification for awarding the new contract without competitive bidding. Officials said they needed quick burst of television publicity to get more participation and to reduce complaints.

Objections overruled

Mr. Reighart's objections were overruled by higher officials in his own Public Works Department and by officials in the Central Services Department, which handles contracts. County Administrative Officer Merreen E. Kelly was kept informed of developments, because Mr. Hayden was out of work after a blood vessel burst in his brain on May 8.

Mr. Hayden had brain surgery to remove the malformed blood vessels May 23 and has returned to work part time.

Several high-ranking officials in public works and central services who refused to speak publicly suggested that Mr. Reighart's objections were rooted in hurt feelings over the decision not to use his ad. Mr. Reighart did not return several calls.

Central Services Director John R. Miller defended the nonbid award in a May 31 memo in which he said, "I deeply resent the allegations made by Mr. Reighart." He accused the recycling coordinator of "selective recall and incorrect assumptions."

Mr. Marks' agency was paid $30,500 out of Mr. Hayden's $128,000 total 1990 campaign budget when he upset incumbent Democrat Dennis F. Rasmussen.

Mr. Hayden said he is not a friend of Mr. Marks but did appoint him to the Economic Development Commission. He said Mr. Marks called him early this year with a new idea for a recycling commercial. The executive said he put him in touch with public works officials, who decided to go forward with the idea .

Mr. Hayden insisted there was nothing improper about the contract and that suggestions otherwise were just "out-and-out cheap shots."

In a statement, County Councilman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, a Democratic candidate for county executive, questioned whether the Marks agency got the contract on the basis of a relationship with Mr. Hayden and called for a new investigation by the County Council auditor of the contract.

Mr. Hayden's rivals for the executive's job have objected to the use of his name at the end of the Marks ad, complaining it was election campaigning at taxpayer expense. Mr. Hayden, who does not appear in the video, denied the charge.

The county often awards contracts without competitive bidding under special circumstances, and all such contracts are reported to the County Council. The Marks contract went to the council June 4 and again July 5. But Mr. Ruppersberger complained that the council never knew about Mr. Reighart's objections or that Council Chairman William A. Howard IV, a close ally of Mr. Hayden, had asked the council auditor to examine the contract in June.

Officials OK procedure

That examination, along with a review by top public works, purchasing and administrative officials after Mr. Reighart wrote his memo, resulted in a clean bill of health for the procedure under which the Marks contract was granted. However, it is unclear if council auditor Stephen L. Kirchner knew about the Hayden-Marks ties when he made his report June 29.

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