Minority contract called invalid Balto. Co. school official says woman's company not certified

March 30, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County school board member said yesterday he will ask for sanctions against a company under question for its claims of using certified minority-owned subcontractors for a $1.2 million school air system control project.

Raising broad questions about the district's minority contracting program, Robert F. Dashiell also said that the Johnson Controls Inc. project continued for a year without the district checking the credentials of its subcontractor, which is not certified as a woman-owned business.

The sanctions, Mr. Dashiell said, could range from barring the longtime district contractor from projects for a while to referring the matter to Maryland's attorney general for review.

"There is no doubt that Johnson breached its contractual obligation to the Board of Education," Mr. Dashiell said. "I think they intentionally submitted false information. . . ."

Greg Jarosinski, area performance contracting manager for Johnson Controls, said the company met its minority-business commitment by subcontracting 8 percent of the work to a woman-owned company, Electrical Automation Services Inc. of Anne Arundel.

A year ago, Johnson submitted a sworn affidavit pledging to "take affirmative action to seek out and use certified minority and women's business." Mr. Jarosinski acknowledged this week that knew that EASI was not certified but that its owner was applying for certification with the state.

He said he figured the certification would be in place by the time the project was completed. EASI's owner, Vickie Pettie, had applied to the city for certification several years ago but was denied, she said this week.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's a woman-owned business," Mr. Jarosinski said, noting that his company's Baltimore-area operation subcontracted 11.5 percent of its business to minorities last year.

The dispute underscores a larger issue: Though county school officials say they encourage minority participation in projects, the board has done little to enforce the stated commitment.

Officials do not routinely check on claims of minority participation unless someone challenges a claim. The district keeps no database on minority participation in contracts, so there is no way to quantify the participation, though officials have said they hope to have a system in place by fall.

By law, state-funded contracts must strive for 14 percent participation by companies owned by blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, women, disabled people and nonprofit groups that represent the disabled. Last year, 11 percent of state-funded contracts went to minorities.

For locally funded projects, most county governments and a few school districts have developed their own policies.

Baltimore County has a minority business enterprise office and a goal of 10 percent minority participation -- and 2 percent female business participation -- in construction projects worth $100,000 more, said Richard Lee, the county's minority business enterprise officer.

Before the county accepts the work, Mr. Lee checks that the company is certified as a minority- or woman-owned business. Last year, he said, the county projects included 9.6 percent minority-owned businesses and 2.8 percent woman-owned businesses.

Montgomery County's school district has had a minority business program for 28 years; about 15 percent of its business last year went to minorities, said Robert F. Weston, who heads the procurement and outreach program.

The Prince George's County school district gives priority to contractors certified as minority companies if they can meet the lowest bid. Last year, 15 percent of the district's contracts went to minority businesses.

Baltimore County's school district has no clear policy or formal program. District officials say they solicit minority participation through business fairs and other outreach efforts, but they do not routinely check on contractors' claims of minority participation unless a concern is raised.

That's how the Johnson Controls project fell through the cracks.

Last March, the district awarded the company the contract for an energy-saving air control project at three schools.

Mr. Dashiell, who in his law practice works on minority business contracting, noticed it was a large project and requested a commitment on minority participation. The board asked Johnson submit an affidavit pledging to seek and use minority business.

Johnson subcontracted with EASI for about 8 percent of the project -- $86,000 so far.

Meanwhile, the sworn affidavit sat in the file for a year and no one from the school system checked to see if EASI was a certified minority company -- until last month, when the contract came before the board for a $98,663 addition.

Mr. Dashiell again wanted to know what the minority participation was and asked Faith C. Hermann, director of facilities, to get documentation from the company. She did and gave to board members the company's statement that 8 percent went to EASI.

The school board approved the addition at its March 12 meeting, which Mr. Dashiell did not attend.

"I don't know that [Johnson] knowingly supplied false information," Ms. Hermann said. "I think that's a little accusatory. . . . I believe they thought she was certified."

For Mr. Dashiell, the issue is not limited to minority-business certification -- it has to do with including minorities in every facet of the school system.

"If a community feels excluded from the system in any way, that will manifest itself in every other area, including parental involvement," he said.

"They're saying, 'Come to school and join the PTA and tell us what you think, but remember we're not going to award you contracts or let you do business with the system.' "

Pub Date: 3/30/96

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