Coppin under scrutiny Larry Young deal: How many other no-bid contracts are doled out by other state colleges?

January 15, 1998

CALVIN W. BURNETT is on the hot seat. The veteran president of Coppin State College must justify a verbal deal he struck with state Sen. Larry Young that enriched the senator by some $34,000 for performing virtually no work.

It was a breach of procedure, if not the state's procurement law. It raises questions about Dr. Burnett's judgment and his future. It also raises concerns that many of the advances made at Coppin during Dr. Burnett's 28-year tenure may be obscured by this unacceptable financial arrangement.

But there is a far broader -- and troubling -- issue: No state authority provides uniformity for Maryland's four-year state colleges, universities and community colleges. Though there is a board of higher education, its role is strictly to coordinate activities; each entity sets its own policies on such governance matters as contract practices and hiring state legislators.

That means the University System of Maryland, Morgan State University, St. Mary's College and the state's various community colleges could have separate and distinctly different practices on no-bid contracts similar to the one Dr. Burnett entered into with Mr. Young. Indeed, it's possible every campus in the USM network is handling contracts differently, which has prompted the board of regents to launch a detailed examination of procurement practices throughout the system.

That's not good enough. While this step might bring uniformity in contracting to the Maryland system, what about Morgan State, St. Mary's and the community colleges? The State Board of Higher Education and the secretary of higher education have dropped the ball on this one. They have not lifted a finger to see that state contract laws are being enforced.

This leaves it up to Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the General Assembly to create an accountability mechanism that ensures all state-funded colleges follow uniform practices on awarding contracts and hiring state legislators. The governor should instruct his higher-education secretary, Patricia S. Florestano, to take a proactive role. And the Assembly must give Ms. Florestano the power to hold each campus accountable for its contracting procedures.

The ethics committee report condemning Mr. Young's behavior concluded that his deal with Coppin constitutes "an overriding issue of maximum governmental concern." We expect House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller to ensure that every state college is made strictly accountable for taxpayer funds doled out in no-bid contracts.

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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