Bowie reverses on food deal Service contract goes to original winner, Sodexho Marriott

September 03, 1998|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF Staff writer Greg Garland contributed to this report.

Under fire for revoking a proposed contract with a large Maryland company, Bowie State University officials reversed field again yesterday, allowing Sodexho Marriott Services Inc. to capture the school's food service contract.

The university's last-minute reversal came as the governor and other top state officials were preparing to discuss the $1 million-a-year contract -- and protests by the Bethesda-based company.

Still, the controversy is unlikely to end soon. Maryland-GSI Inc., which now provides food services at Bowie State, is appealing the contract award, claiming that Sodexho Marriott had an unfair advantage in the bidding process.

The unusual contracting process had sparked a debate among the state's political leaders -- a debate fueled by some of Maryland's top lobbyists.

Bowie State announced on Aug. 3 that Sodexho Marriott had won the contract in a competitive bid against five other companies. But on Aug. 19, Bowie told the company that because of unspecified "recent developments," it would retain its current food services provider.

That change brought threats of a lawsuit from Sodexho Marriott, and alarmed Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and the administration of Gov. Parris N. Glendening -- both of whom want to keep the $4 billion company and its 250 headquarters jobs from moving to Virginia.

Yesterday, Bowie State backed down from a request to extend Maryland-GSI's contract. Instead, university officials asked the state Board of Public Works to approve Sodexho Marriott as the food service provider.

"We have denied the protest" of Maryland-GSI, said Arche McAdoo, a Bowie State vice president. He would not answer a reporter's questions about the case.

The awarding of the contract to Sodexho Marriott had been stalled by Maryland-GSI's protest. Maryland-GSI has charged that the university helped Sodexho Marriott with its bid by using it as a consultant to evaluate food service operations.

The evaluation, described in the 14-page appeal, criticized Maryland-GSI for its operations over the last six years.

"We don't see any reason this has to be awarded to Marriott today," said Michael V. Johansen, a lobbyist representing Maryland-GSI. "We do believe this is a complicated matter that is going to require some further analysis."

But the board questioned whether Maryland-GSI, a division of Atlanta-based Gourmet Services Inc., was a legitimate business.

"Who is Gourmet Services?" asked Glendening, one of three members of the board.

"We just tried to call that office and couldn't even get a phone number for it," Glendening said. "It wouldn't be a mail drop, would it?"

Brenda Branch, an official with Gourmet Services in Atlanta, said "Maryland-GSI is a wholly owned subsidiary of Gourmet Services. We are a valid corporation which pays its taxes in the state of Maryland." Branch said one administrator works at the company's East Pratt Street office.

Pub Date: 9/03/98

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