Consultant agreement skips bids

Officials approve `emergency' measure in association blowup

Up to $25,000

Other such purchases usually associated with utilities, repairs

March 30, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

A consultant trying to smooth the recent controversy centered on Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty was hired without bids and was referred by a "very, very close friend" of the Columbia Council chairman.

McCarty approved spending up to $25,000 to hire Steve Beall, of Columbia-based Beall Consultations, for "transition, facilitation and public relations consulting." The purchase requisition said the services were authorized by Columbia Council Chairman Joseph Merke and requisitioned by the president "under emergency procurement procedures."

Although the association's purchasing policy does not define an emergency, all 10 "emergency purchases" approved without bids in the first three quarters of the current fiscal year were related to utility restoration or emergency repairs, including a gas kiln at the Columbia Art Center and a leaking fire hydrant at the association's maintenance facility.

McCarty said yesterday she requisitioned the emergency funds "because we're very well aware that there are a lot of concerns in the community and we're trying to address those."

"It can be any type of emergency," she said.

Unless an exception is approved, the purchasing policy requires a minimum of three bids. That requirement pertains to the contracting of "professional services" -- including consultants such as Beall. Purchases more than $15,000 require a written request for bids from prospective vendors and written responses from those vendors.

McCarty said Beall was referred to her by Merke. Asked how he knew Beall, Merke said Tuesday that a "very, very close friend of mine suggested I talk to him."

Merke said yesterday that bids were not solicited because Beall's services were sought on an emergency basis.

"I consider the difficulties we're concerned with definitely an emergency," he said.

The justification for the $25,000 expenditure on the purchase requisition reads: "Facilitator services for the Columbia Association Board of Directors authorized by Joe Merke, and requisitioned by [the] President under emergency procurement procedures."

The requisition contained no supporting documentation when it was signed last week.

Requests for any exceptions to the purchasing policy must be made in writing to -- and approved by -- the president, and must include "full justification" for the exception.

The Columbia Association tightened its purchasing policies in recent years, after a Sun investigation and outside audit revealed an "inadequate" purchasing system for an organization of the association's size. McCarty, who replaced Padraic M. Kennedy in August 1998, has taken credit for the new process, including filling a newly created purchasing manager position.

Beall has not responded to inquiries from The Sun.

He also has not returned repeated phone calls from council member Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, the vice chairwoman, she said. Atkinson-Stewart has asked for McCarty's resignation.

Some council members have met privately with Beall this week; the full council is scheduled to meet with him in an open session at 6: 30 tonight at association headquarters.

Atkinson-Stewart, who will not attend the session because of a previously scheduled engagement, has questioned whether Beall was hired in accordance with association purchasing policy.

"I just found out about it [last Thursday] night, and I was just furious because I don't think the process was followed," she said.

Adam Rich, the River Hill council representative, said Atkinson-Stewart is trying to "distort the truth instead of working together."

Tom Forno, the council representative from Harper's Choice, said he expects Beall to help the council and the president "come together" and "get us out of this spectacle."

He said there has been a "constantly shifting concept by individual council members and by the board as a whole of the role that we should assume and where we need to go and who should be taking the initiative and who should be setting the agenda."

McCarty said Beall has been retained for individual one- to two-hour sessions with council members and tonight's group meeting, as well as to compile a "follow up report." She said that the estimated cost for that work is about $6,000 but that the association may use his services further.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.