Security contract with city canceled

Private company ends job guarding high-rise

March 02, 2001|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

A city contract with a private security company to guard a West Baltimore senior housing high-rise was abruptly canceled yesterday, officials said.

Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano told City Council members at a hearing last night that his agency had received a letter from Solidarity Security and Investigative Services Inc. canceling its contract to guard the 203-unit Rosemont Towers, run by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City.

The Sun reported yesterday that the company was being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to guard the 740 Poplar Grove St. site and nearby blocks while the housing authority was laying off police officers charged with patrolling public housing locations.

Graziano has repeatedly refused to provide financial details about the contract or a copy of the contract, though it is a public record. Housing officials have confirmed only that the contract was entered into two years ago and was renewed for one year last spring.

Housing officials gave no explanation for Solidarity Security's cancellation letter yesterday, and the company's president, Allen W. Ackerman, refused to comment last night.

Ackerman's cancellation letter, dated Wednesday but received by the city yesterday, read: "Due to circumstances beyond our control, we regret to inform you that we will no longer be able to provide protective services. We have always enjoyed working with you, and wish we could continue to do so. Please accept our apologies."

The letter was distributed to members of the City Council's Public Safety Committee, which held a hearing last night on the housing authority's decision to lay off eight officers and two supervisors from its police staff in a cost-cutting move.

Meanwhile yesterday, sources said the 2-year-old Solidarity Security deal was pushed strongly by a council member who once had business ties to the company. The council member, Agnes B. Welch, lives in the area of the site that was being guarded.

In recent years, Solidarity Security rented office space in a building owned by Welch, her son, William A. Welch Jr., and a third person. It is unclear whether that rental arrangement continues.

In addition, Welch's son, a member of the city liquor board, was listed as an officer of the company in state police licensing records in 1996, though he has said he never was.

Welch, a 4th District Democrat, has not returned telephone calls seeking comment about the security deal.

Other council members lauded the arrangement with Solidarity Security, saying it has helped a crime-ridden area.

"It has been a tremendous help," said Council President Sheila Dixon, a Democrat who used to represent West Baltimore's 4th District, which includes Rosemont. "In a community that has been bombarded with drug activity and drug dealers for a long time, sometimes it takes that extra expense."

Councilman Bernard "Jack" Young, an East Baltimore Democrat who has criticized the authority for laying off police officers, said Wednesday that he was "astounded" by the Rosemont deal. But he argued last night that there should be enough money for private security and housing police officers.

The housing authority was paying Solidarity Security for around-the-clock security there - 10 guards on each of three shifts - potentially costing $900,000 a year or more. The company, which employees say is changing its name to Nations Security Inc., was hired by Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III in 1999.

Ackerman was once an officer with NOI Security, a Nation of Islam-affiliated business that provided security at city housing authority sites in 1995 until the company was ousted from the job late that year at the insistence of officials of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

HUD had said the award should have gone to Wells Fargo Guard Services, which had submitted a lower bid.

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