No-bid pact pays Dixon aide $95 an hour

Council president's campaign chief hired to run city computers

April 12, 2001|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

Shortly after taking office as City Council president in December 1999, Sheila Dixon hired a friend and campaign aide as a $95-per-hour consultant to help manage the council's computer system, a no-bid arrangement that has earned the man's company $101,000 in 12 months.

The City Council contract is one of the largest for Dale G. Clark and his small Baltimore-based company, Ultimate Network Integration, and involves work that city officials say could have been performed at a cheaper hourly rate under an existing city contract that was competitively bid.

Clark, 38, said he became friends with Dixon after meeting her in the 1980s, and he has been listed as Dixon's campaign chairman on her campaign reports since early 1996. He filed paperwork to remove himself as chairman last Friday, after being interviewed for this article.

From 1996 until early last year, Clark's company worked on the City Council's computer system at the recommendation of then-council member Dixon, billing just over $10,500 a year on average for its work. Last year, Dixon's first as council president, Clark's work expanded significantly, according to records supplied by Dixon's office.

Under his contract with Dixon, Clark billed the city $82,000 from March 13, 2000, until the end of last year. He billed another $19,000 through March 13 of this year - a total of $101,000 in 12 months.

Clark's company works for $95 per hour under the contract Dixon and Clark signed in February 2000, two months after Dixon took office. The city's Board of Estimates, on which Dixon sits, approved the $39,900 contract on March 8 of last year and approved an increase of up to $95,000 in November.

Clark continues to work under the contract, though it appears it may have expired in early March, after a 12-month term. Clark's previous work for the council, before February 2000, was on a far more limited basis, without a consulting contract.

Dixon said in a recent interview that she chose not to put the contract out to competitive bidding or to take advantage of a citywide information technology contract because Clark was already familiar with the council's computer system.

"We did sole-source because he put our system together from the very beginning and we needed an administrator," Dixon said. "He had been there since almost the beginning with all the computers since we originally had them, so he knew what was going on."

Dixon noted that Clark had been working with the council's computer system since 1996, when Lawrence A. Bell III was council president. She recommended Clark, but says she also recommended other companies for computer work.

Clark said his work involves network administration, training, user support, system maintenance and supervision of some of the other information technology work done for the council.

Clark would not say what percentage of his company's overall business comes from the City Council contract, though he did say it was a "good-sized, significant" contract.

He said he has other large contracts but did not want to name those clients. He did name two much smaller clients, who both said he does good work for them.

Several city employees and council members said they were satisfied with Clark and with the computer system, which includes the council's Web site and a network of more than 50 computers that are used for routine office work.

However, the council could have hired someone to do Clark's job for $72.50 an hour - almost 25 percent less than Clark's rate - under a city contract with Annapolis-based Telecommunication Systems Inc. that has been in place since well before Dixon became council president. Officials say the council is one of the only city departments that has an independent contract to operate its computer system, as opposed to hiring someone through the citywide contract.

Clark said he saves the city money because he doesn't bill for all the hours he and his employees work.

"It's well below market rate," Clark said. "We have worked extremely hard. ... We have easily done 100-hour weeks and we would not bill 100 hours, because it's not feasible with the client that we have."

Since Dixon took office as council president, the City Council's computer consulting, networking and maintenance expenses have shot up.

In the five years from 1995 to through 1999, six companies - including Clark's - billed for a total of about $154,000 in such expenses, or about $30,000 a year, excluding major hardware purchases, according to the Office of Council Services, which oversaw the council's computer network until Dixon took over.

In 2000, under the contract with Dixon, Clark's work alone totaled $82,000, four times as much as he billed in 1999.

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