Dixon says she erred

City Council president `was wrong' to award no-bid contract to aide

Friend earned $95 an hour

Agreement let campaign chairman run council computers

April 13, 2001|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

City Council President Sheila Dixon said yesterday that she should have sought competitive bids for a contract to manage the City Council's computer system rather than hire a friend and campaign aide to do the job for $95 per hour.

"I was wrong. I should have put it out for bid," Dixon said of the computer contract, which she gave to Dale G. Clark in a deal struck in February last year and approved by the city Board of Estimates.

Clark's small Baltimore-based company, Ultimate Network Integration, has earned $101,000 in 12 months under the deal, according to records supplied by Dixon's office. An existing citywide contractor for information technology could have provided the same work at a cheaper rate -- $72.50 an hour.

Clark's work with the council computers dates to 1996, when then-council member Dixon first recommended his company, and expanded significantly last year, Dixon's first as council president.

While acknowledging yesterday that she should have let others compete for the contract, Dixon again defended the arrangement, which was detailed in The Sun yesterday.

"With Dale working on [the computer system already], I didn't think about, `Well, let's put this out for bid,'" Dixon said yesterday. "He knew the system. He knew what was going on."

Mayor Martin O'Malley, who sits on the Board of Estimates, which signed off on the contract last year, said yesterday that he could understand why Dixon might not want to rely on the administration's existing computer contract.

"If I were council president, an independent elected body, I wouldn't want to be dependent on the mayor's office," he said.

O'Malley didn't directly address whether he believed $95 an hour was an appropriate amount to pay for the computer work, but he said, "I've always found Councilwoman Dixon to be very conscientious about the expenditure of public dollars."

Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, who also sits on the Board of Estimates, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Clark, 38, has known Dixon since the 1980s and has signed Dixon's campaign reports as campaign chairman since early 1996. He officially removed himself as campaign chairman April 6, after being interviewed by The Sun about the contract.

Clark has 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. The council has a network of more than 50 computers used for routine office duties, plus a Web site.

Clark has declined to 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 continues to work for Dixon's office and could earn another $34,000 by June 30, though it appears the contract may have technically expired early last month.

Dixon said she didn't know whether Clark would continue his work next year. She noted that the council's computer budget -- which rose by 28 percent to $276,000 in her first fiscal year as council president -- is tentatively slated by the O'Malley administration for a sharp cut next year, to $100,000.

"It might be a moot point," she said. "The problem is, based on what our allocations are for next fiscal year, we don't even have money to pay an administrator."

Sun staff writer Neal Thompson contributed to this article.

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