Library sued for vendor choice

Coffee business says winning cafe bid failed to disclose key facts

November 20, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

An Owings Mills coffee company is suing the Howard County Library and the county government for picking the Daily Grind to manage its two library cafes, alleging that the Grind falsified information in its bid proposal and library officials didn't properly check into the business.

Straight From Seattle Espresso Inc., which operates 10 sites in Washington and Baltimore, wants the library system to start the bidding over again.

"You have to play by the rules, and you have to disclose all that's asked for," said Matthew McCauley, who owns the company with his wife, Ashley.

Their lawsuit, filed Thursday, claims that officials with Baltimore-based Daily Grind failed to disclose that they had operated in the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing but - according to the suit - were kicked out for poor service and other problems. The suit also claims that the Daily Grind falsely told the library that it had a contract elsewhere with Johns Hopkins.

The suit does not name the Daily Grind as a defendant. McCauley said he expected more careful reference-checking from the Howard County government and its library system.

"I was very surprised that they handled it this way," he said yesterday. "When it is a government entity, I feel there is a higher standard of accountability that should be present."

But Valerie J. Gross, the library system's director, insists that her agency did nothing wrong.

"We complied with our procurement regulations, which requires the approval of our board of trustees, we followed all correct procedures ... and we checked references thoroughly," she said.

Library trustees thought the Daily Grind was "superior in every regard to the other bidders," Gross added. She said she believes the lawsuit's claims about the company are incorrect.

The first library cafe in Howard County opened at the Glenwood branch last year to fanfare. But the proprietors of the company leasing the space, Riverside Roastery & Espresso, persuaded the library to release them from their contract two years early because they were losing money every month.

In August, the library announced that the Daily Grind would take over that cafe and run the new one at the central library in downtown Columbia, which opened last month.

"We're extremely pleased with the services that Daily Grind is providing, as are our customers," Gross said.

The Daily Grind's owner, David Key, could not be reached for comment last night.

Straight From Seattle Espresso, which started in 1997 with a cart in The Mall in Columbia, runs its operations from "host institutions," including the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, McCauley said. Most of the company's sites are named "The Buzz."

McCauley said even if his company wins the lawsuit, he doesn't know if it could go on to win the library contract.

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