State job went to company that fixed Bromwell home

Head of insurance fund awarded no-bid contract

some on board objected

October 08, 2003|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

Injured Workers Insurance Fund head Thomas L. Bromwell, under investigation for work done on his home by a state contractor, awarded a $325,000, no-bid IWIF contract this year to another company that records show also worked on his house.

Some IWIF board members objected when they learned that Bromwell, a former state senator, had given Sinnott Electric Co. a contract to install a backup generator system at IWIF's headquarters on Loch Raven Boulevard in Towson, according to IWIF documents. The contract was one of three issued in quick succession to the electrical contracting company beginning late last year after a fire in the agency's electrical room.

Sinnott, according to Baltimore County records, also installed the electrical system in Bromwell's $566,250 house two years earlier. The company is based in Baltimore County.

The Sinnott contracts and the link with Bromwell's home were disclosed as federal investigators look into the connections between the former senator and another contractor, Poole & Kent.

Thomas Sinnott, who heads the company bearing his name, said Bromwell had paid for the work done on his house. He said he has known the former senator for four or five years. Asked whether the work for IWIF and his contract were handled properly, he said, "100 percent."

Bromwell's actions at IWIF prompted an internal debate at the agency. Board member Theo Rodgers said the contract should not have been issued without obtaining board approval.

"Mr. Rodgers felt that this was not an emergency situation and that the committee who agreed to the expenditure should have not approved it without the full board's participation," minutes of the Jan. 28 board meeting state.

In a written response to The Sun's inquiry about the Sinnott contract, IWIF General Counsel Dennis W. Carroll said, "This procurement was consistent with law, policy of the board and good business practice."

He noted that although the contract was not brought before the board, it was approved by the board's Budget and Procurement Committee. The chairman of that panel, Paul M. Rose, is a former head of IWIF and a close ally of Bromwell.

Carroll said he thinks IWIF officials were aware of Bromwell's past relationship with Sinnott but did not consider it to be an issue.

Bromwell did not respond to a request for comment that was made through Carroll.

According to county records, Poole & Kent installed the heating and air conditioning system in Bromwell's home, in the 9300 block of Ravenridge Road. The permits for the Poole & Kent work were issued Aug. 8, 2000, the month electrical permits were issued to Sinnott for work on the property.

According to records filed with the State Ethics Commission, Bromwell disclosed in May that he still owed Poole & Kent money for its services.

Poole & Kent also worked under several state contracts awarded while Bromwell was a state senator, a post he left last year to take the IWIF job. The company's contracts included the new stadium for the Baltimore Ravens and the new state juvenile justice center in Baltimore.

Sinnott's work at IWIF began in mid-December after a fire in the agency's electrical room that seriously injured an employee. Carroll said Sinnott was called in late on Dec. 12 "to provide emergency analysis and assistance" because the fire had shut down the electrical system.

"The place caught fire, and they called us," said Sinnott, who added that his company might have made a few previous service calls to the agency.

Carroll said Sinnott crews arrived early on the morning of Dec. 13 and, "working round the clock," installed temporary wiring that allowed the agency to reopen after less than 24 hours.

He said that as a result of Sinnott's evaluation, IWIF officials concluded that a new 3,000-amp breaker panel would have to be installed.

"Since Sinnott Electric had performed the temporary work, IWIF authorized Sinnott to also perform the panel replacement work," Carroll wrote.

Contracts for the initial repair and the new breaker were issued to Sinnott on an emergency basis. The company was paid $21,518 for the initial work and $35,280 for the new breaker panel, according to IWIF records.

Sinnott's work did not end there.

According to Carroll, IWIF officials then became concerned that in the event of another electrical failure, the agency would have no backup system. That apparently had been the case for decades.

"In light of the ongoing repair work," Carroll wrote in his letter to The Sun, "IWIF management believed that it would not be in IWIF's best interests to delay the process by issuing a formal request for proposals."

Instead, he wrote, informal bids were solicited, and Bromwell asked the committee chaired by Rose to authorize bypassing the usual procurement process.

Though it was created by the legislature and its board is appointed by the governor, IWIF is not required to follow the same bidding requirements as other state agencies, Carroll said.

It does, however, have an internal requirement that bids be solicited through a "request for proposals" when a procurement is expected to cost $250,000 or more, he said.

Carroll said IWIF policy also requires board approval for such large contracts but acknowledged that the agency is debating whether that requirement can be waived if the Budget and Procurement Committee gives its approval.

"That hasn't been resolved, but it has been discussed," Carroll said.

According to minutes of IWIF's March 25 board meeting, Chairman Daniel McKew said during that discussion, "There is no authority given to the committees to make decisions."

Bromwell, the minutes say, defended his actions on the Sinnott contract.

The minutes quote him as saying, "In the case of the generator, it was an emergency situation. It was time-sensitive."

Noting the savings of "thousands of dollars," the minutes conclude that "a situation like this will probably never occur again."

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