Schaefer clashes with Ehrlich over board vote

Comptroller seems angry as Maximus loses contract

December 18, 2003|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Comptroller William Donald Schaefer's honeymoon with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. drifted closer to the rocks yesterday after he lost a Board of Public Works vote that ousted the company that runs child support enforcement service in Baltimore.

Ehrlich and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp outvoted Schaefer to award the contract held by Virginia-based Maximus Inc. -- a four-year incumbent provider--to Policy Studies Inc. of Denver.

PSI had prevailed in the procurement competition and was recommended for approval, but a furious Schaefer charged that the state Department of Human Resources had predetermined the result. The contract is worth an estimated $10 million to $15 million for four to six years.

After it became clear he would lose the vote, Schaefer appeared angrier than he has been at a board meeting since the departure of his nemesis, former Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Since taking office, Ehrlich has courted the volatile Schaefer with deferential treatment, flattery and personal gestures such as turning on a fountain -- turned off by Glendening -- that Schaefer installed at Government House while governor. Schaefer, in turn, has regularly praised Ehrlich.

"This could be a turning point in the way I think," Schaefer said yesterday.

PSI won the department approval. Last summer, the board delayed the award while Maximus appealed to the Board of Contract Appeals.

The appeals board found against Maximus, which appealed to the Baltimore Circuit Court. The department asked the board to approve the transition to PSI as of Jan. 1.

Bruce C. Bereano, Maximus' lobbyist and a longtime friend of Schaefer, made an emotional plea to the board to extend Maximus' contract until March 31 to let the company have its day in court.

But Ehrlich, whom Bereano supported during last year's election, said a further extension would set a bad precedent.

Kopp, who held the swing vote, sealed Maximus' defeat when she said that despite Bereano's persistent lobbying she had concluded that PSI was well-qualified and that Maximus is unlikely to prevail in court.

The 2-1 vote so annoyed Schaefer that he abstained on several routine votes that followed. The comptroller's ire increased later as he quizzed James F. Ports Jr., assistant transportation secretary, about the department's firing of Kathleen Bond, a Maryland Port Administration official who worked with cruise ship lines.

Schaefer said Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan had fired Bond in a terse letter sent by fax Dec. 9 -- without a personal call -- that told her to leave that day. After the meeting, Schaefer denied that his honeymoon with the governor was over, but said he is tired of the way Ehrlich's appointees treat employees.

Transportation Department spokesman Jack Cahalan confirmed that Bond was no longer working for the MPA. He said Schaefer's account of her departure was "extremely sketchy and not totally accurate."

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