Stadium body opposes procurement oversight

Legislators skeptical of authority's plan to adopt own policy

March 06, 2004|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

ANNAPOLIS - Maryland Stadium Authority officials fought legislation yesterday that would require the agency and a number of other independent agencies to follow state procurement rules.

In testimony before a Health and Government Operations subcommittee, they promised to adopt a procurement policy soon. But legislators remained skeptical about the authority's claim that it needed the flexibility to maneuver quickly.

"I am astonished to learn that the Stadium Authority doesn't have a procurement policy," Del. Dan K. Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat who proposed the amendment, told the officials. "You do a massive amount of procurement. This is not small-time stuff."

The authority has been under fire since the release of a legislative audit last month that found inadequate board oversight, conflict of interest, failure to calculate rent owed the state and failure to advertise $66 million in construction contracts.

"We oppose the amendment to this bill," Alison L. Asti, Stadium Authority general counsel, told the subcommittee. "We are well aware of the issues addressed in the audit, and the chairman has announced he plans to formalize the procedures used for procurement. We believe that we can, and have, handled procurement in a very fair way."

The amendment would add the Stadium Authority to those agencies required to follow Department of General Services procurement rules.

A Stadium Authority work session is planned for next week when Chairman Carl A.J. Wright returns from traveling, and formal procedures will be adopted after that, Asti said.

"It seems like the quickest way to fix this problem is to put you under the law," Morhaim said in response.

The work session will be a chance to prepare an answer for lawmakers after the grilling last week in which two committees requested documents, including backdated letters regarding a $15,000 bonus for the agency's executive director.

Evidence of backdating was clear on the letters regarding Stadium Authority Executive Director Richard W. Slosson's bonus because the letters, dated March 1, 2002, and October 1, 2002, appeared on Stadium Authority letterhead that included Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s name. He was not sworn in as governor until Jan. 15, 2003.

Former authority Chairman John Brown III said in an interview last week that he drafted the two letters to explain past actions. The date on the March letter was a typo by a secretary that slipped through, and the other was dated with the month and year that Slosson's bonus had been awarded, Brown said.

Both he and Slosson said they did not notice the typo in the March 2002 letter before signing it.

The authority has handled hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of public projects, including Oriole Park at Camden Yards, M&T Bank Stadium, a convention center in Ocean City and the expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center, and was involved in the recent renovations of the Hippodrome Theatre.

Procurement represents $7 billion of Maryland's $24 billion budget, Morhaim said yesterday, adding that even saving 1 percent would represent $70 million.

"There are a whole list of entities that are excluded from state procurement law for many reasons," Morhaim said in recent interviews. "The purpose for the bill is to bring them all to the table to justify why they're excluded from the process or what is the supervision or the accountability of the public process. It will be the opportunity to shed some sunlight on this."

Among the two dozen groups excluded, exempted or partially exempted from the usual state procurement process are: the judiciary and legislature; Maryland State Arts Council; Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund; Department of Business and Economic Development for procurements related to private sector cooperative marketing projects; and the Maryland State Lottery Agency, for certain private sector cooperative marketing projects.

A joint task force that studied Maryland procurement law 10 years ago recommended further study to determine whether the exemptions were appropriate. The Stadium Authority was among those exempted.

The release of the audit and the debate on whether the authority should fall under standard state procurement rules come as the authority is being considered for additional responsibilities including school construction and projects related to slots, should they be approved this session.

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