Agency, bidder clash over multimillion-dollar contract

General Services seeks to bypass firm's appeal

May 04, 2004|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Department of General Services is urging the Board of Public Works to bypass the state's normal appeals process and award a lucrative construction contract for a state police crime lab despite protests by a disqualified bidder that says it offered to build it for $3 million less.

Lawyers for the rejected bidder, Roy Kirby & Sons, have urged the board to reject the department's position when it meets tomorrow, accusing top officials of retaliating against the company for making legitimate claims against the state on another project.

The General Services Department told the board that contracts must be awarded immediately "to protect substantial state interests." It recommended that the board award a $23.8 million contract to the high bidder, P. J. Dick of West Mifflin, Pa.

William M. Huddles, Kirby's attorney, accused the department of causing delays in the long-awaited project and said awarding the contract would be an injustice. "You're taking away Kirby's rights. It essentially moots his appeal," Huddles said.

The department's recommendation marks the second time in six months that a state agency has tried to persuade the board to award a multimillion-dollar contract in the face of a protest to the Board of Contract Appeals.

In the other case, the public works board turned down the Transportation Department's bid in December to sidestep the appeals process and award $43 million in contracts to provide van and cab services for the disabled. The department subsequently lost its case when the contract appeals board decided that bias had tainted the procurement process.

Bias accusations are also an issue in the contract to build the new Forensic Science Laboratory for the state police in Pikesville.

The Kirby company contends that top officials of the General Services Department canceled plans to award the contract to the company last fall - and subsequently threw out its $20.7 million offer in a second round of bidding - because of unrelated disputes over a state police construction contract the company holds in Sykesville.

The department, meanwhile, has told the public works board that Kirby committed violations of procurement law in the first crime lab bidding.

Huddles said evidence of high-level bias could be found in a Feb. 18 email from Julie Wilson, a member of the department's evaluation committee, to a state lawyer, saying she had heard that "many people on the 14th floor ... refer to Kirby as a `change order artist' outside of the procurement of the Crime Lab project."

The 14th floor of the state office building at 301 W. Preston St. in Baltimore is where General Services Secretary Boyd K. Rutherford and other top department officials have their offices. A "change order artist" is an apparent reference to a company that seeks to collect additional money on a project by submitting multiple claims to the state for compensation.

Kirby said in a sworn affidavit attached to a bid protest last month that the source of the "change order" comment was Thomas R. Genetti, assistant secretary of general services. In the affidavit, he said he believed Genetti had improperly diverted the original award of the contract away from his company.

Anne M. H. Hubbard, spokeswoman for the department, said it is contrary to policy for officials to make disparaging comments about vendors. She said Genetti has been warned about making such remarks.

Hubbard said neither she nor Genetti could make any further comment about Kirby's charges.

Huddles said the Kirby firm had run into problems during construction of the $22.5 million Public Safety Training Center in Sykesville. He said changes sought by the state caused delays in the project, forcing Kirby to file claims for compensation.

Those claims had to be brought before the public works board and answered by Genetti, Huddles said.

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