Firm tied to Dixon loses city approval

Minority business found to operate from virtual office

March 04, 2006|By DOUG DONOVAN | DOUG DONOVAN,SUN REPORTER

The company that employs Baltimore City Council President Sheila Dixon's sister has been expelled from the city government's minority subcontracting program because officials ruled that the firm's office is no more than a telephone and mailbox, according to documents released yesterday.

The city's minority business office also plans to determine whether the company, Union Technologies, has performed its share of work on a government contract.

City ethics officials are examining Dixon's participation in that contract because of her sister's job with the firm, also called Utech.

The city's Minority and Women's Business Opportunity Office confirmed yesterday that it revoked the company's minority business certification Feb. 17, a week after The Sun revealed that Dixon's sister, Janice Dixon, works for the firm.

The certification allows minority- and women-owned companies to be hired by contractors to satisfy subcontracting goals on city jobs.

The council president's relationship to the firm did not factor into the office's decision, city officials said. But the Board of Ethics is reviewing whether she breached ethics rules by participating in hearings that involved the firm's city contracts.

Thomas B. Corey, chief of the city's minority business office, said his investigator found that Utech had operated out of a "virtual office" on the 27th floor of an Inner Harbor office building at 111 S. Calvert St. Since Feb. 13, 2003, Utech has paid $200 per month to use a telephone and a mailbox there, states its contract with Business Suites Harborplace.

"It has been determined that 111 S. Calvert St. does not qualify as an independent, operating office for Utech," states a letter from Corey's office to Utech President Mildred E. Boyer.

Boyer and Janice Dixon have not returned calls for comment. Corey said Boyer has indicated that she plans to protest the decision.

If that fails, Corey said, she has until August to find a new office before reapplying for certification.

The city's minority subcontracting law, which the City Council and Mayor Martin O'Malley passed in 2000, aims to rectify past discrimination in how the city awards contracts to minorities and women in the Baltimore region.

Corey's office was set up to establish minority goals on contracts based on available certified firms. His office ensures that companies outside Baltimore do not establish fake local offices or prop up minorities or women as figureheads.

Documents from the city and the U.S. Small Business Administration indicate that Utech has listed five different addresses - three in Baltimore, and one each in Randallstown and Ellicott City - since it was formed in 1999.

Those include both residential and commercial locations.

Official profiles filed with the SBA and the city between 2002 and last month indicate that Utech claims to employ anywhere from four to 15 employees and generates between $1 and $1.6 million in annual revenues, performing primarily cable installation and wiring work.

Corey said there is no indication that the company, which was first certified in 2000, does not perform actual work.

The initial certification, he said, was for an office deemed legitimate inside the 1605 St. Paul St. headquarters of the Maryland-Washington Minority Contractors Association.

The "virtual office" on Calvert Street, Corey said, "raises questions" about what work Utech is capable of performing.

Corey said his office will try to confirm that Utech is working as a minority subcontractor for Annapolis-based TeleCommunication Systems Inc., which holds a $6.2 million deal to support city computers. TCS did not return calls.

Questions about Utech and Dixon's sister surfaced last month when The Sun revealed the council president may have violated ethics rules during hearings involving that contract and one with Comcast.

Last month, Sheila Dixon asked a Comcast official at a council committee hearing why the city's cable television provider no longer employed Utech, and others, as minority subcontractors. The president never disclosed her sibling's job at the hearing or in the financial disclosure form that public officials must file with the city's ethics board.

The form requires officials to disclose relatives who work for companies that do business with the city or that are regulated by agencies like Corey's office. She amended it after the article.

When asked about Utech, Dixon initially said that she has always abstained when the company came before the city Board of Estimates.

But a review of city records by The Sun showed that Dixon voted three times in two years on a contract that in November went to TCS, which shared nearly $1 million of the deal with Utech.

Dixon never disclosed her sister's job. Her staff said she would have abstained if they had alerted her to Utech's involvement.

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