Dixon steered work to ex-aide

Clark firm received $600,000 over 6 years, most without contract


For the past six years Baltimore City Council President Sheila Dixon has steered government work worth at least $600,000 to her former campaign chairman, most of the time without a written contract.

Since becoming council president in December 1999, Dixon has continually authorized Dale G. Clark to manage the council's computer system. But records obtained by The Sun show that Clark has worked without a contract since the lapse of his first no-bid deal - crafted by Dixon and authorized by the Board of Estimates - in March 2001.

"Dale Clark did not have a contract to perform this work," Dixon's spokesman Chris Williams acknowledged Friday. "It's embarrassing, but it's not a willful act of influence-peddling. ... We can't say there's any excuse for our not drafting a contract."

City procurement rules require that all contracts over $5,000 be approved by the five-member Board of Estimates, which is chaired by Dixon and controlled by Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Williams said that Dixon has suspended her deputy chief of staff, Carolyn Blakeney, for one week without pay because she is responsible for overseeing the council computer contract. Dixon also "severely reprimanded" her chief of staff, Beatrice Tripps, Williams said.

Clark was Dixon's campaign chairman from early 1996 to April 6, 2001.

The office's admitted breach of city procurement rules comes as Dixon faces ethics board scrutiny of her participation in city contracts awarded to a firm that employs her sister.

This is the second time that Clark's company has caused problems for Dixon.

In 2001, when questioned by The Sun, Dixon said she was wrong for giving Clark's company, Ultimate Network Integration, the initial contract a year earlier without seeking competitive bids. But Clark's employment since then has continued at a payment rate that exceeds Dixon's $80,000 salary.

Four times, the city sought bids for the council computer contract - rejecting all bidders each time for various technical reasons.

The city's fifth attempt to bid the work finally succeeded in May when the Board of Estimates rejected a proposal from Clark and awarded a $47,000 council computer contract to Early Morning Software of Baltimore.

But even that did not remove Clark's company from the city payroll. It has earned $84,000 since May - nearly doubling the authorized spending for Early Morning Software - to do the same work.

Clark's job in the council president's office ended Feb. 28. His departure coincided with The Sun's recent questions about his work. "It smells very, very, very bad," said Bobbie Walton, executive director of Common Cause Maryland. "Maybe Dixon should be sent to her room to write 500 times, `I will not violate procurement laws.'"

When asked by The Sun, Dixon's office first attempted but failed to find proof of a contract with Clark, eventually saying one does not exist.

City finance officials and a search of Board of Estimates minutes turned up only the first 12-month contract approved in March 2000 for $39,900. The board authorized an increase eight months later but did not alter the deal's length.

Since March 2001, when the contract ended, the company has received $525,000 in work without a contract, according to city finance records.

"We would prefer to have a contract, obviously," said Baltimore finance director Edward Gallagher.

Dixon's spokesman, Williams, called the lack of a contract a "major oversight."

He said Ultimate Network Integration was kept on since last May - despite losing its bid for the work - to ease winning bidder Early Morning Software's transition into the job. Williams said Clark's experience required him to remain because the council was launching a new service to post legislation online.

The council president's staff continued to authorize Clark's services for the past five years without a contract for "expedience," Williams said.

"He built the council's network from the ground up," Williams added.

Clark was kept on after the contract was awarded to another firm because "he had the institutional understanding" from having worked for the council "for a long time," Williams said.

But Early Morning Software President Donna Stevenson said Clark's presence was a costly distraction. She said Clark frequently tried to sabotage her firm. "We would get calls in the middle of the night that someone had unplugged the server," said Stevenson, adding that her employees pegged the problem to Clark. Clark denied Stevenson's accusations. Despite the extensive efforts to find a contractor, city purchasing officials fired Early Morning Software in December.

Williams said the firm's contract was terminated because the council's computer system was suffering frequent crashes.

Early Morning Software "was brought in and spoken to, and they were not able to help us get through the day," Williams said.

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