Inexcusable

March 14, 2006

Once again, Baltimore City Council President Sheila Dixon has shown herself to be ethically compromised on a matter of public policy. This time, it involves a former campaign aide whose company got paid to manage the council's computer system and performed most of the work without a contract. That's a violation of city rules. A report by The Sun's Doug Donovan found that Dale G. Clark's firm, Ultimate Network Integration, was paid nearly $600,000 over six years, but that its contract with the city lapsed in 2001. Ms. Dixon's excuse - that the mix-up was "a major oversight" - doesn't cut it.

She should have been extra vigilant in overseeing Mr. Clark's contract because of their political association. In 2001, Mr. Clark stopped serving as Ms. Dixon's campaign chairman after this newspaper raised concerns about a no-bid consultant's job given to him by the council president.

The city's payroll department also should be held accountable. It was paying Mr. Clark even though the paperwork lacked a standard piece of documentation. And city finance officials should have halted payment to Mr. Clark once they realized he was working without a contract and Ms. Dixon's office hadn't corrected the problem.

A contract award to Mr. Clark, even under the best circumstances, would raise concerns about political favoritism. Some other bidders for the council computer work suggested as much to The Sun. Ms. Dixon's input on another contract involving a company that employed her sister adds to the suspicion.

Contracts are competitively bid for a good reason - to ensure the best work at the best price. But prospective bidders have to believe they are competing on a level playing field and the process is open and fair. The city's information technology group has managed the council's computer system for two years now. Why did the city need Mr. Clark in the first place?

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