Losing bidders are asked to help

Prosecutors seek cooperation of firms that didn't get council's computer-services job

March 18, 2006|By DOUG DONOVAN | DOUG DONOVAN,SUN REPORTER

State prosecutors investigating the management of the City Council's computer system are seeking the cooperation of several companies that lost out on the work to a politically connected firm paid about $600,000 to perform the service without a contract.

Prosecutors issued grand jury subpoenas this week to Early Morning Software of Baltimore and Snell Enterprises of Columbia for documents related to their bids on the council work, company representatives told The Sun.

A third company, Sysnet America of Prince George's County, did not receive a subpoena but has scheduled an interview with State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh's investigators, Sysnet President Harold Whitt said.

"They just said they wanted to meet with me and talk to me about this contract," Whitt said.

Prosecutors opened their investigation Monday by ordering city officials to turn over documents detailing how and why the city paid $600,000 for the computer work to a friend of Council President Sheila Dixon for six years.

The grand jury issued subpoenas Monday to the city's top attorney demanding records from the council, Mayor Martin O'Malley's finance department and the Board of Estimates, which oversees city spending.

The investigation followed a report Sunday in The Sun that detailed how Dixon's office steered $600,000 in work to her former campaign chairman, Dale G. Clark. For most of the six years, Clark's company, Ultimate Network Integration, performed the work without a contract.

City procurement rules require that the five-member Board of Estimates, which Dixon chairs and O'Malley controls, approve all contracts of more than $5,000. Other board members include two O'Malley Cabinet members and Comptroller Joan M. Pratt.

O'Malley and his finance officials have been unable to explain how or why the procurement office continued to issue checks to Clark's company after his board-approved one-year contract lapsed in March 2001.

Since then, the company has received $525,000 in work without a contract, according to city finance records obtained by The Sun.

Between March 2001 and last May, the city put the work out to bid five times. City officials rejected all bids for technical reasons in the first four bidding sessions.

Snell Enterprises, Sysnet America and Early Morning Software had bid on the contract. In 2002, city procurement officials said Snell was the best qualified - more so than Clark's company and four other firms - before they rejected Snell's proposal because the estimated costs in the contract were suddenly determined to "exceed council's budget."

"That was the last effort we made to do business with Baltimore City," said Ira Snell III, president of the company, which is a Department of Defense contractor.

Snell and Whitt told The Sun last week that they were aware a relationship had existed between Dixon and Clark, who have been friends since the 1980s.

Clark started working on the council's computer system in 1996 after then-Councilwoman Dixon recommended him for the work. His work expanded greatly once she became president in December 1999.

Even when the Board of Estimates awarded the $47,000 contract to Early Morning Software in May, Clark was kept on the payroll doing the same work until Feb. 28, when The Sun began questioning his employment. Between May and his departure, the city paid Clark $84,000.

Early Morning Software's contract was terminated in December because the mayor's Office of Information Technology was taking over the council's computer system, which it had been partially managing for two years.

Dixon's office said that Early Morning Software was fired because of repeated system failures.

Donna Stevenson, the firm's president, has said that Clark sabotaged their efforts to take over the system. Clark, who has not received a subpoena, has denied the accusation.

doug.donovan@baltsun.com

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