State delays action on bus pact

Board of Public Works questions company's minority goals

July 17, 2008|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,Sun reporter

The Board of Public Works delayed action yesterday on a contract with a bus company that failed to meet Maryland's minority business goals, though two of its three members said they believe the state has taken sufficient steps to ensure the company's future compliance.

The contract with First Transit Inc. had raised the hackles of minority contractors because the company failed to meet the original goal that minority subcontractors perform 30 percent of the work. Last year, the company got a waiver from the Maryland Aviation Administration to reduce that goal to 13 percent on its contract to run shuttle buses that transport passengers to and from parking lots at the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The Board of Public Works, which includes Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, Gov. Martin O'Malley and Comptroller Peter Franchot, discussed the contract at its regular meeting yesterday. Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said the waiver should not have been granted but pointed out that First Transit, which won the $44.8 million contract when it was rebid recently, is exceeding the new goal of 28 percent minority participation and being closely monitored.

"To me, it seems appropriate procedures were followed," Kopp said.

O'Malley also said yesterday that he was satisfied that improved oversight procedures were in place, but Franchot said he had concerns about First Transit and about the way the contracts were written. The board will take up the contract again next month.

First Transit employees testified about what they said were poor working conditions and a lack of maintenance on the buses.

Wayne R. Frazier, president of the Maryland Washington Minority Contractors Association, said that because First Transit failed to meet minority participation goals, such firms lost out on $8.5 million in work.

Cincinnati-based First Transit has faced similar issues in Florida. It did not meet Broward County's disadvantaged business participation goals when it applied this year to run shuttle bus services at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

But several minority-owned subcontractors in Maryland testified yesterday they had been treated well by First Transit, and Anwer Hassan, president of the Maryland Muslim Council, called it a "credible company" that exceeds performance goals and provides the best value to passengers.

In other action, the board approved $1.2 million to cover additional costs for the renovation of the State House in Annapolis. The building, a national historic landmark and the oldest state capitol still in legislative use, was closed in April for major work on its 40-year-old pipe system. The contract modification brings the total cost to $9.5 million.

Alvin C. Collins, state secretary of general services, said yesterday that the project is still on schedule to be completed before the next legislative session in January and that officials had anticipated costs could rise as contractors pulled down walls and ceilings and discovered additional problems.

The board also completed the sale of $415 million in general obligation bonds to fund capital projects such as schools and correctional facilities. The bonds sold at an interest rate of 3.86 percent, and Banc of America Securities LLC submitted the winning bid.

Kopp said the low interest rate was a sign that the bonds were considered quality, stable investments amid the recent turmoil in financial markets.

Sun reporter Laura McCandlish contributed to this article.

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