Administration proposes new panel to oversee city phone system

Comptroller Joan M. Pratt and mayor's chief information officer sit down for meeting

October 18, 2012|By Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun

Three months after top city officials rejected a contract to install a new municipal telephone system, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's chief information officer and Comptroller Joan M. Pratt met Thursday to talk about what to do next.

The administration proposed a memorandum of understanding between the two feuding offices that would create a new commission to oversee the city's phone system, which has been the subject of heated debate.

The memorandum proposes creating a 12-member "Communications Governance Committee" — with three members who report to Pratt and nine who work for the mayor — that would oversee the phone system, which city officials have been trying to convert to Voice over Internet Protocol technology. The project to replace the system would be headed by the Mayor's Office of Information Technology with input from the comptroller-run Municipal Telephone Exchange.

The committee would be directed to save 15 percent to 20 percent from a proposed $7.4 million upgrade.

"I very much appreciated her time," said Chris Tonjes, the mayor's chief information officer. "We're going to talk some more to determine whether the proposed contract is the best deal and the most appropriate strategic solution to the city's telecommunications needs."

Pratt, who had been seeking to meet with Rawlings-Blake directly for months, said she received the documents from Tonjes, had not read them yet, but would consider them.

"We met and we're going to have further discussions," she said.

The administration's six-page memorandum describes in detail the way the new committee would supervise the phone system. The board would meet in public, and the new phone system would be subjected to CitiStat scrutiny — at a monthly meeting called "PhoneStat" — under the proposal.

For months, the administration and Pratt's office have publicly fought over the installation of the phone system and accused each other of unethical behavior.

Pratt filed a lawsuit Friday seeking to stop the administration from installing a new phone system using a vendor that Pratt says should have been subjected to a new bidding process. Pratt's office had supervised a request for bids that led to a proposed contract with IBM. Baltimore's Board of Estimates, which is controlled by Rawlings-Blake, rejected that contract in July.

Tonjes said he has some serious questions about the cost of the proposed contact with IBM and believes the city can install the phones more cheaply.

Pratt's lawsuit was filed Friday in Baltimore City Circuit Court. She is represented by attorney Charles Bernstein, who works for the law firm of Peter G. Angelos, the prominent Baltimore attorney who owns the Orioles.

An investigation by the city's inspector general into the Rawlings-Blake administration's purchase of nearly $675,000 in phone and computer equipment found possible conflicts of interest and missed opportunities for "significant cost savings." The report was released in September.

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