The city Board of Estimates batted aside a protest and awarded a downtown building contract to a politically wired company that’s nearly double the price of the low bid.
The low bidder was ruled “noncompliant” by the city because it reached only 27% minority participation goals rather than 37%. In cash terms, this involved a difference of about $20,000
As a result, P&J Contracting Co. got the job for the structural rehabilitation of 103 W. Lexington Street for $343,800, as opposed to Bob Andrews Construction Co.’s bid of $197,800.
P&J is headed by Pless B. Jones Sr. who, as president of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association, hired former Mayor Sheila Dixon in March 2010. This took place several weeks after Dixon left the mayor’s office as part of a plea deal to settle criminal charges of embezzlement.
Dixon is currently MMCA’s director of marketing.
In protesting the award to P&J Contracting, Bob Andrews found an unsympathetic audience at today’s Board of Estimates meeting.
“We could have met the goals easily,” Andrews told the board, “and we were under the assumption we had met it.”
By goals he meant the 27% goal set by surrounding counties and the state of Maryland. These jurisdictions combine women-owned businesses as part of the 27% goal, while Baltimore city has a separate 10% goal for women, making the overall goal 37%.
“We don’t list them [minority and women goals] combined because they are separate,” said Shirley A. Williams chief of the city’s Minority and Women’s Business Opportunity Office. Williams said P&J Contracting was in compliance with city rules with 39% minority-women’s participation.
Andrews said the rules were vague and hard to understand – even his lawyer was under the impression that the city’s overall goal was 27%.
“It would be so easy to write this in language that contractors can understand,” he told the board. “The state certifies white female firms as minority businesses. So do the counties. But the city is off on its own different tangent.”
Dressed Down by Mayor
Andrews’ remarks elicited a strong response by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who sits on the board alongside City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt and two other officials.
“It’s not an English [language] issue, it’s a business terminology issue,” she said sharply, explaining that “we just don’t sign onto the state[’s goals]. . . We tailor our laws to meet the needs of our business community and the climate in the city.”
Contractors who do business with the city must be compliant with city law. “The fact that you don’t understand it doesn’t make it vague,” she added.
Rawlings-Blake invited Andrews to work with city officials and bid on future city contracts before the board unanimously voted to reject his protest and accept the P&J contract.
While the mayor called the matter “an unfortunate misunderstanding,” Andrews, who had never before bid on a city contract, was bitter.
“This whole thing’s a joke,” he said after the meeting. “We don’t need this contract, but the people of Baltimore need to know that a lot of money is being wasted by misapplying MBE [minority business enterprise] goals.”
Campaign Contributions to Rawlings-Blake and Young
P&J Contracting and Pless Jones have been strong supporters of the political aspirations of Rawlings-Blake and Council President Jack Young.
Jones has personally contributed $4,000 to Rawlings-Blake campaign committees, while P&J Contracting added $4,000 – the maximum contribution allowed – to her mayoral election kitty, state election board records show.
He and his wife, the lobbyist Lisa Harris Jones, were members of the host committee that raised $600,000 for Rawlings-Blake at a January fundraiser at the Hippodrome Theatre.
P&J Contracting gave $2,000 to Jack Young’s successful bid to win the primary race as city council president. Jones personally chipped in $500 to an earlier Young committee.
On the state level, where individual donations are not limited to $4,000, P&J Contracting has forked over $20,000 to the Democratic State Central Committee. It has also given generously to the campaign committees of Gov. Martin O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown.
P&J has been the recipient of more than $25 million in city contracts, mostly for demolition. These include $12.1 million for tearing down 500 rowhouses for the East Baltimore Development, Inc., $6 million to demolish scattered housing for the city Department of Housing and Community Development, and $2.6 million for the implosion of Lexington Terrace, a high-rise public housing complex.
Jones attended today’s meeting, but was not asked by the board to respond to the low bidder’s protest.