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How contractors meet minority goals in Baltimore: the family plan

The story of Rodney and Pless Jones

Above: RBJ Contracting, owned by Rodney Jones, has a lot in common with his father’s company. This closeup of an RBJ excavator was taken in East Baltimore.

Sons can come in handy for fathers, especially if the sons are “certified minority contractors” in the city of Baltimore.

Take the case of Rodney B. Jones.

His father, Pless B. Jones, owns P&J Contracting Co. Over the years, the company has gotten big and rich by winning more than $25 million in city contracts. Jones wears other hats, too, such as president of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association, an advocacy group whose marketing director is former mayor Sheila Dixon.

This week Jones was looking to snag yet another city contract, putting in a sealed bid of $343,800 some months ago to stabilize the vacant city-owned property at 103 West Lexington Street.

A previous Brew post described how a competitor – whose $197,800 bid was 74% less for the same job than P&J’s – was disqualified because it only had 27% minority and women participation.

P&J, working as a prime contractor, also needed a boost to reach the city’s 37% goal. That’s where Rodney Jones’ firm came in handy.

RBJ Contracting Co. – the initials of Rodney’s full name – is an MBE or “minority business enterprise.” It was last certified by Baltimore’s Minority and Women’s Business Opportunity Office (MWBOO) on April 15 and can be used to meet city minority goals until April 15, 2013, when its certification comes up for renewal.

By adding RBJ Contracting to his bid, along with another African-American company, American Contractors of Baltimore, Pless Jones boosted the bid’s minority involvement to 29%.

He then crossed the 37% threshold by including Cleo Enterprises Inc., a certified WBE (“women’s business enterprise”) whose incorporation papers list P&J’s street address as its principal office.

Armed with these additions, P&J was certified in compliance with city law, and the company was awarded the contract at the Board of Estimates meeting on Wednesday.

Relationship Not Relevant

The relationship between Pless Jones and the two minority firms were not disclosed in city documents – nor during the discussion of the contract by the Board of Estimates – because the information was not relevant, says Shirley A. Williams, chief of MWBOO.

Pless B. Jones (From P&J Contracting website)

Pless B. Jones (From P&J Contracting website)

Williams said she was aware that the owners of RBJ Contracting and P&J Contracting were related, but her office had determined there was no financial relationship between the two. She said her office looked at the companies’ incorporation documents, bylaws, tax returns and financial statements.

“The law does not prohibit him [Pless Jones] from doing business with his son. His son owns a certified minority business, and we certified the company as independently operated,” Williams said in an interview yesterday.

The same principle holds true with Cleo Enterprises, whose owner, Dierdre M. Ford, runs her asbestos-removal company from Suite 209 of 3010 Ridgewood Ave., the headquarters of P&J Contracting. “Companies can be co-located in the same place, and we can’t assume any relationship between them,” Williams said.

Ordinance Bars Financial or Operational Ties

The city ordinance has a section dealing with financial or operational ties between prime contractors and MBEs and WBEs.

Section 28-41 prohibits a contractor from using MBE/WBE-certified firms to meet the city’s minority goals if the contractor “has a financial interest in, has an interest in the ownership or control of, or is significantly involved in the operation of the certified business enterprise.”

An email and phone messages to Pless and Rodney Jones seeking comment were not answered.

Close-up of a P&J dump truck in East Baltimore, which was working with an RBJ excavator demolishing two rowhouses. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

This P&J dump truck was working with an RBJ excavator demolishing three rowhouses recently. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

There appears to be several financial and operational linkages between the two Jones firms. Rodney Jones, for example, lists his company’s principal office as 2423 Maryland Avenue. The building is owned by Harris Jones Real Estate LLC, whose resident agent is Rodney’s stepmother, Lisa Harris Jones. (The building houses Lisa Jones’ lobbying firm – Harris Jones & Malone LLC – which is also MBE/WBE certified by the city.)

Equipment owned by RBJ has a different address – 3010 Ridgewood Ave in northwest Baltimore. That’s owned by Pless Jones, according to state real estate records.

The father and son companies also share a slogan that’s affixed to the cabs of their respective trucks and excavators. It apparently reflects the success of their businesses – “Minorities on the Move.”

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