Turns out that the company the city rejected before bids were opened on a controversial water meter contract was the lowest bidder.
The Brew has confirmed that Aclara Technologies submitted a bid of $80.4 million for the installation of so-called “smart” meters – $3 million less than industry giant Itron, and fully $106 million less than politically-wired Dynis LLC.
But because the Board of Estimates rejected the technical portion of its proposal, the Aclara bid was never opened.
What makes the board’s decision extra puzzling is that Aclara was on the “short list” of three previously-approved bidders, whereas Dynis had suddenly appeared on the day of the technical submissions – and was accepted as a legitimate bidder.
Yesterday The Brew disclosed Dynis’ close connection to J.P. Grant, a top contributor to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s 2011 campaign, who is best known as the promoter of the now-suspended Baltimore Grand Prix.
Despite its minimal experience in water metering, Dynis put together a bid that included Sensus, a large meter company that the city had pre-approved.
Aclara’s bid (including its sealed price proposal) was accepted by the city on July 17. But on July 25, the technical side of bid was rejected by City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt as “non-responsive” after a review by the city law department.
Aclara vigorously objected to the decision in correspondence with Pratt, acting for the Board of Estimates, and Timothy M. Krus, chief of the purchasing department.
On September 25 – on the eve of the opening of the price portion of the bids – the Board of Estimates officially found Aclara non-responsive.
“Aclara Technologies was referred to the Law Department and found non-responsive,” the board agenda reads. “The remaining two technical proposals [from Dynis and Itron] were found to be responsive and met the city’s technical requirements.”
Voting to reject the Aclara proposal were Mayor Rawlings-Blake, Comptroller Pratt and City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young. Joining them were City Solicitor George Nilson, whose department disqualified Aclara, and Public Works Director Alfred Foxx, whose agency proposed and will supervise the meter contract.
“No Information,” says Rawlings-Blake
Yesterday, Rawlings-Blake told reporters that she didn’t have information about the water meter bids. Finance Director Harry E. Black declined to discuss the bids, saying it would “jeopardize the integrity of the process.”
Reached at Aclara headquarters yesterday, Pamela Webster, director of government relations, confirmed to The Brew that Aclara was the lowest bidder on the contract.
She said the company was “thoroughly disappointed” that its lengthy proposal was “summarily rejected” by the the city.
“We still don’t understand why,” she added.
Aclara has installed “smart” meter systems for 17 years and implemented over 130 projects, including in New York and San Francisco, according to information supplied to the city.
Webster also expressed surprise that the company’s supposedly sealed bid was known by The Brew.
Here are the price bids for Water Contract (WC) 1223, to replace about 400,000 water meters in Baltimore City and County with wireless “smart” meters:
Aclara Technologies of Solon, Ohio
Itron Inc., of Liberty Lake, Wash.
Dynis LLC of Columbia, Md.