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Inside City Hall: The Grand Prix may be over, but the bills keep coming

Tomorrow the Board of Estimates is scheduled to pay for street repairs for last year’s Grand Prix

Above: The inaugural Grand Prix shows Indy cars speeding down Pratt Street to the Calvert Street turn.

UPDATE 2/5/14 – The Board of Estimates today approved the settlement payment to Monumental Paving, with City Council President Jack Young saying that “Mr. Mahoney [president of the company] did the work and he should be paid.”

In fact, Mahoney did not do the work. The Department of Transportation acknowledged that he subcontracted the job of fixing the Pratt Street turn used for the Grand Prix to an unnamed company.

Arnold M. Jolivet, managing director of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association, told the board the settlement amounted to “preferential treatment for a white contractor, a very well-connected one.” Comptroller Joan Pratt abstained from voting, while Young and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake voted “yes.”

Tomorrow morning, grouped with scores of other spending items subject to a pro-forma voice vote by the Board of Estimates, the mayor hopes to dispense with another pesky item involving the failed Grand Prix.

It’s an agreement with Monumental Paving & Excavating Inc. requiring the city to pay $161,699.54 for street repairs done prior to what turned out to be the last Grand Prix last September 1.

Here’s the back story, pieced together from city records:

Sometime early last summer, the concrete roadbed at Pratt and Calvert streets, where race cars would negotiate a sharp turn, was found to have deteriorated to the extent that IndyCar inspectors might cancel the race “out of fears for the safety of the participants as well as the public at large.”

The city Department of Transportation had no time (or particular interest) in putting out the repair work for competitive bid, so it was forced to use a little creativity.

It called on Monumental – a company steeped in the ways of city contracting and owned by generous political contributor George P. Mahoney Jr. – to make the needed repairs under an excavating contract it was performing at the Uplands housing development five miles away in Edmondson Village.

High Priority for the Mayor

Monumental hustled in men and equipment and did the repairs on Pratt and Calvert, avoiding any possible sanction by race officials and assuring that the roadbed would neither crack nor lift up under the punishment of speeding, braking, swerving race cars.

This was not the first time Monumental has been used for high-priority political work. Shortly before the 2011 election, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake wanted to stage a photo op of herself and several City Council members before the “Super Citizen Convenience Center” on Sisson Street.

The facility required a retaining wall to be completed, and, lo and behold, Monumental was tasked (this time by the Department of Public Works) to build it under an Uplands contract. No one was the wiser until four months later, when the mayor and Board of Estimates approved a $582,738 Extra Work Order (EWO) to Monumental for the wall.

The Grand Prix proved to be an expensive event from its start in 2011, when the mayor pushed through $7.75 million in street repairs to make the course safe for 150-mph-and-over race speeds.

The first race organizer went bankrupt, leaving the city with more than $1.5 million in debts. The second promotion team, led by Columbia financier James P. Grant, exited the race last September after failing to secure any official sponsor. The 2013 race cost the city $487,000 in police, fire and other staffing costs, according to a published report.

If quick approval of Grand Prix street work takes place tomorrow, it won’t be because the two elected officials who sit on the board with Rawlings-Blake – City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Comptroller Joan Pratt – weren’t aware of the situation.
ADDENDUM: Last November, the Board of Estimates approved a $706,000 transfer of funds to cover a deficit in the Uplands account awarded to Monumental Paving & Excavating. The transfer – involving state Motor Vehicle Revenues allotted to the city – was passed unanimously and without debate. (Source: 11/20/13 BOE Agenda, p. 20)

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