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Culture & Artsby Mark Reutter5:24 pmDec 8, 20150

Mayor to hike pay for friend who runs African American Festival

Politically-wired promoter has been paid over $2 million to oversee the festival during Rawlings-Blake’s term in office. UPDATED 12/9 with Board of Estimates vote.

Above: Mayor Rawlings-Blake listens to Shelonda Stokes touting the African American Festival in front of City Hall.

UPDATE: Wednesday, Dec. 9 – Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake voted today in favor of the $535,500 contract to GreiBO run by her friend and campaign contributor Shelonda Stokes.

Board member Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who also has accepted campaign contributions from GreiBO, abstained from the 4-0 vote to approve the contract.

Neither the mayor nor Young commented on the contract, which goes into effect today through December 31, 2016.

A company that promotes the annual African American Festival on behalf of the mayor’s office is about to be handed a new contract that features a hefty pay increase for its politically-connected CEO.

Tomorrow’s Board of Estimates agenda includes a $535,500 allocation to GreiBO K Designs, run by mayoral friend and campaign contributor Shelonda Stokes, to produce the two-day festival this summer.

The new fee represents a 23% increase over the average cost of GreiBO’s current three-year contract with the city and is more than double the $225,000 paid to the company when it first took over festival duties in 2011.

[PLEASE NOTE: The original version of this story did not make clear that the 23% increase was based on the average of payments under the three-year contract. Specific payments to GreiBO were $350,000 in 2013, $420,000 in 2014, and $535,500 in 2015.]

Including tomorrow’s award, the city will have paid GreiBO more than $2.3 million since 2010 (when Rawlings-Blake became mayor) in return for designing, fundraising, and offsetting some entertainers’ costs and fees for the music and cultural event.

No Competitive Bidding

As was the case in its prior contracts with the mayor’s office, GreiBO will be awarded the work without a RFP (Request for Proposals) issued by the city or competition from other festival promoters.

In order to make this happen, the administration will cite tomorrow Article VI, Section 11 (e)(i) of the City Charter. This permits the awarding of a contract “of such a nature that no advantage will result in seeking, nor would it be practical to obtain, competitive bids.”

To further circumvent regular city procedures, GreiBO will be designated a “consultant” to the Mayor’s Office of Minority and Women Owned Business Development – and its fees classified as a “grant” that first will be funneled to a municipal charity set up to support underprivileged residents and youth programs.

The Board of Estimates agenda explains the awarding procedure this way:

“Upon approval of the Board of Estimates, the City of Baltimore will disburse grant funds to the Baltimore City Foundation, Inc. [the municipal charity] in the amount of $535,500.00 for the consultant, greiBO K Designs, LLC, for the preparation of the 2016 African American Festival.”

GreiBO is expected to use roughly half of the awarded money for “infrastructure” and procuring “local and national talent.”

The remainder will be pocketed by the company as a “producer’s fee,” the agreement states.

Unique Among Festivals

AFRAM, the longtime name for the festival, differs from other city-sponsored festivals and events in that it is not run by the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts.

BOPA produces about 70 events a year, including Artscape (the cityʼs largest festival), Baltimore Book Festival, Flower Mart, and the New Yearʼs Eve and July 4th celebrations at the Inner Harbor.

AFRAM comes under the umbrella of city ethnic festivals, and during the Rawlings-Blake years it has maintained an advisory board freighted with City Hall campaign contributors.

Among them: Columbia, Md., financier J.P. Grant (who agreed to promote the Baltimore Grand Prix for the mayor at a heavy financial loss) and “Demolition King” Pless B. Jones.

Stokes fits in as both a longtime friend and benefactor of the mayor. During the 2011 election, Stokes, a resident of Owings Mills, paid $2,200 to the Rawlings-Blake campaign committee under her name and under GreiBO.

Since then, GreiBO has paid another $2,800 into the mayor’s coffers, according to the Maryland State Election Board records.

Additionally, GreiBO donated $1,000 to City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who is a member of the Board of Estimates.

In the past, Rawlings-Blake has abstained from voting on the GreiBO contract at the spending board meeting.

Nevertheless, the award has sailed through thanks to her control of the board through her two appointees, the director of public works and the city solicitor.

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