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Accountabilityby Mark Reutter11:33 amFeb 11, 20160

Inside City Hall: A fistful of dollars to a slew of consultants

The BOE doles out millions to private companies to do studies and inspections that City Council President Young says should be done in-house

Above: “Call in the consultants” is the default mode of the current administration.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Board of Estimates yesterday awarded $4,881,647 to seven consulting firms who were asked to take the lead in various projects and studies, some mundane, some potentially profound.

The contracts were approved by voice vote during a meeting that lasted three minutes (9:06 to 9:09 a.m.) at City Hall.

The lone dissent came from City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who registered his “no” votes with the board clerk but, in keeping with BOE protocol, did not offer an explanation for his opposition at the meeting.

The reasoning behind his votes, spokesman Lester Davis said, was that these projects and studies should be done by city personnel (there are 14,017 of them on the payroll, according to on-line records).

“We have professionals on board at city agencies who have a lot of experience,” Davis said. “Jack believes you should first look inside the agency and not be too quick to look outside.”

Young has frequently voted against outsourcing, but his efforts have been to no avail when the mayor controls three of five BOE seats.

$27 Million Case in Point

The single biggest “call in the consultants” request came before the spending board in 2013.

The Department of Public Works said it needed $27 million to pay three consulting firms to help it comply with a 2002 consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

 City Council President

City Council President Jack Young. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Young and City Comptroller Joan Pratt voted against the expenditure – which was not part of the fiscal 2013 budget that underwent public and City Council hearings – while Rawlings-Blake and her appointee, City Solicitor George Nilson, approved.

Sewage Problems Still Sewage Problems

The tie was broken by the mayor’s other appointee, then-DPW director Alfred H. Foxx, who voted in favor of a request made by his own agency.

Solicitor Nilson and other officials found no conflict of interest in Foxx’s vote. Put simply, the mayor rules at the BOE.

But doling out money to consultants has not particularly helped the city comply with the law.

A December report by the Environmental Integrity Project documented the continued discharge of raw sewage into the Jones Falls, emptying into Baltimore’s iconic tourism hub, the Inner Harbor.

And despite the $27 million awarded to consultants three years ago, Baltimore has failed to meet a federal deadline to comply with the decree.

The deadline was January 1, 2016. City Hall is now counting on a forgiving EPA to extend the compliance date to 2019 or beyond. So far, there has been no ruling from the federal agency.

Advice but no Consent

One of the firms that shared in that $27 million award, Louis Berger Water Services, was handed $322,958 yesterday to assist another city facility that has been negligent in complying with U.S. Clean Water standards.

Sewage is still flowing into the Jones Falls and the city missed a consent decree e deadline to stop it, despite a $27 million expenditure to consultants. (Photo of Falls Road sign by Fern Shen)

Consultants notwithstanding, sewage is still flowing into the Jones Falls, and the city has missed the deadline to stop it. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Berger will be doing “field inspections, code compliance and recordkeeping” at the Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant – just the kind of duties that Young says could and should be done by city personnel.

Last year, Berger Water was handed $130,000 to provide the city Department of Transportation (DOT) a report on how to fix the financially-challenged Charm City Circulator.

Berger recommended ending the lightly-patronized Banner Route.

But faced with an outcry by some residents, Mayor Rawlings-Blake ignored the report’s advice and instead took $2.9 million out of a capital reserve fund to keep the bus route afloat.

Hanover Bridge Study

The latest on the consultant report front is that Los Angeles-based AECOM got $1,001,110.65 yesterday to conduct a study advising DOT how to rehabilitate or replace the aging Hanover Street Bridge.

A lot will be riding on the study’s findings, as The Brew reported in December. The fate of the bridge has major implications for the future of the Middle Branch, a mostly unblemished urban estuary.

One of the tasks outsourced to AECOM amounts to policy decisions about how the bridge “can best meet the needs of residents, businesses and commuters” across South Baltimore.

A key observer of such decision-making will be Under Armour and its CEO, Kevin Plank, who have purchased large tracts of land for UA’s Port Covington headquarters and Plank’s projected waterfront community in Westport.

In the coming months expect a lot of back-and-forth between AECOM, Under Armour, and Plank’s real estate company over the bridge’s future that, if handled directly by DOT, would require public disclosure and, possibly, City Council hearings.

The Hanover Street Bridge is getting the consultant study treatment. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Consultants will be trampling around the century-old Hanover Street Bridge to determine its future. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Also Outsourced: Roof and Ramp Designs

Other government tasks awarded to private companies yesterday by Mayor Rawlings-Blake, Comptroller Pratt, Solicitor Nilson and DPW director Rudolph Chow were:

• $1.5 million to Gannett Fleming to provide architectural services to the Department of Recreation and Parks. The Pennsylvania-based consultant has been the go-to guy at Rec and Parks for years.

• $687,015 to Hazen & Sawyer and $624,655 to Hill-KCI Technologies to help the Bureau of Water and Wastewater inspect new sewer lines.

• $559,083 to Whitman, Requardt & Associates to offer design ideas to DOT for a new Perring Parkway off-ramp to Northern Parkway.

• $186,825 to Sabra, Wang & Associates to submit construction documents to the Department of General Services for a replacement roof at the Courthouse East building on Calvert Street.

Sabra, Wang has been especially busy in city government in recent months. Not only did it help DOT put the finishing touches on the Roland Avenue cycle track, but it is also the author of the $140,000 feasibility study of reintroducing two-way traffic on Calvert and St. Paul streets.

Yesterday Sabra, Wang got another assignment from the Board of Estimates. It will serve as a $139,894 “disadvantaged business enterprise” consultant to AECOM in the Hanover Bridge study.

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