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by Mark Reutter4:59 pmFeb 11, 20200

City’s purchasing agent is removed after critical IG report

Despite the alleged mishandling of a towing contract, Erin Sher Smyth is still employed by the city in a new capacity. BREW EXCLUSIVE.

Above: Erin Smyth discusses a controversial landscaping contract before the Board of Estimates last month. (CharmTV)

Erin Sher Smyth has been ousted from overseeing tens of millions of dollars of city contracts in the wake of a lacerating report by Baltimore’s Inspector General.

The report accuses Smyth, Baltimore’s purchasing agent since 2017, of “attempting to circumvent the city’s bidding process” by holding up the renewal of a police towing contract in an effort to add a vendor to the list of authorized towing companies.

Despite the report, Smyth remains employed by the Young administration.

She told The Brew today she is working on a city software financial system, called Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), that’s under implementation.

Asked if she wished to comment on the towing contract or the IG report, she said, “I don’t believe so,” and referred all questions to the mayor’s office.

Delaying a Towing Contract

According to Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming, Smyth violated procurement rules by failing to “create a formal change order that would acknowledge the selection of the [new] vendor and notify the existing vendors of a new modification of the tow contract.”

Cumming declined to elaborate on the report today, saying it involved personnel matters. A more detailed report by her office was handed to Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young in December.

The single-page public synopsis says that the towing contract had expired last August 31, but Smyth waited “several weeks to request a contract extension,” which resulted in five towing companies forced to work for the city for nearly two months without pay.

The attempt to get the vendor onto the towing contract “ultimately failed,” Cumming wrote, because the Minority and Women’s Business Opportunity Office (MWBOO) would not certify the vendor.

On October 23, the Board of Estimates approved the $1 million tow contract extension for Mel’s Towing, Universal Towing, McDel Enterprises, Frankford Towing and Jim Elliott’s Towing.

A New Job

The IG report was posted online on Friday, January 31. On Monday, February 3, Smyth was replaced by Keasha Brown, who is now acting purchasing agent.

In an automatic email response, Smyth said she had been “assigned to special ERP projects and will no long be available for assistance with Bureau of Procurement matters.”

An automatic reply from Erin Smyth following her job switch last week.

An automatic reply from Erin Smyth following her job switch last week.

Prior to the release of the January 31 report, Mayor Young received a Management Alert from the IG. The mayor thanked Cumming for “your thoroughness in this investigation” and said his staff would review the “effectiveness, efficiency and transparency of the procurement process.”

The mayor’s spokesman, Lester Davis, has not responded to Brew questions about why Smyth was reassigned, rather than removed, from city employment.

Davis was also asked if the mayor considered her lapses in handling the towing contract serious and what compensation she is now receiving at her new job.

Close Ties to BOE

Smyth was appointed to the $122,000-a-year post in February 2017 by former Mayor Catherine Pugh.

The bureau of procurement operates as a central clearinghouse for “informal” awards and extensions of services and supplies ranging from heavy machine parts to software licenses to chemicals for wastewater treatment plants.

As such, Smyth worked closely with the Board of Estimates, handling millions of dollars of contracts that come before the board each month, first under Pugh and, since last May when he became mayor, under Young.

She also has represented the city administration in politically sensitive matters, such as the handling of a squeegee boy controversy last month involving a reservoir landscaping contract.

Previously, Smyth served for four years as the deputy purchasing agent. Between 2007 and 2013, she was an assistant solicitor in the city law department handling contracts.

To confidentially reach this reporter: reuttermark@yahoo.com

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