"He built the council's network from the ground up," Williams added.

Clark was kept on after the contract was awarded to another firm because "he had the institutional understanding" from having worked for the council "for a long time," Williams said.

But Early Morning Software President Donna Stevenson said Clark's presence was a costly distraction. She said Clark frequently tried to sabotage her firm. "We would get calls in the middle of the night that someone had unplugged the server," said Stevenson, adding that her employees pegged the problem to Clark. Clark denied Stevenson's accusations. Despite the extensive efforts to find a contractor, city purchasing officials fired Early Morning Software in December.

Williams said the firm's contract was terminated because the council's computer system was suffering frequent crashes.

Early Morning Software "was brought in and spoken to, and they were not able to help us get through the day," Williams said.

The Dec. 29 termination letter from the city's purchasing agent, William B. Irish, states only that the contract was ended because the Mayor's Office of Information Technology was set to take over the council's computer network.

Clark's experience with the council dates to 1996 when then-Councilwoman Dixon recommended him. Back then, his annual pay averaged about $10,500. At the time, he charged $95 per hour. The council could have hired someone to do Clark's job for $72.50 an hour under a city contract held by the Mayor's Office of Information Technology.

Since Dixon was elected council president in 1999, the average annual payments to Clark's company have soared to $100,000.

Baltimore Chief Information Officer Elliot Schlanger said his agency has been performing most of the computer support to the council for nearly two years. He said adding the council's 71 computer users to his agency's workload does not add additional costs.

Clark said he - and at times one or two other employees - were responsible for responding to a broad range of requests for computer help from council staff and members, as well as performing network design and administration tasks. Several elected council members said Clark was a fixture who was always available to assist.

Schlanger's agency is now performing the council computer support with the assistance of its longtime contractor, TeleCommunications Systems Inc. - the company whose team of subcontractors includes Union Technologies, the small firm that employs Dixon's sister, Janice M. Dixon.

The city's ethics board is reviewing Dixon's participation in several matters that involved Union Technologies. Records examined by The Sun show that Dixon voted three times on a contract in which Union Technologies was listed as a subcontractor - even though ethics law prohibits public officials from participating in "any matter" that involves a sibling's interest or the interest of a relative's employer.

Until questioned about the matter last month by The Sun, Dixon also had failed to follow regulations requiring her to have disclosed that her sister works for Union Technologies, also known as Utech.

The city's Minority and Women's Business Opportunity Office stripped Utech last month of its official minority certification, which permits it to be hired as a subcontractor to help companies meet the city's rules on hiring minorities and women.

The business opportunity office refused to renew Utech's certification because its investigators found that Utech's office on the 27th floor of 111 S. Calvert St. was only a mailbox and a phone number.

Clark's Ultimate Network Integration has the same set-up at the same address, Clark said. In previous bids for the council contract, Clark's company had listed Utech as a minority contractor, but Clark said Utech never performed any work for him under his arrangement with the council president's office.

Clark's relationship to Dixon has long been known to companies that sought to win the council's computer contract.

In the 2002 bid process, purchasing officials said Snell Enterprises of Columbia, a Department of Defense contractor, was the best of five bidders. The board then rejected Snell's sole qualified proposal because the estimated costs in the contract were suddenly determined to "exceed council's budget."

"That was the last effort we made to do business with Baltimore City," said Ira Snell, the company's president. He said he was surprised by the rejection because Dixon had "expressed excitement."

"That's why it was disturbing to hear that it fell through," said Snell, adding that he was aware of Dixon's affiliation with Clark.