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Dixon orders open bidding on future demolitions

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon directed the city's quasi-public development arm Tuesday to use a competitive bidding process for all future demolition projects, reversing a year-old policy and bringing the agency into line with city rules.

The Baltimore Sun reported Monday that the Baltimore Development Corp. awarded a $378,477 contract to demolish the Maryland Chemical building to P&J Contracting, owned by Pless Jones, without publicly advertising that the job was available. Instead, BDC officials contacted a handful of city demolition firms and picked the lowest of three offers they received. The BDC was in the midst of using a similar process for a second contract to knock down nearby warehouses.

Kimberly Clark, an executive vice president at the BDC, had told The Baltimore Sun that her agency awarded the Maryland Chemical contract outside the regular process because the vacant building posed a public safety threat. George Nilson, the city's attorney, said the BDC is permitted to demolish buildings if they present a threat. The demolitions clear city land for a casino.

Dixon said in a statement that the BDC "acted in the interest of public health and safety," but "the appropriate course of action would have been to bid the demolition. Moving forward, BDC will discontinue using this approach and bid all demolition work using the City's standard process," she said.

BDC President M.J. "Jay" Brodie said in an e-mail on Tuesday that he reviewed a 1975 document that governs his agency and discovered that demolitions "must be processed by a City agency ... not what I had previously been told." The city charter requires that all contracts over $25,000 be subject to open bidding. "BDC will discontinue soliciting demolition proposals and will go through the City's regular process for bidding demolition work," he said.

Brodie said that the warehouses, which five city demolition firms offered bids to raze, are no longer scheduled to be bulldozed and added that a third contract to demolish vacant properties is being reviewed by the law department. City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, who had questioned the BDC process, said she believes the city will save money by using an open process. "During these economic times, people know that their margins will be thinner, and just to keep their employees working, I think the costs will be lower."

Jones, who got the Maryland Chemical contract, is a frequent contributor to Dixon and other city elected officials. He also received a $4 million contract to demolish buildings on the Uplands project although paperwork on his bid was out of date.

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