City spending board approves IT consulting deals

Baltimore's Board of Estimates approved spending $4.5 million Wednesday to extend contracts with two information technology firms that provide workers to the city.

The board voted to extend for six months contracts with Telecommunication Systems Inc. of Annapolis and the Rockville office of Digicon Corp., with the possibility of an additional six-month extension. Telecommunication Systems will provide 36 people to work as programmers, database administrators and in similar positions, while Digicon will provide another 37.

City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt has criticized purchases the Mayor's Office of Information Technology made under a different Digicon contract.

City purchasing chief Joseph Mazza said city government has relied on employees from the two companies for several years. Technology managers "at every level — local, state and federal — have found it necessary to turn to the private sector to obtain appropriately qualified [information technology] professionals to augment their internal workforce," he said.

Mazza said the plan is to hire some of the contractual workers as city employees in the coming year. His department will be seeking a new round of bids in the future, he said.

Three members of the board, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, City Solicitor George Nilson and Public Works Director Alfred Foxx, voted to approve the contracts. City Council PresidentBernard C. "Jack" Young abstained because his sister works in the mayor's information technology office. Pratt voted against the appropriation.

Rawlings-Blake and Pratt have been engaged in a public dispute over who will supervise the city's transition to an Internet-based phone system. The comptroller, whose office has managed the city's phones since the 1940s, has led a bidding process to select a company to replace the phones. Aides to Rawlings-Blake have said the mayor's technology office should take the lead in replacing the phone system.

Pratt has accused the technology office of circumventing procurement rules by purchasing hundreds of thousands of dollars of phones and other equipment from Digicon last year under a contract for technology equipment. Pratt says the phone purchase should not have been made under that contract and required new bids.

City Solicitor George Nilson defended the purchase in a written opinion last week. He said that only $55,000 was spent on phone-related items and that, although the city's contract with Digicon does not specifically mention phones, the purchase was appropriate because modern technology has blurred the line between computers and phones.

The phone dispute spilled into Wednesday's debate on Digicon's consulting contract, as Pratt cited Nilson's opinion in explaining why she was voting against the deal.

"My concern is based on Mr. Nilson's opinion," she said. "He thinks that the city can take bits and pieces of a personnel contract and a hardware contract and not competitively bid it."

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