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City energy contracts go to official's former business partners

Alternative EnergyFinancial PlanningBernard C. YoungStephanie Rawlings-Blake

Twice this year, the city has awarded no-bid energy consulting contracts to a Baltimore company recommended by the head of the city's energy office, who was once listed as a "special partner" in the firm.

Bovaro Partners LLC has received renewable-energy analysis jobs for $25,000 and $49,000. Its website lists city energy director Theodore "Ted" Atwood as a "special partner" in the financial firm.

In an interview, Atwood said that the site is outdated and that he was surprised to learn he was ever listed on it.

Before he worked for the city, Atwood said, he partnered with the firm on a 2004 project that was ultimately unsuccessful. He said he was not paid in the arrangement. Since then, he said, he has had no private business with the company.

"I talk to them off and on," Atwood said this week. "I'll get a cup of coffee with them. I've never gotten any compensation from them."

Atwood, who joined city government in 2008 and is paid $125,000 annually, said he recommended the company because he knew it was qualified to do the work at a low price. "They're local, and they aren't too expensive," he said.

The contracts were small enough that the city did not have to put them out for competitive bids.

Bovaro officials did not respond to a request for comment. Both contracts were approved by the city's Board of Estimates, which is controlled by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Through a spokesman, the mayor said she was not concerned about Atwood's past business ties to Bovaro and did not consider them a conflict of interest.

Mayoral spokesman Kevin Harris said the board's vote on the deals means that Atwood's role in the process was minimal. He said Atwood informed superiors of his former business relationship with Bovaro.

"We knew about his previous ties," Harris said. "He erred on the side of transparency."

The city's charter requires contracts of at least $50,000 to be advertised for competitive bids. Awards of at least $25,000 must be approved by the board, according to the charter. Harris said the city conducted an "informal evaluation" before selecting Bovaro.

But City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young and Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, who are not members of Rawlings-Blake's administration, said they were not told of Atwood's relationship with Bovaro, and wanted to gather more information about the deals.

"I would have liked to have been apprised of this information before voting," Pratt said.

In April, the board voted to award Bovaro $25,000 in grant money for financial advice on various energy projects, including biomass management practices. Under the deal, the company was to complete a financial analysis of the city's renewable-energy sources, including wood waste, leaves and manure, documents show.

"We were looking at our waste and seeing if we could make money out of it," Atwood said.

Last week, Bovaro was awarded a $49,000 consulting contract to provide "analysis and implementation" of multiple projects in the energy office, including solar-power generation.

According to the company's website, which says it's being updated, Atwood joined the firm in 2004. "Ted Atwood joined BOVARO Partners as a Special Partner in 2004 and leads the firm's efforts in developing clean energy technology projects for both the government and private sectors," the site reads.

Harris said the information overstates Atwood's former role in the firm. Atwood did not list any ties to Bovaro on his ethics forms because the relationship was formed before his employment with the city, Harris added.

"He has no financial interest in the company," Harris said.

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Alternative EnergyFinancial PlanningBernard C. YoungStephanie Rawlings-Blake
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