Report: Parking authority manager 'exerted influence' on contracts with boyfriend

The Baltimore parking official in charge of managing contracts at city-owned garages "exerted influence" on garage operators to hire a firm owned by her then-boyfriend, according to the city's inspector general.

In a report distributed Tuesday to members of the City Council, Inspector General David McClintock wrote that the actions of Bheti M. Woodberry "sparked serious concerns for many and further suggested a conflict of interest … due to her direct involvement in the security operations of the individual parking management companies."

McClintock did not name Woodberry in the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Baltimore Sun. She identified herself when contacted by a reporter.

Woodberry, who was suspended from her position at the quasi-public Parking Authority of Baltimore City two months ago, said she was not involved in the garage operators' decision to hire her then-boyfriend's company.

"This was something that happened between his company and the management companies," she said Tuesday evening. "I had nothing to do it."

Parking Authority Director Peter Little said Woodberry was suspended after McClintock released an early version of his report. Little said the report has been forwarded to the city's ethics board for review.

The company named in the report, C.W. Security, is operated by Arthur Cheeks, according to state records. Woodberry and Cheeks married last year.

Woodberry said she believed Little nursed a grudge against her after she and other employees wrote a letter to the City Council in 2006 questioning his leadership.

McClintock reports that Woodberry says she told her immediate supervisors of her relationship with her then-boyfriend but they dismissed her concerns. Little said he was not aware of the relationship until garage operators told him about it 2009.

Woodberry mentioned the relationship for the first time in an annual ethics reports filed in April 2009. She said they began dating in December 2008, after she had filed her report for that year.

Little said he brought his concerns to the office of the city's former inspector general in the fall of 2009, but a serious investigation did not begin until Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake hired McClintock in early 2010.

McClintock reports that Woodberry "objected to the suggestion that she utilized her position as Contract Manager to influence any management company or parking garage manager to replace or recommend C.W. Security."

"She insisted that in 'no way' did she get 'involved in the payment process for [her] husband,'" McClintock writes. But the report cites emails from Woodberry urging garage operators to speed payments to off-duty police working at a garage not contracted with C.W. Security.

"I … am uncertain why I have to say anything now in order to get to the simple question WHO WILL PAY the officers and WHEN? I expect an answer today on this," Woodberry wrote garage operators in September 2009, according to an email excerpted in the report.

Woodberry said Tuesday that her responsibilities included advocating for contractors who were not being paid by garage operators. She said she stood up for landscapers and other security companies.

As a quasi-public agency, the parking authority is not required to abide by the city's procurement guidelines. Contracts to manage the city's 17 garages must be approved by the Board of Estimates, but the security contracts are handled by the operators and do not require city approval.

Woodberry, who has worked for the authority since 2003, served as a liaison between the garages and the city.

Armed, off-duty police officers patrol eight of the 17 garages, including those near downtown nightclubs, Little said.

C.W. Security had a contract to patrol the city-owned Marriott Hotel's garage and a garage at Lexington Market, Little said.

McClintock reports that some off-duty officers were paid as much as $50 per hour to patrol garages, although the agreed-upon rate was $40. Before 2009, the garages were patrolled by unarmed security workers who were paid less than $15 an hour.

The parking authority's security costs more than doubled between from $700,000 in 2007 to $1.57 million in 2009, when the shift was made from unarmed to armed officers. The costs declined to $1.1 million in the fiscal year that ended in June 2010.

Little said the authority has completed an analysis of security needs and that costs continue to decline.

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