Minority group claims discrimination in city contract process
By By Kevin Rector and The Baltimore Sun
Aug 01, 2012 | 10:29 PM
A frequent critic of Baltimore's contract bidding process filed a lawsuit Wednesday contending that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other members of the Board of Estimates have acted "discriminatorily and outright corruptly" by awarding contracts to large firms without considering minority contractors.
The 185-page civil lawsuit brought by Arnold Jolivet, managing director of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association Inc., seeks damages for what it calls "flagrantly unlawful, willful and unconscionable conduct" by city officials.
The lawsuit by Jolivet, an influential advocate of minority business rights in years past, asked that the contractors association be awarded $40 million in damages as a result of the city's alleged discrimination.
A mayoral spokesman said the lawsuit has "no merit," and City Solicitor George Nilson said he would "vigorously defend" against it.
"It's a very big, very wide-ranging lawsuit involving a whole lot of transactions, most of which are dramatically different from one another," Nilson said. "I'm pretty confident that it will be disposed of."
The lawsuit alleges that city officials have accepted low bids from preferred contractors with the understanding that, once the bidding process is concluded, changes to the scope of the contract's work can be made to increase the total payments.
It alleges that the city has acted unlawfully multiple times by failing to request new rounds of bidding following changes to contracts.
The lawsuit requests that a series of contracts — including a $300,000 grant awarded to the Baltimore City Foundation — be declared null and void, and that those named in the lawsuit "make full and complete restitution" to the city treasury for all funding issued under those contracts.
The court should appoint an independent monitor to take over the city's contract bidding process and award future contracts "devoid of the present contract corruption, fraud, favoritism and extravagance," the lawsuit says.
The suit also requests Rawlings-Blake, Nilson, city public works director Alfred H. Foxx and the private contract recipients named in the suit pay the contractors association $10 million in actual damages and $30 million in punitive damages.
As defendants, the lawsuit names the city and the City Council; Rawlings-Blake; Nilson; Foxx; Bureau of Purchases chief Joseph Mazza; city minority business officer Thomas Corey; and the Baltimore City Foundation.
It also names five companies as defendants that have received contracts from the city in recent years: Johnson Controls, Wheelabrator Baltimore, Constellation New Energy, National Economic Research Associates, Motorola and Digicon Corp.
The companies listed as defendants in the lawsuit could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.
The plaintiffs, represented by former City Solicitor Neal Janey, are Jolivet, his association and Johnnie V. Lee, a Baltimore architect.
Rawlings-Blake has previously expressed exasperation at Jolivet's many challenges to the Board of Estimates. In June, she told Jolivet she would not "waste [her] breath" on his "wrong" claims.