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His jacket collar turned up, Jeff Johnson stood between dripping cars in the Noah Hillman Parking Garage in Annapolis yesterday and talked nervously about his future.

While he watched the snow melting off bumpers, the maintenance worker wondered aloud whether he would still be patrolling the garage next winter. As a single father, he said,he can't afford to take a pay cut or lose his health benefits. He fears both would follow a change in management.

Responding to job worries raised by Johnson and other union workers, the City Council decided this week to postpone hiring a new company to manage Annapolis' off-street parking lots. The council instead handed the contract to its finance committee for further review.

The delay has jolted members of the city's business community.

Several business leaders, including the executive director of the Annapolis Chamber of Commerce, complained that bowing to union pressure setsa bad precedent. They predicted businesses would become reluctant toseek government contracts if bids are abruptly changed at the last minute.

"The contract proposals that were requested by the city were done in a legitimate fashion," said Penny Chandler, director of thechamber. "This type of lobbying and re-negotiating at this late point is ridiculous. It's inappropriate, it's not legitimate, and it should not be given consideration."

Chandler pointed out that the current manager, Park America Inc., had plenty of time to develop a bid package. The Philadelphia-based company ran the city's public parking lots for more than a decade, continuing 2 1/2 years after its last contract had expired.

When the glitch was discovered in November, several aldermen criticized the administration, saying hundreds of thousands of dollars had been lost by allowing the contract to lapse.

Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins called his department chiefs on the carpet and promised to promptly develop specifications for a new contract. Thecompany that submitted the lowest bid Feb. 3 was Towne Park Ltd., the Annapolis-based firm that complained about the expired contract.

Leaders of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27 warned the city that the new management would have to honor the previous contract with its 25 Park America employees. But City Attorney Jonathan A.Hodgson said the union contract is with only Park America, not the city.

Business leaders were annoyed when the council held up the contract, which was scheduled to be awarded by March 1, after a presentation from union officials Monday night. They also faulted Alderman Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5, for leading the charge for change, then hesitating on the contract.

"Here is an alderman who has wanted things to move along in an appropriate fashion, and now he's putting the brakes on," Chandler said.

Snowden defended reviewing the contract to protect the current workers' health benefits. "I'd much rather be held accountable trying to ensure that people working in the City of Annapolis get the best health benefits they can. I don't see health care as a luxury."

City Administrator Michael Mallinoff said the savings could be lost if the bid specifications were changed to protectunionized workers. He also questioned whether the bid could be changed this late.

At Monday night's meeting, Alderman Ellen Moyer, D-Ward 8, asked whether the administration considered including health benefits in its requests for proposals. Mallinoff said the administration tried to protect the Park America employees in developing its bidspecifications.

Towne Park offered to manage the city's off-street parking for $237,480 a year, underbidding Park America by about $80,000.

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