Baltimore's Housing Authority, yielding to criticism of a no-bid deal with a company affiliated with the Nation of Islam, is preparing to open bidding on the security contract for its 16 family high-rise apartment buildings.
The Housing Authority plans to advertise the job to potential bidders today, but the deal will differ from many jobs offered by public agencies in that price will not be the sole criterion.
"I want to try to signal to the business community that we are doing business differently," said Daniel P. Henson III, the agency's executive director. "We want to be able to pick the firm that provides the best value to the authority."
The authority plans to use a point system to choose a company for the one-year security contract, which could be worth several million dollars. Besides cost, the agency plans to consider experience, references and "understanding of the Housing Authority's needs."
Mr. Henson said a security company should be selected by late March.
"This is a completely legitimate approach to procurement of professional services," said Bill Tamburrino, an official with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development who is director of the Public Housing Division in HUD's Baltimore office, which oversees the city's Housing Authority.
The city is putting the security contract out to bid in response to criticism of its deal with N.O.I. Security Agency Inc., a private company associated with the Nation of Islam.
The Housing Authority is paying NOI the equivalent of $2.8 million a year -- on a contract that the city can cancel with 30 days' notice -- to provide security at 10 family high-rises. NOI began its work in city public housing projects last June.
HUD and other private security companies have criticized the no-bid deal with NOI, saying that the job should be open to other companies.
The NOI deal also been criticized by some Jewish leaders who object to giving public money to a company with ties to the Nation of Islam, which they consider anti-Semitic. Although NOI is a privately held company, its officers are members of the group led by Louis Farrakhan.
"It is like someone hiring the Ku Klux Klan to guard a senior citizens center," said Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, D-5th. Ms. Spector said she set aside her objections to the deal only after Mr. Henson assured her that NOI guards would do no proselytizing.
The Baltimore Jewish Council's executive director, Dr. Arthur C. Abramson, who has come under fire from some Jews for not firmly opposing the deal with NOI, said he was happy that the contract was going to be opened to bidding.
NOI has reduced serious crime in the buildings it patrols by 73 percent, Mr. Henson said. He said NOI also has overseen a sharp reduction in vandalism.
Deryl Butler, a vice president of Ray Butler Loss Prevention and Security Services, said he was pleased that the job will be offered for bid. The city canceled his company's $210,000-a-year contract to guard three East Baltimore public housing high-rises last year in favor of NOI.