The city decided yesterday to re-bid a $112,000 security contract that it advertised in three newspapers after a minority-owned company, which overlooked the ads but was invited to bid, complained that it still didn't have a fair chance to compete for the job.
The Board of Estimates was expected to award a contract to the Trident Group Inc. of Essex to provide security at a health clinic in the 200 block of E. 25th St. Instead, the board decided to solicit new bids after an advocate for minority businesses complained that the process had been unfair to minority-owned firms.
"I don't know what else you're supposed to do. You send out two [solicitation] letters and put ads in three papers," said Mayor Martin O'Malley, who nevertheless voted to re-bid "to err on the side of inclusiveness."
This will be the third time the contract will go out to bid. The city solicited proposals two other times since May, advertising on both occasions in The Sun, Afro-American and Daily Record. The city also sent postcards to individual minority contractors, inviting them to bid, officials said.
Three companies competed in the first round of bidding in July, but the city rejected all because they were incomplete, Edward J. Gallagher, acting purchasing director, told the board. No one bid on the contract in the second round, he said.
City purchasing officials then negotiated the $112,000 deal with Trident, which has held the contract for five years. The board had been expected to approve that deal yesterday.
But that changed after Arnold M. Jolivet, president of the American Minority Contractors and Businesses Association of Washington, said minority firms hadn't been made aware of the contract. "The good ol' boy network is still alive in the Bureau of Purchasing," he said.
P.C. Price, co-owner of Legal Service Associates Inc. of Baltimore, appeared with Jolivet and said he would have bid on the contract had he known about it. He said he never saw the ads.
Gallagher said the city sent Legal Service Associates two postcards, confirming the mailing address with Price.
Price acknowledged receiving a postcard for the first round of bidding. But he said he did not bid then because someone in purchasing - he did not recall who - told him his company was not qualified because he did not employ off-duty police officers, as the contract requires. Price said he could hire off-duty officers if he won the contract.
The board's decision to re-bid came as a surprise to Trident.
"I'm floored," said owner Carol Troutman, who did not attend the meeting because she said she received no notice that the contract would be protested.
City officials observing the meeting also were surprised. Board members, most notably City Solicitor Thurman W. Zollicoffer Jr., maintained throughout a discussion that the city had done its part to publicize the bid. O'Malley said the city could not force people to read the newspaper notices.
When the time came for a motion, City Council President Sheila Dixon moved that the city re-bid the contract. The vote to do so was unanimous.
Dixon said afterward that she thought the city should have notified trade associations about the contract. "I just think we should have gotten the word out differently," she said.
Comptroller Joan M. Pratt said the city had met its obligation to advertise the contract. But she voted to re-bid because the city had exempted the contract from rules requiring that a share of the work be subcontracted to a minority-owned firm. She said she hoped that would change with the re-bid. .