In an angry confrontation reminiscent of a Capitol Hill hearing, Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan charged a key lawmaker with politicizing his department's efforts to improve van and cab services for disabled Baltimore-area residents.
Flanagan clashed repeatedly with Del. Peter Franchot as the House transportation subcommittee chairman quizzed him about possible irregularities in the award of a $43 million Mobility transit contract to two out-of-state vendors. The Mobility program provides some 2,300 trips a day for disabled Marylanders.
Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat, said the department's procurement process had been tainted by a "warm and fuzzy" relationship between Maryland Transit Administration officials and a vendor they chose to receive 60 percent of the contract.
Pounding on the witness table, the normally unflappable Flanagan insisted his prime concern was improving what he has labeled "dysfunctional" service for the disabled.
"Please do not politicize this process. There are people [who] need service," Flanagan told Franchot.
"We also have a responsibility to a fair and honest and open procurement process," Franchot countered.
Flanagan criticized Yellow Transportation Inc., the Baltimore-based provider of 85 percent of transit services under the current system. He said that the MTA has upgraded the on-time performance in the 15 percent of services it provides while Yellow's has not improved.
The transportation chief arrived at the hearing with blow-ups of newspaper articles -- some almost 4 years old -- recounting instances of poor service by Yellow.
Franchot said Flanagan had "scapegoated" Yellow for the department's failings.
The hearing came as Yellow sent a letter to the state Board of Public Works urging it to tell MTA officials to cancel what it called a "tainted" procurement and begin the process again.
Scott Livingston, Yellow's attorney, said the company's appeal to the Board of Contract Appeals had uncovered 87 violations of state procurement rules in the proposed award to MV Transportation Inc. of Fairfield, Calif., and Laidlaw Transit Services of Overland Park, Kan.
The MTA's October decision prompted Yellow to appeal to the state Board of Contract Appeals, which is now weeks into hearings on the contract award.
The appeals board's inquiry has uncovered scores of e-mails between Laidlaw executive Kim Chin and members of the MTA contract proposal evaluation committee. The department's procurement officer testified previously that dozens of the e-mails violated state procurement rules forbidding unauthorized contact between vendors and evaluators.
Franchot repeatedly confronted Flanagan with examples of the e-mails, calling them "broad breaches or propriety."
The transportation chief conceded only that "there appear to have been some mistakes." He insisted the proper forum to investigate the legality of the e-mails was the contract appeals board and predicted it would deny Yellow's appeal.
Franchot adjourned the hearing before he finished his questioning. He said the subcommittee would continue its inquiry in about two weeks.
Yellow officials did not testify, but company President Mark Joseph angrily disputed Flanagan's assertions that Yellow's on-time performance lags behind the MTA's. Joseph said the agency was able to "cherry-pick" its routes -- leaving the more challenging work to Yellow.