Pratt seeks documents from Rawlings-Blake regarding phone deal

Comptroller Joan Pratt sent a series of public information act requests to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration this week seeking records related to a controversial deal to purchase high-tech phones and related equipment.

Pratt says that Rawlings-Blake has stonewalled her on the subject since a June meeting of the city's spending board at which the mayor shot down a contract that the comptroller's office had drawn up with IBM to overhaul the city's phone system.  Rawlings-Blake said at the time that she wanted the comptroller's office to work more closely with the Mayor's Office of Information Technology on the deal.

"I've been patient for an extremely long time," Pratt said Tuesday. "Sixty days is more than enough time to wait to meet with her."

A spokesman for Rawlings-Blake said in a statement: "Regrettably, Comptroller Pratt has accused the mayor of many things which have been proven false, and we are not going to respond to more random allegations through the media.  Under the charter, the city has one chief legal officer and he has ruled, contrary to the comptroller’s earlier claims, that the hardware purchases were "neither out of the ordinary nor in violation of law.

"The administration works hard to respond to all public information act requests in accordance with Maryland law and with full consultation of the Law Department."

Pratt said Rawlings-Blake had told her that she could not discuss the deal until the city's inspector general completed an investigation of phones and related supplies that the mayor's technology office purchased under an existing contract last year.  Those purchases were made shortly after Pratt's office began the process of seeking bids on a Voice over Internet Protocol phone system for the city. 

The comptroller's office has overseen the city's phone system for more than six decades.  However, the technology office, following an industry trend, has sought to take control of the phones as the city prepares to switch to the network-based system.

Pratt questioned why Rawlings-Blake had refused to meet with her about the phone deal or release documents pertaining to the technology office's purchases until Inspector General David McClintock completed his investigation.

"I don't see how one is related to the other," Pratt said.

"The city's new chief information officer, Chris Tonjes, who started less than a month ago, has already met with [the] comptroller and will chart the right course forward that brings the city’s phone system into the 21st century to save taxpayer dollars," the mayor's spokesman said in a statement.

Pratt sent letters seeking documents from Rawlings-Blake, the city's newly appointed chief information officer, the acting city purchasing agent and a payroll official.  Pratt asked for records regarding six employees, five of whom have left city positions since the beginning of the year.

Pratt included a 2005 executive order, signed by then-Mayor Martin O'Malley, by which the inspector general position was created.  The order specifies that complaints received by the inspector general and reports and records generated by the inspector general were not subject to public disclosure laws.

However, the order does not exempt materials drafted by other city officials that the inspector general might be looking at as part of an investigation.  

The city refused to disclose emails sent by former technology officials and other records relating to the phone deal to the Sun last month, citing the inspector general's probe.

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