Hit & Run
Leaking money, Clack Flack, Debt Beats, and Growler Power.
Published: July 18, 2012
Baltimore City’s spending panel, the board of estimates, had a longer-than-usual meeting July 11, as sparks flew over City Hall’s telephone system, a pay package for Fire Chief James Clack, and a new way to solicit bids and award contracts for consulting and technical services.
Nary a word was wasted, though, on money approved to cover costs of fixing water-main breaks along Mount Royal Avenue that were leaking into the Amtrak tunnel that runs under North Avenue. Payments for the work, which was done last winter, amounted to nearly $1 million and went through three Bureau of Water and Wastewater contracts that have far exceeded their originally awarded amounts—in one case, by more than 600 percent.
The payments are going to three public-works contractors—Allied Contractors, Monumental Paving and Excavating, and Spiniello Companies—as “extra work orders,” a phrase that succinctly captures its meaning: funds exceeding the originally awarded contract amounts.
The extra money for the water-main work brings the total on Monumental’s contract to nearly $2.8 million—612 percent of the $453,000 that was originally awarded. Spiniello, meanwhile, has been paid more than $16 million on its contract, which was awarded at $10.5 million, while Allied’s extra work payments total about $273,000, 25 percent of the $1.1 million award.
Department of Public Works spokesperson Kurt Kocher confirms that costs on these contracts have mounted far beyond what is normal because they are used to address emergencies, and there have been more emergencies than anticipated in the original contract bids.
“The city’s [water and wastewater] system is over 100 years old,” Kocher says in an email. “As a result, we deal with a lot of unexpected repairs.” To improve estimates of such emergencies, Kocher says the city has “developed and will be implementing” a system that “will allow us to more effectively manage our resources and do more preventative maintenance.” He adds that “there will always be unknowns underground, but through the steps we are taking, we will be able to better predict what may arise.”
AT that same meeting, the board of estimates approved an 18 percent raise between now and 2018 for Fire Chief James Clack, even after the city closed three fire companies, claiming budget constraints.
Mike Campbell of the Baltimore Fire Officers Association spoke out against the raise, saying the right thing for Clack to do would be to “refuse a raise until the rank and file receives one.”
The union representing rank and file firefighters agreed.
“We were told . . . we need to suck this up,” Rick Hoffman of the Baltimore City Firefighters Union said at the meeting. “If we are all going to suck this up, I think it needs to start with the top.”
Cops: undertrained, corrupt, and driving shitty cars
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 released its blueprint for improved policing on July 11. Incongruously, it called for cutting taxes.
“Though contrary to conventional wisdom, Baltimore City FOP Lodge 3 believes Baltimore can significantly reduce crime and improve policing while cutting taxes,” the report says. The union looked at other cities with similar populations and crime rates, and hired a consultant to conduct focus groups with police officers. They were asked about hiring, training, education, leadership, resources, tactics, and competitiveness.
The report calls for higher standards for recruits—including a two-year college degree or military experience requirement—and incentives to retain experienced officers.
Pulling no punches, the union report compared Baltimore to the notoriously corrupt New Orleans Police Department: “There is a correlation between hiring unqualified officers and corruption in the ranks.” It says, at any given time, between 80 and 100 officers are suspended—“more than half of the officers [that are] needed to staff an entire district.”
The problem is inexperienced officers, and they’re inexperienced because city cops, with two or three years under their belt, leave for easier, better-paying jobs in the counties.
The report says city cops who fail their firearms proficiency test twice are not being fired, as the rules require: “Instead, officers who fail the annual gun range test twice are often pushed through, leaving Baltimore City with underqualified members in one of the most vital skill sets.”
The department also needs to beef up patrols around nightclubs, the report says, and suggests a public-private partnership to remove the private-duty conflicts of interest that arise. Also, city police cars suck. Said one cop, according to the report: “How am I supposed to pull someone over for having a taillight out when my car has two [out]?”
Maryland District Court’s chief judge, Ben C. Clyburn, has declared another jubilee. Only July 10, he threw out another 3,564 debt collections cases after the state reached a settlement agreement with LVNV and Resurgent Capital Services, two debt collections companies. The two companies will pay $1 million to the state, in addition to dismissing the collections cases and crediting another 6,246 previously-dunned individuals with a total of $3.8 million in wrongly-collected debts, according to a press release from the Maryland Judiciary.
The court has been throwing out bad debt cases for more than a year now (“Maryland is Changing the Rules for Debt Collectors,” Mobtown Beat, Nov. 23, 2011), usually in chunks of several thousand. The cases are dismissed as collections agencies, debt buyers, and associated law firms are brought to heel by the Attorney General for illegal and underhanded legal tactics, such as serving people at old addresses and getting default judgments on debts that are time-barred or otherwise cannot be enforced.
Beer lovers, take heart: refillable-growler licenses have been granted to five Baltimore taverns, where you can go to have them filled without fear of law-breaking. The new law allowing growlers in nearly all liquor-licensed establishments in Baltimore passed in the 2012 General Assembly session, and, according to Jane Schroeder, deputy executive secretary of the Baltimore City Liquor License Board, so far five have been approved: Heavy Seas Ale House (1300 Bank St. in Little Italy), Max’s On Broadway (737 S. Broadway in Fells Point), No Idea Tavern (1649 S. Hanover St. in South Baltimore), Jay’s Deli (1309 N. Charles St. in Mt. Vernon), and the Wharf Rat (801 S. Ann St. in Fells Point). To make up some Latin: semper quaffere!