Stadium Agency Hardens as Buyer

 Article from The Sun

Authority adopts new procurement policy; Response to criticism; Morhaim sees 'great' step in the 'right direction'

By Ed Waldman

Responding to harsh criticism of its procedures in the wake of a legislative audit, the Maryland Stadium Authority yesterday adopted a new policy for procurement that its chairman hopes will let the agency return its focus to economic development.

The stadium authority came under fire in this year's General Assembly after the audit sharply rebuked it for awarding $66 million in construction contracts without normal bidding, for sloppy bookkeeping and lax board oversight. The controversy led to the resignation of the executive director, Richard W. Slosson, who was cited by auditors for accepting gifts from a company that was doing business with the authority.

Yesterday, Del. Dan K. Morhaim, chairman of the House government operations subcommittee, called the new policy a "great first step."

"Certainly we'll look at the specifics and the details, but it's good to know they're starting to take real steps in the right direction," said Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat.

"This is critical to assure integrity, efficiency, openness and fairness in the process, and to be sure that taxpayers'dollars are being spent properly," he said.

During the General Assembly, stadium authority officials successfully fought off legislation that would have required the authority to follow all state procurement rules by promising to adopt its own.

The new policy, which was developed by a task force chaired by former MSA Chairman Herbert J. Belgrad, makes formal the five methods by which the authority can award a contract, and when each method can be used.

"Noncompetitive procurements" are permitted in two circumstances: when there is just one vendor that can supply what's needed - perhaps an enormous pane of glass for the Convention Center; or when there is an emergency - a tornado taking out a stadium light tower shortly before a game.

Other methods of awarding contracts include competitive sealed bidding, competitive sealed proposals, expedited procurement and small procurement. The new policy lays out when each method should be used, and the procedures that should be followed.

The new policy also includes a section encouraging the use of minority business enterprise firms on all projects, a section on conflicts of interest and a section on bid protests.

The authority appointed John F. Samoryk of Woodstock to the new position of procurement officer. Samoryk, who graduated from the University of Maryland in 1992 and the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1996, worked with the stadium authority in a number of capacities from January 1995 through July 2001.

Carl A.J. Wright, who took over as chairman of the MSA nearly a year ago, said he thinks the board is more vigilant today than it ever has been. "We now have rules that the average human being will think are tough," he said. "And we'll live up to them.

"I want to put this past us and get back to doing economic development. Why couldn't we put on a big heavyweight championship fight at either one of these stadiums, like the 'Thrilla in Manila'? That's what we should be doing."

In discussion of procurement during yesterday's board meeting, Wright abandoned his usual joking style.

"Who is going to make sure that we don't take a $50,000 contract and whack it into five $10,000 contracts [to get around the new rules]?" he asked.

Said Sherman B. Kerbel, the authority's director of facilities management: "I am. We're not going to play any games here."

Responded Wright: "The reason I don't have any humor about this is because I have been beat up too many times."

The legislative audit, which was released in February, revealed that a $41.5 million contract awarded in June 2001 had not been advertised and that only two companies were invited to bid. A Sun review of the contract determined that it was for work on the Hippodrome Theatre.

A second contract for $23.4 million awarded in December 2002 was not advertised and had only two bidders, it said.

The authority has handled hundreds of millions of dollars worth of public projects, including Oriole Park, M&T Bank Stadium, the University of Maryland's Comcast Center, a convention center in Ocean City and the expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center as well as the Hippodrome restoration.

Originally published June 3, 2004