By Len Lazarick
Grilled bureaucrats with a side order of roasted contractors is slated for the menu at Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting. The governor, treasurer and comptroller are all expected to turn up the heat over a flawed $37 million contract awarded Jan. 7 for inmate food services in Baltimore.
The contract to Crystal Enterprises of Glenn Dale in Prince George’s County was controversial then, and protested by Trinity Service Group of Oldsmar, Fla., which had been feeding the inmates at the Baltimore City Detention Center and other nearby facilities for many years.
Crystal had limited experience with corrections facilities, but had underbid Trinity by a whopping $51 million for the three-year contract. The new contractor promised to feed the prisoners for $1.43 a meal, while Trinity had been getting $2.035 under its existing food services contract.
On Jan. 7, Scott Livingston, Trinity’s attorney, told the board it was impossible for Crystal to perform the contract at the low price, because the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services had overestimated the number of meals in the request for proposal.
The department had also added new requirements in the request for bids, including “new more, expensive food menus matching the Armed Forces Index of Recipes and prohibited previously acceptable food preparation practices,” Livingston told the board in a letter Tuesday.
O’Malley, Franchot, Kopp all questioned award
At that meeting, Gov. Martin O’Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and State Treasurer Nancy Kopp all closely questioned Crystal’s ability to fulfill such a large contract to provide 22,000 meals a day at such a low price.
Trinity, which had been doing the job for many years, bid twice as much per meal as Crystal.
According to the official transcript of the Jan. 7 meeting (pages 37- 54), Franchot asked Acting Public Safety Secretary Carroll Parrish: “Are you confident that the winning bidder can actually produce the services that were in your RFP? And what protection for the taxpayers is there if there is, to your disappointment, an inability to stay within budget?”
Parrish responded: “Yes, sir. We, we believe that they can adequately supply and meet our needs.”
A little later, O’Malley asked more bluntly: “But can they perform … at that dollar amount?”
Procurement officer Joselyn Hopkins responded: “Yes, they can absolutely perform the services.”
After more probing, and testimony from Crystal executives, the board awarded the contract to Crystal, a minority-owned firm whose clients include the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.
Just three weeks into this year contract, on Feb. 24, Crystal informed the department it couldn’t perform the contract because both the number of meals — 15,600 a day — and thus its price were way too low, and it needed a big increase to $2.20 a meal.
In a letter, Hopkins said that the agency had decided to terminate the contract, but because the inmates had to be fed, it was going to grant Crystal Enterprises an emergency six-month contract to provide the meals at $2.20 a sitting.
All this has Trinity and attorney Livingston livid, especially since the department did not even ask Trinity to bid on the chance to come back to the Baltimore City Detention Center and the other facilities the company had left at the end of January.
“Crystal should not benefit from its own wrongdoing by performing these inmate food services at a 54% increased price than what was originally agreed to, without any further competition,” Livingston wrote the board in his letter.
He also alleges Crystal did not get the $2 million performance bond it was supposed to get in advance.
Hogan, Franchot concerned about procurement
All these issues are expected to be aired at Wednesday’s board meeting. Since Hogan’s first BPW meeting Jan. 28, he and Franchot have repeatedly upbraided state officials for what they see as sloppy procurements practices and other problems awarding contracts that cost taxpayers money.
The emergency contract is not technically up for approval, but is simply being reported to the board.
Franchot was already on the lookout for problems with this contract. In January, he warned: “I’m going to flag this, so don’t come back for contract adjustments.”
Representatives of Franchot and Kopp said they were both planning to question the deal.
The meeting begins at 10 a.m. and is live streamed at http://governor.maryland.gov/board-of-public-works-meetings/