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Pratt pushes Board of Estimates to OK new phone system

Baltimore City Comptroller Joan Pratt urged the Board of Estimates on Wednesday to move forward with installing a new phone system by awarding a contract to IBM and Avaya.

Joan Pratt

Joan Pratt speaks to the media Wednesday at Baltimore City Hall. (Josh Cooper/The Daily Record)

“We need an efficient … system and the only way we can do that is to go forward,” Pratt said at a news conference after the Board of Estimates’ weekly meeting. “We do not need to stand stuck in the mud. We need to move this project forward so we can stop wasting $400,000 per month.”

Pratt was asked how this could be accomplished, considering the fact that the Board of Estimates has already decided not to award the contract to IBM.

“The citizens of Baltimore … need to encourage cooperation,” she said.

Ryan O’Doherty, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said in an emailed statement that “hopefully, the Comptroller will drop the frivolous lawsuit and approve the proposed MOU so we move forward and save taxpayer dollars.”

O’Doherty said that while Pratt is suing the city she’s responsible for serving, the mayor has proposed a solution that demands cost savings, accountability and transparency.

“Let’s stop suing and start doing,” he said.

Pratt filed a lawsuit in October claiming Rawlings-Blake’s administration circumvented the city’s competitive bidding process in contracting with Rockville-based Digicon Corp. to install a Voice Over Internet Protocol phone system.

Pratt, who is being represented pro bono by the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos, is suing to prevent the city from proceeding with the contract.

Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey M. Geller denied Pratt’s request for a temporary restraining order last month to prevent Rawlings-Blake from moving forward with her plans for the Internet-based phone system for city employees. The judge ruled that Pratt failed to show that her lawsuit was likely to succeed at trial, a requirement for obtaining a TRO.

The court also found that Pratt failed to show that irreparable harm would occur if the administration is allowed to proceed with the contract.

Pratt declined to comment on the pending litigation following the news conference, but said the lawsuit “will go away” if the city proceeds with upgrading the new phone system.

“If this contract [with IBM and Avaya] is approved, the lawsuit will go away because it will be approved to a responsible bidder and we can go forward,” she said.

In a later interview, Pratt said the Board of Estimates should implement a Voice Over Internet Protocol phone system as soon as possible by awarding the contract to “the only company that met the technical requirements, which is IBM and Avaya.”

City Solicitor George A. Nilson, who also sits on the Board of Estimates, said on Wednesday that he would like Pratt to “resume a constructive conversation about installing a modern telephone system for the city.”