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From left, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot Wednesday question how a Dundalk Marine Terminal contract was handled. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

Brown wades into minority contracting issue

Agencies need to balance pursuit of minority business hiring with getting the best price for taxpayers,, Brown says.

ANNAPOLIS — Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown Wednesday called on state agencies to do a better job balancing the need to meet required minority contractor goals with the desire to get taxpayers the best price on goods and services.

Brown made his comments after joining with Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot in questioning why the lowest bidder for a contract to demolish a roll-on,roll-off platform at the Dundalk Marine Terminal was disqualified for narrowly missing an 8 percent minority business hiring requirement.

“The point I think kind of we’re jointly making here is we’ve got to be able to pursue overlapping goals in our procurement process,” said Brown, who is running for governor against Republican nominee Larry Hogan. “We need to pursue — nobody is suggesting they come in with a waiver— but we need to pursue our (minority business enterprise) goals vigorously but also, assuming that the bidder meets all the other criteria, get the best price for the taxpayers. That’s the point that the comptroller is making and that I am making. You’ve got the flexibility to do it.

“Let’s achieve all goals simultaneously: MBE, cost, quality,” said Brown, who tapped the table with his hand to emphasize each goal.

Brown, who presided over the three-member Board of Public Works in place of Gov. Martin J. O’Malley, joined Franchot in questioning the bid and the rationale for eliminating the lowest of five bidders.

Glen Burnie-based McLean Contracting Company submitted a bid of approximately $1 million for the six-month project.

State Department of Transportation officials told the board that the company was disqualified for submitting a bid containing slightly more than 7 percent minority subcontracting — a figure short of the 8.1 percent called for in the bid.

The agency then awarded the contract to the next lowest bidder: Annapolis Junction-based Corman Marine Construction, Inc., which bid more than $1.3 million.

Gary Lockett, procurement officer for the Maryland Port Administration, said the Corman Marine Construction bid is still 27 percent below the engineering estimate for the job.

The board ultimately approved the contract over the objections of Franchot in a 2-1 vote.

Franchot, for his part, said the decision by the agency was troubling.

“You can see why it strikes me as a bit of a technical point, though it maybe meritorious,” Franchot said, adding that McLean ultimately protested the disqualification.

Lockett told the board that the port administration later denied that appeal and McLean decided not to take an appeal before the Board of Public works.

“The reason the bid was rejected is they failed to effectively meet that goal,” Lockett said.

But Lockett and an attorney for the agency later acknowledged that state procurement officials had discretion to allow McLean to bring the minority contracting portion of the bid up to requirement.

State Minority Affairs Special Secretary Zenita Wickham Hurley called the discretion “the 72-hour rule,” which effectively gives a bidder three days to improve the minority contractor portion of a bid.

“There is some indication that the 72-hour rule would have given the agency some discretion and allowed the contractor to cure,” said Wickham Hurley. “We reminded the agency of this discretion. We advised them moving forward under similar circumstances that they should use the 72-hour rule.”