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Detente reached in battle over city’s phone system

Not to tweet my own Twitter horn, but Monday afternoon, while sending out the Board of Estimates’ agenda, I tweeted out this:

I was referring to a long-running dispute between Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Comptroller Joan M. Pratt over the city’s effort to upgrade its phone system.

A quick recap: In July 2012, the Board of Estimates, which includes Rawlings-Blake and Pratt, voted 3-2 against a Pratt-backed deal for a $7.4 million phone system from IBM. Rawlings-Blake then said her administration would to continue to back a plan allowing her Office of Information Technology to supervise the new phone system, a job previously done by the Municipal Telephone Exchange, an agency that reports to — you guessed it — Pratt.

Earlier that summer, Pratt had requested an ethics opinion from the city’s inspector general to determine whether the mayor’s office had approved the purchase of several pieces of telephone equipment from Digicon Corp. without competitive bidding.

The report, released in October 2012, found nearly $675,000 in hardware payments from the technology office were made without following the procurement process and almost $1 million had been spent so far on the new phone system “resulting in a less-than-desirable return.”

Pratt then filed a lawsuit on behalf of city residents seeking to halt the city from moving forward with the phone system, alleging Rawlings-Blake and the City Council “thwarted” the city’s charter by awarding the work to Digicon even though the company did not submit a request for proposal. The suit was ultimately thrown out.

Which brings me back to my tweet Monday. Would it be deja vu all over again?

The answer appears to be no, as Rawlings-Blake and Pratt issued a joint statement Tuesday night announcing that the Office of Information Technology and Municipal Telephone Exchange will work together on upgrading the phone system.

“We are pleased to announce that we are jointly moving Baltimore City to an improved telecommunications plan that will better serve the needs of our citizens and our city agencies,” the statement begins.

The agencies will be working with a consultant on upgrading the phones; the Board of Estimates approved a $200,000 contract with The Battles Group on Wednesday. The first phase of the phone upgrade will take place next spring, according to the joint announcement.

“This cooperating between our offices will produce a significant upgrade in services, as well as cost savings for the taxpayers of Baltimore City,” the announcement states.

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