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Fraser Smith's Essay: October 4, 2012
October 4, 2012
A surprisingly probing investigation of the city’s purchase of a new phone system raises warning flags in city hall. WYPR’s Senior News Analyst Fraser Smith comments in his weekly essay.
Failure to seek competitive bids? A lack of transparency? Unnecessary expense for the taxpayer? In a city with enormous financial problems?
A report raising all three questions rocketed around City Hall last week.
“I am extremely concerned,” said Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, “if it happens to be the case that the administration is engaged in misleading top city officials.. I am deeply concerned about this approach to government and to life. This is the heart of governance here.”
The councilwoman’s concern comes in response to a report by the city’s inspector general, David McClintock. He found that city officials had failed to look for the best prices on a new phone system. At the same time, as the issue came to light, a former deputy mayor seems to have miss-led Council President Jack Young and Comptroller Joan Pratt about the project.
The new phone and computer system is to cost $675,000. The inspector suggests the new equipment might have been obtained for less. More competitive bidding was not necessary under the law, says the city solicitor. So it was legal, but was it smart?
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s office says city officials who were involved in the project are no longer working for the city – offering that information in response to the inspector general’s findings. Some tightening of procedures have occurred as well.
Let’s hope. It would have been reassuring if the mayor had been willing to express her own concern about lax and loose procurement in her city hall.
She has instituted some new ethics guidelines. This is fine. But words on paper will be insufficient in the extreme if there is no leadership.
As usual, politics and personality may be in the mix. So? Dealing with political agendas and personalities is always the name of the game.
To expect anything less would be the political version of tennis without a net.
Commentaries from WYPR’s Senior News Analyst Fraser Smith are a regular Thursday feature on WYPR. You’re invited to respond at email@example.com.
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