—– By: Ann Costantino —-
When the Baltimore County school board approved a $500,000 contract in 2012 for vendors to provide moving and storage services for the school system, school board members voted on four companies to serve as on-call vendors, on an “as needed basis.”
But out of the four vendors listed on an approved vendor contract, only one company that was in the moving and storage business received any work: Walters Relocations, Inc., a company that District Four Councilman Julian Jones’ wife heads as vice president.
As councilman, Jones votes on the school system’s budgets. To date, The Baltimore Post has found that Walters was paid at least $610,000 for work it received through the contract.
Yet while Walters entered into an agreement with the system in May 2012, roughly two years before Jones was elected council member, the company has been under contract with the school system ever since. And while Walters Relocation has been getting the work all along, the two other relocation vendors, approved in 2012, received none. The fourth company is in the hazardous materials business.
One of the approved moving and storage vendors told The Baltimore Post that he didn’t even know he had been approved for the four-vendor, five-year, $500,000 contracted spending authority agreement. “I know I responded to some of the bids at some point, but I never got any confirmation or work,” said Curtis Johnson, owner of Clinton-based moving company, Johnson Movers & Storage.
In fact, Johnson said, he had no idea that he was part of the approved contract in the first place for work he would have wanted, “It’s kind of frustrating that they give all the work to one main vendor,” he said.
But even if Johnson had been offered the work, the company is not even registered in the state of Maryland, records show. It’s a requirement of the school system that its vendors are registered Maryland businesses, which would have made Johnson’s company ineligible for any jobs. with the school system. The Baltimore Post was able to find that the company was registered in Delaware, however.
Another vendor, Paul F. Federline & Sons, wasn’t even registered to conduct business in Maryland until six months after entering into a contract with the school system, state records also show.
But when asked if the company had a contract with Baltimore County schools, Robert Federline could not say.
We “probably” did, Federline said. But when The Baltimore Post pointed out that records of payments to the company could not be found, Mr. Federline said, “I am not sure if we did or we didn’t….. I cannot speak if we did business with Baltimore County Public Schools or not. That was seven years ago,” he said. “I’d rather you speak to my brother.”
Update: His brother, Michael, confirmed with the Baltimore Post on Friday that while his company did have a contract with the school system, it went nowhere. “It is my understanding that several others had contracts as well,” Michael Federline said. “Just simply never seemed to receive or win any business with the contract.”
A fourth company, approved by the school board for moving and storage, Triumvirate Environmental, was purportedly contracted to provide hazardous waste management services and was given some work.
Yet the four-vendor contract said the agreements were to, “augment the office of distribution and print services capacity for moving schools/office furniture and equipment during building renovations.” Triumvirate appears to be an outlier from the three other vendors’ functions.
On October 2, 2012, Walters Relocations received the first of 60 payments which, by 2017, totaled at least $610,258.43.
But, according to payment records, to date, the company has received over $910,000 from the school system.
Two years before Councilman Jones was elected for his first term, the Baltimore County school board approved an up-to half million dollar, five-year contract it could have spent on all four companies.
But according to payment records, the contract almost maxed out at the end of 2015 – at year-three – when Walters Relocations received nearly 90 percent of the allotted $500,000 – $444,649.43 – within the first three years of the contract, for providing services described in a payment record as “new school county,” “site improvement county,” “major maintenance county,” “warehousing and distribution,” and “maintenance of plant.”
The Baltimore Post reported on the peculiarity earlier this week. But when it dug a little deeper, the vendor anomalies were found.
In 2016, the school board voted to modify the contract and increase the spending authority by $700,000, after the initial amount had been reached two years early. Over the next 13 months, Walters Relocations received an additional $165, 000, according to public records which detail the system’s vendor payments.
Jones disclosed the company’s affiliation with the school system on all four years of his financial disclosure statements. Yet, even though he also listed his wife’s employment with the company, starting when he was elected for County Council in 2014, not even school board vice chair, Julie Henn, knew about the connection when she voted on at least three subsequent contracts in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Of the connection to Councilman Jones, Henn said “I had no idea. I have been serving on the Buildings and Contracts Committee since I was appointed in 2016 and I had no idea,” Henn said.
“I rely on BCPS staff to have vetted and approved vendors… to assure the board that there are no conflicts of interest,” Henn said.
When asked if she thought the contract was inappropriate, Henn said she appreciates as much information as possible that staff can give her. “In the interest of full transparency and full disclosure, as a member of the board and contracts committee, I would want to know,” she said.
Like Henn, Board Chair Kathleen Causey was unaware of the connection when, in 2017 and 2018, she also voted on two additional $2 million contracts that included Walters and seven other approved vendors that provide relocation and storage services.
Councilman Jones was nearing the end of his first term as a Baltimore County Council member at the time.
In a statement, Causey told The Baltimore Post, “I was not informed of any connections related to moving company contracts. The Office of Purchasing strives to obtain the most cost-effective quality goods and services for the students and taxpayers of Baltimore County, Maryland.
Since September 2017, I advocated strongly for an external audit of school system procurement practices for compliance with federal and state statutory regulations (Article §5-112, Annotated Code of Maryland, Education), and Board of Education policies, procedures and rules. Compliance with policies should include the Board’s Ethics Policies: 8360P Applicability and Definitions; 8361P Statement of Purpose and Policy; 8362P Gifts; 8363P Conflict of Interest – Prohibited Conduct; 8364P Financial Disclosure Statements; 8365P Lobbying, Lobbying, Registration Form, Lobbying Activity Report; 8366P Ethics Review Panel.”
“The shortly forthcoming external audit report will contain recommendations regarding those issues. The Board is very interested in reviewing the final audit report and evaluating the recommendations. It is vital the Board provides oversight to ensure every dollar is utilized in the most effective manner to benefit our students,” Causey said.
The Baltimore Post is awaiting details from the school system on additional payments and contract details on all 10 of the companies.
Jones, who represents the fourth council district, won his second term last year, after his sole opponent dropped out of the race.
The Baltimore Post’s publisher spoke with the councilman on Tuesday night, but he did not call back with a comment about The Post’s discoveries concerning the over $610,000 in payments from Baltimore County schools to a company connected to his wife.
Nor did the councilman answer emails and questions concerning his failure to disclose on his financial disclosure documents that Walters Relocation does direct business with Baltimore County government, as well.
The councilman wrote on his forms that, in addition to the Baltimore County Board of Education, Walters Relocation also does business with the State Board of Elections.
But Jones failed to accurately state that the contract was not with the elections board, but instead with Baltimore County government, directly, which indicates that Jones may have voted on an award for Walters Relocation while serving as a councilman.
One of two master agreements with the county show that the company has a contract that extends to 2022. The Baltimore Post is awaiting details on the contracts.
The revelation caught two other council members off guard.
District Three Councilman Wade Kach and District Five Councilman David Marks said they had no idea about the connection.
But a spokesperson for Council Chair Tom Quirk said he was unavailable for interview when The Baltimore Post reached out on Tuesday.
County Executive Johnny Olseweski has been silent about the revelations.
But, speaking for himself, Olszewski’s press secretary, T.J. Smith, said on Wednesday that he had “no comment to add.”
The Baltimore Post has reached out to the school system for comment.
This story will be updated.