—– By: Ann Costantino —–
The silence is loud in Baltimore County.
Less than two months after Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski announced a bill to establish ethics reforms designed to provide increased accountability of Baltimore County government, revelations about a member of the Baltimore County Council is already testing how the Olszewski administration will handle ethical quagmires.
When Councilman Julian Jones filled out his financial disclosure statements for the last four years, he disclosed a moving company his wife leads as vice president. But where the councilman went awry was when he failed to disclose that the company is one of two on-call moving contractors for Baltimore County government, for which he has served as councilman since 2014.
New details obtained by The Baltimore Post on Tuesday show that the company, Walters Relocations, Inc., entered into three master agreements with Baltimore County government with combined spending authorities totaling $523,143.55, from 2011 through 2020.
Records show that the county paid Walters at least $192,000 between the three master agreements for relocating offices and furniture, including moving – at county expense – a desk from the then-interim county executive’s office to the home of the president of the Valley Planning Council last October.
And despite Jones accurately disclosing the company’s relationship with another agency, the Baltimore County Public School Board, questions still remain regarding peculiarities The Baltimore Post found on a 2012 contract the school system has with the same vendor.
But neither the county, nor the school system, will say a single word.
Baltimore County Government:
Records show that Jones disclosed his wife’s affiliation with the moving company on his 2014 through 2017 financial disclosure statements. The councilman also disclosed that the company has business deals with the Baltimore County Board of Elections. But what Jones failed to make clear was that Walters Relocations is actually in contract directly with Baltimore County government which paid for the relocation of the Baltimore County elections office – one time – in 2017.
Detailed delivery orders show some of the actual work paid to the company at county expense:
- Eastern Family Resource Center relocation to new Eastern Family Resource Center: $19,543
- Relocation of behavioral health office/contents of lower Towson Library to Drumcastle location: $4,286
- New “public access” / Relocation to Drumcastle Building: $52,870
- Move furniture from Baltimore County Courthouse office garage: $836
- Move desk from county executive’s office to home address in Reisterstown: $468
- Dispose and relocate EOC furniture from IT training room: $608
- Move for vulnerable adult to EZ storage: $560
- Disposal of pool table from Dundalk PAL Center: $560
- Breakdown and disposal of 35 workstations for March 2017 IT Training: $1,141
In 2013, the county also paid Walters $23,755 to move the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability 210 feet, from 105 W. Chesapeake Avenue to Room #319 at 111 W. Chesapeake in Towson.
Last week, The Baltimore Post reported that Jones stated inaccurately on his financial statements that Walters Relocations conducted business with the Baltimore County Board of Elections. But when The Baltimore Post attempted to obtain that contract, a spokesperson for the agency – which operates independently from county government – said the contract is with Baltimore County government which chose the mover to relocate the elections board office.
It remains unclear why Councilman Jones listed the Baltimore County Board of Elections on his financial disclosure forms, which has had no contractual dealings with Walters Relocations.
In fact, out of the nearly $200,000 spent by the county so far with the company, only $7,556.00 was used for the move, when the county paid Walters to move the elections board in 2017 from Reiesterstown to Hunt Valley, records show.
Meeting minutes from a March 2017 County Council meeting show that Jones abstained from voting on a master agreement for the company, an indication that the councilman understood that the company was under contract with the county – not the elections board – and that it was a potential conflict. The rest of the County Council voted in favor of the contract.
But even two of his fellow councilmen – District Three Councilman Wade Kach and District Five Councilman David Marks – said they had no idea the county was under contract with a vendor with ties to Jones. Council Chair Tom Quirk did not respond to a request for interview last week.
But despite, several attempts to obtain a comment from Councilman Jones, the Olszewski administration and Olszewski, himself, no one has commented on the matter.
T.J. Smith, Olszewski’s press secretary, said last week that he had “no comment to add.”
In actuality, there has been no comment at all.
Baltimore County School Board:
Also silent is Baltimore County Public Schools after The Baltimore Post also reported last week that Walters Relocations has received at least $910,000 from the school system for moving and storage services.
The Baltimore Post also reported that several peculiarities surround a 2012 contract the school system had with the moving company.
New details show that some of Walters’ bids included quotes for $1 per hour for supervisory and driving services.
In May 2012, school board members voted to approve an up-to $500,000 spending authority for four companies to be the system’s on-call movers.
But of the four companies, only three met the description of the project which called for moving services on an as-needed basis. The other company is specialized, and moves and handles only hazardous materials.
Of the three actual moving companies, two were ineligible to do business with the school system at the time the contract was approved. It remains unclear why the school system would award a contract to vendors that did not meet the county’s own criteria for doing business with the district.
School procurement rules require vendors be registered in the state of Maryland to do business with the district, according to a district document.
But state records show that Clinton-based Johnson Moving & Storage was and is still not registered as a Maryland business. The Baltimore Post, however, found the company is registered in Delaware. Paul Federline & Sons did not apply to be a registered Maryland vendor until six months after the contract was approved.
Neither company received any work or compensation through the entirety of the 5-year contract, payment records show. The owners of both companies expressed disappointment to The Baltimore Post that a single vendor received all of the work.
That vendor: Walters Relocations, Inc.
Records show that Walters received over $444,000 by the third year of the five-year, up-to $500,000 contracted spending authority. To date, those records also show that the company has received at least $610,000 from that original 2012 contract which was later increased to an up-to $1.2 million spending authority.
While The Baltimore Post is awaiting responses to open records requests filed with the school system, a publicly available document shows unusually low bids for aspects of work offered by the company in 2017.
On a bid document for a request for proposals, Walters came in at less than half of the highest bidder for work described as “Moving Services that Include School/Office Furniture, Hazardous Chemicals, & Libraries.”
Two aspects of the job, detailed on the bid document, showed how and where the company came in particularly low with its quote:
- While five other companies proposed $42 to $63 per hour for “Truck with driver/Per 70 Hours,” records show that Walters said it could do the job for $1 per hour. The companies bid between $2,940.00 and $4010.00 when Walters said the company could do it for a total of $70.
- For the “Supervisor/Per 50 Hours” work, the same record shows that the other companies quoted $30 to $40 per hour for the job, whereas Walters Relocations again said $1 per hour would be sufficient. Quotes from the five other companies came in at $1,487.50 to $2000 for the same work Walters said the company would do for $50 – in all.
As with the Olszewski administration, Baltimore County Public Schools has also chosen not to offer any comment on the contract.