UPDATED (9:27 p.m.)—The Baltimore County Council is scheduled to vote Monday on a contract with a consultant who is already advising the county police department on promotional testing procedures that are being scrutinized for possible violations of federal discrimination law.
The Baltimore County Police Department entered into a $70,000 contract June 26 with Fields Consulting Group Inc. to provide validation services for the department's corporal and sergeants promotional exams. The company began providing services despite a requirement by the County Charter that the Baltimore County Council approve all contracts exceeding $25,000 or in excess of two years in duration.
A county spokesman said such retroactive council approvals are not uncommon and that payments would not exceed $25,000 if the council does not approve the contract Monday night.
"We structure contracts like that all of the time, have been for years," county spokesman Don Mohler wrote in an email response to a reporter's questions. "In service contracts we can go up to $25,000 without council approval. Above that we get council approval—same process used repeatedly."
As of July 19, the firm has provided services valued at $17,000, according to fiscal notes provided to council members for its July 31 meeting.
Mohler said such arrangements are not an example of the county jumping the proverbial procedural gun.
"Firms know that they can start up to $25,000 and if not approved the project stops," Mohler wrote. "Budget folks say it is standard operating procedure."
Fields Consulting Group Inc. is being paid to develop promotional testing procedures for the county after the police department suspended promotional exams for corporals and sergeants earlier this year.
The exams were suspended due to concerns raised by the U.S. Department of Justice, according to the fiscal note from the county auditor's office.
"There was no good time to postpone promotional tests," Chief Jim Johnson told the council last week.
In May, George Gay, the county director of Human Resources, announced the department planned to change the exam process just as an initial inquiry by the Department of Justice into the hiring and promotions practices within the police and fire departments began.
Johnson said the county hopes to expedite the review and quickly resume testing.
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Correction: George Gay, director of Human Resources, announced the hiring of the testing consultant just as the Department of Justice was beginning it's inquiry into hiring and promotional practices.