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Pratt, Rawlings-Blake continue phone dispute

At issue is a purchase made by Rawlings-Blake's research office of $650,000 of phones and other equipment that Pratt says would facilitate a switchover to internet-based phone service. Rawlings-Blake says only about $55,000 of the total purchase was used to buy 80 phones – including some with video touchscreens – and related equipment.

The research office bought the items from the Rockville-based company Digicon in May and June of last year, together the comptroller's office was seeking bids to overhaul the city's phone system. Pratt says the mayor's innovation office worked with her on the bidding process.

The dispute between the two officials came to a head this month when Pratt's office suggested awarding the phone contract to IBM. Rawlings-Blake, who like Pratt is a member of the city's Board of Estimates, asked that a vote on the contract be postponed three weeks.

The comptroller's office has overseen the city's Municipal Telephone Exchange since 1949. Aides to Rawlings-Blake say that her research office is better positioned to supervise the transition to an internet-based phone system.

Pratt on Monday reiterated accusations that the research office attempted to circumvent the formal bidding process by making the phone purchases from Digicon in accordance with an existing blanket contract for computer-related equipment.

Nilson, who reviewed the purchase at the mayor's request, noted that the city's blanket contract with Digicon did not exactly mention phones. Nevertheless, he said, the latest innovation, known as "VoIP" or "Voice over Internet Protocol," has blurred the lines between phones and computer devices, along these lines making the purchase legitimate.

"Mr. Nilson says a computer is a telephone and a telephone is a computer," she said, holding up a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone in one hand and a laptop in the other. "This is a telephone, and this is a computer."

More information: Baltimoresun