Days before a city grass-cutting contract was set to go before the D.C. Council for approval this spring, an aide to Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) warned that a “major impasse” was at hand.
The concerns are captured in an e-mail and policy memo circulated within the Gray administration to discuss a proposed one-year extension for Baltimore-based Lorenz Inc., which won a 2010 groundskeeping contract covering six of eight city wards over locally based competitors. The documents were obtained by the Post ahead of a hearing today on this issue.
The contract has become a political flashpoint in recent days, after a series of Washington Post editorials questioned the Gray administration’s decision not to extend Lorenz’s contract, which included four option years.
A May 2 e-mail with the subject line of “Lorenz!!!” raised the prospect that a contract extension would not pass required council review.
Zachary D. Weaver, a Gray administration policy analyst, noted that objections from Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) had nearly derailed the original contract award in spring 2010. His e-mail, to Gray policy director Janene Jackson, came after a meeting with Warner Session, a lawyer representing Lorenz competitor Community Bridge Inc., which maintains an office in the District and has a contract covering two wards. A vote was set for the next day.
Session, according to Weaver, said that “Thomas is planning to protest the extension of the option years with Lorenz” and that he “has the vote to prevent that contract from moving forward.”
”I’m [a] little unsettled about how we will make out during tomorrows session,” Weaver wrote. “Thomas has a way of rallying his colleagues, even our would-be supporters.”
Weaver also wrote that Session raised Gray’s opposition to the original Lorenz contract award and “similar contracts of this nature.”
Gray did not publicly state his opposition to the Lorenz award when it came before the council in March 2010. Instead, he fashioned a compromise on the council dais, urging a hearing on the contract in order to address Thomas’s concerns. Thomas tabled his opposition; the hearing did not happen, and the contract went into effect without council action.
At the May meeting, according to the e-mail, Session suggested that Gray could change Community Bridge’s contract to include Lorenz’s areas, or do a partial extension while the contract was rebid.
Gray opted for the latter, explaining his decision in recent days as being in keeping with his policy goals of encouraging local business development. On Tuesday, the D.C. Council approved a partial extension to Lorenz’s contract that will pay it through the end of this year’s grass growing season; the Gray administration says it will rebid the contract.
In a policy memo drafted a few days prior to the meeting with Session, Weaver laid out various considerations in proceeding with the contract.
Weighing in favor of Lorenz, he wrote, the firm “delivered landscaping services ... in an efficient and effective manner,” adding that the city parks department “has been very satisfied” with its work. “They complete work on-time, on budget, are always available, immediately correct any identified issues, and are considerably cheaper than other contractors of their caliber,” he wrote.
On the flip side, Weaver wrote, “the District is facing ... [a] lack of local contractors providing these types of services.” He noted that when the contract was originally bid, local firms “were less technically qualified to meet District service needs or offered a higher price or a synthesis of both.”
He added a “Political Concern” that Gray’s support for a Lorenz extension “could be viewed as a departure from previous policy positions concerning hiring out of state contractors to provide local District services and could further be viewed as not consistent with Mayor Gray’s policy goal of local job creation and local business development.”
Weaver recommended that Gray extend the Lorenz contract by one year but “make clear” to the Department of Public Works that the additional option years not be extended and the contract rebid. “This action will allow service to continue while simultaneously emboldening support from the electorate and the Council,” he wrote.
The D.C. Council has set a hearing on the contract for 11 a.m. today. Representatives of Lorenz and Community Bridge are expected to testify, as well as city officials.
The e-mail and memo in full:
By 10:10 AM ET, 10/07/2011