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Landscaper offers to settle with the District, but city officials call proposal inappropriate

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The owner of a landscaping firm whose contract with the city prompted a D.C. Council hearing last week has offered to settle with the District.

In an e-mail, Lorenz Inc. owner Joseph Lorenz offered to quash the negative publicity surrounding the grass-cutting contract and to hire District residents if the city agreed to renew his deal. But the administration of Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) found the offer inappropriate and instead forwarded it to the city’s attorney general’s office Wednesday.

Lorenz, whose Baltimore-based company contracts with the city to tend land in wards 3 through 8, outlined the offer in a Tuesday e-mail from his attorney to City Administrator Allen Y. Lew.

The administration had initially opted not to renew an extension of Lorenz’s contract, a decision that drew the scrutiny of the news media, including The Washington Post editorial board. In an editorial, the board questioned why the city did not renew a contract extension with Lorenz, the low bidder, while extending one to a competitor with political support. The controversy led to a D.C. Council hearing last week.

“Since this matter is about to take on a complete life of its own at which point I will have absolutely no control or input, I urge you and your office to give this matter your immediate attention,” Lorenz’s attorney, Randy Alan Weiss, wrote in the e-mail, a copy of which was obtained by The Post. Weiss also offered to “jointly issue a praiseworthy press release” and to “jointly meet with Post editors to explain why the settlement is in the best interest for all.”

Weiss twice gave an 8 p.m. Tuesday deadline for a response.

Lew did not respond.

Instead, he sent the e-mail to Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan, said Tony Robinson, Lew’s spokesman. A member of Gray’s administration, who was not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the e-mail was “highly inappropriate and seemed to contain a veiled threat.” Nathan’s office declined to comment.

Lorenz, however, said the e-mailed proposal was meant to move beyond the bad publicity on the administration while sealing a deal that would save the city millions of dollars over several years and deliver jobs for city residents. “It was not meant to be threatening in any way,” Lorenz said Wednesday. “Frankly, it [Lew’s action] tells me where they’re coming from.”

Lorenz Inc. won the contract last year, offering groundskeeping services for as much as $1.6 million less than competitors. But Lorenz told council members last week that in May a city official told him the contract would be rebid in a procurement “set aside” for local firms only.

The city’s initial decision not to renew a contract extension with Lorenz, which did not employ city residents, while approving a more expensive deal with Maryland-based Community Bridge Inc., which employs city workers, led to larger discussions at the council as to whether the city should pursue bottom-line bids or make room for other factors.

The Gray administration has since awarded the extension, and the council voted last week to renew Lorenz’s contract through the end of the year. The administration plans to rebid the contract.

Under Lorenz’s proposed settlement, CBI would keep its contract for wards 1 and 2 and draw “no further attention to its defects/misfilings vis-a-vis [certified business enterprise] requirements and otherwise,” Weiss wrote. “Of course, CBI knows now what it must do to keep the spotlight off of it because it has other District contracts.”

Lorenz also offered to adjust his workforce so that one-third of his employees would be District residents.

The proposed settlement also said the Department of Public Works “inappropriately” acted on the snow-removal portion of Lorenz’s contract, giving the work to another firm. “Surely, this diversion was not publicly scrutinized; the problem goes away,” Weiss wrote. “As such, Lorenz needs to have the lost snow contract value replaced. . . . Time is of the essence.”

Weiss added, “This matter needs to be settled quickly before it is ratcheted up further.”

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