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City Administrator's Role In Contracts Questioned

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 5, 2005; Page B01

City Administrator Robert C. Bobb is being criticized by some D.C. Council members for allegedly steering consulting contracts to three acquaintances from Oakland, Calif., where Bobb served as city manager until 2003.

Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) has called on the city auditor to investigate the contracts. Meanwhile, council member Vincent B. Orange Sr., chairman of the Government Operations Committee, said he would hold hearings to determine whether Bobb violated laws that require most contracts to be competitively bid.

City Administrator Robert C. Bobb has defended his actions in connection with the contracts, saying he believed the consultants had experience that could benefit the city. (Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

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"We want to make sure they were aboveboard and that the city administrator is in compliance with the law," said Orange (D-Ward 5). "Clearly, Mr. Bobb has utilized these folks in the past and knows they can do an excellent job. But these people should compete with a pool of candidates," including residents who might be equally well qualified, he said.

In an interview, Bobb defended his actions, saying he introduced the three contractors to the appropriate District officials because he believed they had experience that could benefit the city. Over three decades of work in local government in Virginia, Michigan and California, Bobb said, he has sought to develop talent.

Bobb added that the contracts, which together have cost the city less than $35,000, are not the only ones to be awarded to individuals from out of town.

"If now the clarion call is that we only hire firms from the District of Columbia, then let's adopt appropriate legislation that makes that happen 100 percent. I'm convinced District government would probably shut down, because there are hundreds and millions of dollars in contracts with firms that are not District of Columbia residents," Bobb said.

At issue are a series of contracts, first reported by WTOP radio, that were awarded last year to out-of-town consultants by Bobb and Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). Council members have focused scrutiny on two contracts awarded to contractors with whom Bobb worked in California. Bobb acknowledges that those contracts were not competitively bid.

According to WTOP, one of the contracts, worth $25,000, went to Lily Hu, an Oakland lobbyist, and Melinda Yee-Franklin of the San Francisco Bay Area, who helped plan a D.C. trade mission to China in October. District officials declined this week to release a copy of the contract. Secretary of the District Sherryl Hobbs-Newman, who arranged the China trip, did not return calls to her office.

The other contract, worth as much as $90,000, went to Jane Brunner, a labor lawyer and Oakland City Council member. Bobb said he introduced Brunner to Gregory Irish, director of the District's Department of Employment Services, who hired her to map strategies for increasing the number of District residents who win jobs as apprentices on city-funded projects. Of 4,139 registered apprentices, only 754 are currently D.C. residents, Irish said.

Brunner, who helped increase local apprenticeships at the Port of Oakland, signed a contract with the District June 1, Irish said. Under the contract, she was paid an hourly rate for work performed on an as-needed basis. Her duties have included work on a labor agreement for the District's baseball stadium project.

To date, Brunner has been paid $8,667, including reimbursement for hotels and airfare, Irish said. She is not scheduled to do any additional work on the contract, which expires June 1.

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