By Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 27, 2005
D.C. Administrator Robert C. Bobb helped arrange for a city contractor to hire one of his former associates from Oakland, Calif., in the District's campaign last year to attract a Major League Baseball team.
Rosie Rios of Red River Associates submitted bills totaling $10,644.91 for her work as a subcontractor from July to September 2004, charging $200 an hour for 16 hours of discussions with Bobb, records show.
She ended up being paid $7,644.91, including $1,800 for nine hours of talking with Bobb and $1,600 for eight hours of Internet research.
Bobb is scheduled to testify this morning before the D.C. Council's Committee of Government Operations on a report by D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols that found the administration of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) circumvented contracting laws when it paid four consultants more than $150,000 last year. Some of those payments went to three consultants -- not including Rios -- whom Bobb knew from his former job as city manager of Oakland.
Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), chairman of the committee, said he learned last week of Bobb's role in the hiring of Rios and plans to ask Bobb about it during the hearing.
"I don't want to jump to any conclusions," Orange said. "I want to give the city administrator a chance to explain this." But Orange added, "It doesn't pass the smell test. Now we have four associates with a direct connection to Robert Bobb who have received contracts on a sole-source basis without competition. . . . It provides an appearance of improprieties."
Rios was Oakland's director of economic development from 2001 to 2003, a job for which Bobb recruited her.
Bobb acknowledged in an interview yesterday that he recommended Rios be hired as an economic development consultant last year for Washington's baseball bid. He said that in the city's haste to secure the return of Major League Baseball, his office may have acted too "fast, hard and furious" in awarding contracts without competitive bidding.
"This is not an issue of waste, fraud or abuse," Bobb said. "This is definitely one of those cases where, in the fast lane, to put in place the appropriate process to get baseball in the District . . . I wanted someone with subject-matter expertise -- someone who had spent countless numbers of hours on financing options and real estate redevelopment."
Bobb said he looked forward to the oversight hearing to address council members' concerns. "We are going to address those instances openly, honestly and in a manner in which I have conducted business through my entire public career," he said. He added that Rios no longer has a subcontract.
Orange scheduled the hearing to let the auditor explain the findings she released last month. Among the contracts she criticized was the city's agreement with Strategic Advisory Group LLC, the firm that hired Rios. The city awarded the firm a $300,000 sole-source contract in January 2003. Despite city law prohibiting the extension of sole-source contracts, the firm's agreement was modified twice, growing to $977,000 between August 2003 and January.
The subcontract with Rios is not included in the auditor's report.
Of the amount that Rios billed the contractor, $3,000 was not paid to her because she performed the work in July 2004 and the subcontract was not signed until that August. Her invoices for that July included seven hours of discussions with Bobb and four hours of Internet research.
Rios said that because she and Bobb were members of the city's baseball recruitment team, talking with him was within her scope of work.
"I was being paid for what I was charged to do as part of the contract," Rios said yesterday. "I was working with members of the recruitment team. If I talked to members of the recruitment team, yes, that was part of my services."
Records show that Rios wrote Bobb on April 2, 2004, saying that based on discussions with him and others on the baseball recruitment team, she was "pleased to offer my services in support of the recruitment of the Montreal Expos to Washington, D.C."
Judi Greenberg, a special assistant in the office of the deputy mayor for planning and economic development, was responsible for overseeing Rios's subcontract, city records show. In an October e-mail to the city's contracting office, Greenberg said that she was attaching a request to add a subcontractor and that based on "our discussion, we will assume that SAG can use this subcontractor."
The auditor's report also cited payments of $25,000 each to consultants Melinda Yee-Franklin and Lily Hu, former associates of Bobb's who were contracted by the mayor's office without a written agreement to help plan the mayor's trade mission to China in October.
The report also found that there was no authority from the contracting office for the hiring of Jane Brunner, a labor lawyer and Oakland City Council member who received a contract for up to $90,000 with the D.C. Department of Employment Services to develop a job training program. She was paid $8,667 and has billed the city an additional $29,000.
Orange said he wants Bobb to interpret a February 2004 e-mail in which it appears Bobb was planning to steer that contract to Brunner. Bobb wrote to Brunner that "my team are aware of my desire to use your services" and added: "I need to assign a staff person to work out our consultant deal."
Orange said he also will ask Bobb about contracts with Ira Sockowitz and his firm, the Phoenix Consulting Group. Sockowitz was paid $19,900 to supervise the planning of the China trip. The contracting office could not find a file to prove whether the $75,000 contract awarded to Sockowitz's firm was competitively bid, the auditor's report shows.