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Barry Spent More Than D.C. Council Peers on Outside Contracts in Recent Years

By Joe Stephens and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 6, 2009; B01

In recent years, D.C. Council member Marion Barry has spent far more of taxpayers' money on outside contracts than his colleagues, and he has few records indicating just what the city got in return.

Newly released documents show that from fiscal 2007 to 2009, Barry's office spent more than $252,000 on outside contracts, eclipsing the second-biggest spender, Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), whose office spent $45,000.

The Washington Post obtained the contracts of all council members since fiscal 2005 through an open records request. The majority of council members, including Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), when he was the Ward 4 council member, awarded sole-source contracts for Web site design and newsletter production. Some of the work blurs the line between campaign activities and constituent services.

Barry (D-Ward 8) paid for a variety of consulting services, media relations assistance and temporary workers. Some of the work appears to have little connection to city business. One consultant hired to address poverty in Ward 8 lived in Ohio.

The contracts have come under scrutiny since council officials disclosed that Barry's ex-girlfriend Donna Watts-Brighthaupt received a contract while they were in a romantic relationship last year. Their rocky affair, which became public when Barry was arrested and charged with stalking her July 4, has exposed the lack of oversight of sole-source contracts and earmarks. The charges against him were later dropped.

Watts-Brighthaupt was paid $15,000 before her contract was ended. Although she was hired to address poverty issues, she developed a program for "emerging leaders." Records show that Watts-Brighthaupt produced a draft of a report on "Emerging Leaders of Ward 8." The report's cover sheet identifies it as being produced in "spring 2009"; elsewhere in the report, a computer status line includes the wording "First Submission: -7/9/2009."

Barry's office also paid the Bowen Group $50,000 in fiscal 2007 and 2008 for helping plan a D.C. "Summit on Poverty." The firm and its chief executive, Sharon L. Bowen, are based in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Bowen did not immediately return a reporter's telephone call Wednesday.

In another instance, his council office appeared to pay for campaign-related activities.

A November invoice from Pro Image Communications states that on Oct. 1 the company fielded a "request for appearance Get out to vote for HS seniors."

A Pro Image representative accompanied Barry to a related appearance at Anacostia High School. In three other instances, documents show that the company helped Barry with media relations related to his support for the appointment of Roland W. Burris (D-Ill.) to the U.S. Senate. Pro Image was paid $83,000 over three fiscal years.

Andre Johnson, who owns the company, said he was paid for services with city money and Barry's campaign funds. He said he always kept the campaign activities and government business separate. "It was probably an oversight on my part that the two got confused," said Johnson, who no longer has contracts with Barry and now is a city employee with council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7).

Barry said in a statement that "Sharon Bowen was a resident of Ward 8 during the period of her contract even though she wasn't required to be. She performed outstanding and quality work. Each council member has a set budget to hire staff, consultants and nonpersonnel services and each year, I have lived within that budget."

Natalie Williams, Barry's spokeswoman, said in an interview, "Council member Barry resents the insinuation from some members of the press, anti-Barry political opponents when they suggest that something is wrong or illegal when it is not."

Although other council members did not have the volume of contracts that Barry did, records show that there were similarities in hiring campaign workers to do government work.

For example, Brown's office paid WCI $1,850 to design his Web site in fiscal 2008. The same company and its owner, David Whittington, were paid a little less than $985 by Brown's campaign in 2007, according to campaign finance records.

In fiscal 2005 and 2006, Fenty spent $34,000 on contractors.

Council members David A. Catania (I-At Large), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Alexander awarded no contracts. Michael A. Brown (I-At Large), who joined the council this year, has spent no money but has pending contracts for $5,500.

Fenty's office paid Senoda $6,200 in fiscal 2006 to produce what is described as a newsletter. A copy of the printed document appears more like a campaign flier. It is topped by Fenty's name and image, followed by the slogan "Promises Made, Promises Kept."

It continues: "For decades, development in Ward 4 stagnated or went backwards. Since Adrian Fenty took office as Ward 4 representative on the Council . . . Ward 4 has the highest rate of home ownership of any Ward in the District."

Mafara Hobson, Fenty's spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that the newsletter informed Ward 4 residents of news and events and that it complied with council rules.

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