Wednesday, October 28, 2009
MAYOR ADRIAN M. Fenty boasts that his administration represents a break from the old ways of doing business in the District, when whom you knew mattered more than what you could do for the city. What, then, to make of reports that the administration bypassed the D.C. Council to award tens of millions of dollars in contracts and that some of the firms may have ties to Mr. Fenty? Council members are right to ask what is going on.
At issue is an estimated $82 million in contracts for the construction of parks, recreation centers and ballfields throughout the city. Council members want to know why the money was taken from the Department of Parks and Recreation and routed through the D.C. Housing Authority, which, as a quasi-government agency, took the position that the contracts didn't need the council approval required of any deal exceeding $1 million. Questions also were raised about the role of Banneker Ventures, a firm owned by a friend and campaign contributor to the mayor, in managing many of the projects. An apt description of the process came from council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3). "It defeats transparency. Let me put it more strongly: It looks sneaky," she told The Post's Nikita Stewart.
Mr. Fenty denied any involvement in selecting any of the firms. Administration officials said the practice of using the housing authority to award contracts started in the administration of former mayor Anthony A. Williams because of longstanding problems in the city's procurement process and the authority's expertise in getting work completed. Moreover, they said that all 20 contracts, including the one to Banneker to manage the projects, were competitively bid and that they will conduct a review to ensure that proper procedures were followed. They note that if they wanted to conceal the contracts, they wouldn't have invited council members to groundbreakings for the projects.
D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles issued an advisory opinion that contracts, funded with District funds and in excess of $1 million, must be submitted to the council for approval. We trust the administration will follow that advice for future projects. It's unclear, though, what can -- or should -- be done about the contracts already awarded. Are they, as Mr. Nickles presumes, legal and binding? Does the District face liability if it tries to void them? It's important that the D.C. Council, which plans a roundtable on the issue on Friday, get all the information about the projects in question, determine whether proper procurement steps were indeed followed and then decide how to proceed in protecting the best interests of the city.