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D.C. parks contracts are legal after all, city official says

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Nickles and officials at the Housing Authority said the contracts were competitively bid.

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Privately, Fenty supporters questioned whether Nickles hastily issued his opinion Friday and erred in his statements about the contracts.

The city could have a major legal problem on its hands, said experts in procurement law. They said the contracts can be considered "void ab initio," meaning they are voided because they violated city law.

The city has faced the issue previously, said Keith D. Coleman, a former legal adviser in the city's Office of Contracting and Procurement. He said the city could void the contracts and pay vendors for services rendered. The vendors "didn't know the District government didn't follow procedure," Coleman said. "They're innocent bystanders, so to speak."

Coleman, a lawyer at Reed Smith, said he recommends ratification, a process in which the contracts get approval after they were already awarded.

Gray said he was aware of the practice, which he said quashes Nickles's opinion that the Housing Authority contracts do not have to go before the council.

The controversy over the contracts comes as Fenty has clashed with local lawmakers by reappointing acting parks director Ximena Hartsock, whom the council rejected in a 7 to 5 vote Oct. 6. Fenty signed an executive order Friday that will keep Hartsock in place for 180 days while he looks for a replacement. Nickles upheld the mayor's order, although some council members said it was illegal.

The council is asking Gandhi to withhold Hartsock's salary. Thomas said he will probably ask Gandhi to also withhold money from the Housing Authority to pay the awarded contracts.

In his first public appearance with Hartsock since he signed the executive order, Fenty took questions from reporters Monday after an announcement about a city program to open recreation centers to public school students who will be out of school Thursday and Friday.

"It's going to be tough to find someone who has her energy, her skill set and her ability to get things done," Fenty said in an interview, hours before Nickles issued his second opinion on the contracts.

The mayor declined to discuss the "ins and outs" of the contracts. When asked about the tension with his colleagues in the legislative branch, Fenty, a former Ward 4 council member said, "This is the best council we've ever had."


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