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D.C. Council extends deadline for mayor to submit contracts

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 20, 2010; B03

The D.C. Council retreated Tuesday in its threat to stop payment at midnight Wednesday on $875 million in contracts and gave Mayor Adrian M. Fenty another week to submit them for council approval or again risk halting payments to dozens of contractors.

The council unanimously approved extending the deadline that it set in December amid controversy over contracts awarded by the Fenty administration without council oversight.

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), known as a consensus builder, said he wanted to give the administration more time to submit contracts that exceed $1 million. The Democratic mayor's administration entered into the contracts last year without getting the approval from the council outlined under the Home Rule Act. "We, as a council, have bent over backwards to be reasonable," Gray said from the dais before Tuesday's vote.

The vote continues the face-off: Attorney General Peter Nickles wants written assurance from the council that the contracts will be approved "en masse." However, Gray said he can't do that because he hasn't seen the contracts.

According to council and administration sources, Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi and some council members are growing uneasy about the fiscal effect of the standoff, receiving calls from worried contractors. Few council members spoke on the dais before the vote.

Tuesday's vote appears to be the start of a compromise by the council. Last week, there was a flurry of meetings among Gray, his staff and Nickles, who informed agency heads last January that option year contracts exceeding $1 million did not have to be submitted to the council because their underlying contracts had been approved.

Gray said he has been encouraged by the meetings. Under the deadline extension, the payment stop would go into effect midnight next Wednesday, but the council would ratify the contracts Feb. 2 if they are received.

However, when council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) asked whether there was any indication that the administration would send the contracts, Gray answered, "No."

Gray said in an interview that he hopes to work with the administration on the contrats to avoid shutting down the government. "We'll just have to see when we get to that point," he said about the chances of getting the contracts next week.

Asked whether the council would be willing to stop payments, he said, "What you're really asking is are we willing to give up our authority on these contracts." He added that no council member is willing to do that.

The administration is not signaling any plans to give in. "The Administration's position remains the same," Mafara Hobson, the mayor's spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. "We believe option year contracts are valid and binding."

Under the fiscal 2010 Budget Support Act, the administration is supposed to submit such contracts in the future.

Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), chairman of the Committee on Human Services, said it is important in his oversight duties to review contracts in option years to ensure that vendors are adequately providing services. He used foster care as an example, saying he could not "in good conscience" approve new option-year contracts if the administration will not allow him to review them.

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