D.C. City Council member Marion Barry, while serving on the board of Pride Environmental Services, tried unsuccessfully last year to persuade Mayor Walter E. Washington to assume a personal role in getting the city government to help save PES from financial collapse.
Since 1972, PES has held an exclusive city-granted franchise to install 10,000 public litter cans in the District of Columbia and to sell advertising on those cans. Because of various problems, however, fewer than 4,000 cans have been installed. At the time of Barry's request, the firm was more than $500,000 in debt and losing an average of $4,000 per month.
"Just as I have come to you many times with a problem and you saw solutions, I now come again," Barry wrote in a letter marked "personal and confidential" and dated July 21, 1977. "Pride Environmental Services is about to go under."
Barry said that his own ability to solve the firm's problems with the city had been hampered because some members of the mayor's staff felt it would be a conflict of interest for them to meet with Barry about PES, on whose board he served. Barry did ask the mayor to meet with other PES board members.
Barry also asked the mayor to have the city act on seven requests that would help PES become financially more viable. Those measures included having the city purchase 2,000 to 3,000 of its own cans to go in places where PES cans once were to be installed and paying PES for cans damaged in some traffic accidents and by city workers.
Barry asked the city to improve its procedures for reporting damage to cans in traffic accidents in order to allow PES to collect from the firm's insurance agent, and to give improved notice to PES of the need for cans to be removed because of construction.
"If my participation creates a problem, let's not let the whole business go down the drain," Barry wrote, adding later, "If nothing happens and you take no action, than (sic) the business is surely lost."
The mayor refused to meet with the PES officials. "It's ridiculous that he asked the city to do that," the mayor said yesterday.
"What he asked for wasn't possible. (Since) when am I going to commit this government to a failing business?" the mayor said, after leaving a church service in Northeast.
After his car drove off, the mayor, who is vying with Barry and others for the Democratic mayoral nomination in the Sept. 12 primary, quickly returned to add some more comments.
"If he happened to be mayor, would he have given them relief?" Washington said. "I'd like to know that - if that's the kind of proposal that he would present for the taxpayers to underwrite."
Barry could not be reached yesterday for immediate response to Mayor Washington's query or for comment about this letter. Earlier, he said the failure of the administration to act on the requests was an example of its lack of concern for minority businesses. PES is a black controlled organization.
Barry has said the city's Department of Environment Services had tried "to sabotage" the program. "From (former DES Director William) Bill McKinney to Herbert Tucker (the present director) they have no sense that black business needs to survive and that they ought to do all they could to help them survive," Barry said.
"The city government has no sensitivity to black business," he said.
Washington labeled that accusation by Barry "another political boo-boo to hide what he's trying to do."
The financial problems of PES, an affiliate of the self-help organization Pride, Inc., have become a focus of interest in city hall because the City Council is considering a plan to help the organization out of its fiscal crisis.
The Council is expected to vote tomorrow on a proposal that would grant PES an exclusive, 30-year franchise to erect 500 bus stop shelters in the city and then sell advertising on those shelters. If PES receives the franchise, its president says, it will be able to avoid going out of business and thus be able to fulfill its commitments on the litter can franchise.
At least one other firm is interested in the lucrative bus shelter advertising contract and willing to pay the city more than PES for the franchise. The Council has refused to submit the matter to competitive bidding.
Barry is a former codirector of Pride, Inc. He also is the ex-husband of Mary Treadwell, the president of PES, and cosigner of a $350,000 loan taken out to set up the firm. Until late last year, Barry served on the PES board and was a trustee of corporation stock. Barry could possibly be liable for some of the outstanding debts if the firm folds, he said Saturday, although he is prohibited from reaping any personal financial gain from the firm.
Barry said he took strict precautions to avoid conflict of interest in trying to act as a liason between the city and PES. The letter asking the mayor's assistance, for example, was written on plain paper and was sent from Barry's home address at the time.
Barry said that the seven requests he made of the city were like a litany of the problems that were encountered by PES in trying to comply with the provisions of a 1972 franchise granted by the City Council for the trash can installation and advertising program.
There have been constant conflicts between the city government and PES over where the cans should be installed. The city has favored residentials locations, while PES has been in favor of more heavily travelled areas in business or commercial locations.
Barry said the city often damaged other cans when it collected refuse from them. Some can liners were stolen because can tops were left unlocked after collection. Trash - sometimes from city work crews - often was stacked up around the cans so that advertising could not be seen, he said.
Tucker, the city's environmental services director, said yesterday that the city has tried to improve the accident reporting procedures so PES can collect on damaged cans and has altered its collection schedules. Tucker acknowledged that some city street sweepers had left brown bags of trash around the containers, but he said that problem has since been resolved.
He also said that some can liners probably were lost due to the failure of city workers to lock the tops of the receptacles after emptying them.
"But I surely don't subscribe to the fact that we haven't been cooperative," Tucker said.