The D.C. Lottery Board, under pressure from Mayor Marion Barry to resolve the court fight over its award of a lucrative daily numbers operation, began debating privately yesterday whether to reopen bidding on the contract.
City Administrator Elijah Rogers, acting on Barry's orders, met with board members late Thursday and told them, according to sources, that the city government would sue the quasi-independent lottery agency if it didn't somehow remove the protracted dispute from D.C. Superior Court, get rid of its private attorneys in favor of city lawyers and reopen the bidding.
Rogers, according to the sources, told the board that if it continued the court fight, the agency "would be jeopardizing minority involvement in the city" by opening the door to the possibility of a court decision that could weaken provisions of the District's law requiring extensive minority participation in city contracts.
Rogers said that at Thursday's meeting he "made it very clear to the board that we want to get this game started and out of court. Maybe it's best to ask the court to let us go out for new bids. The way it's going now we're going to be tied up in court for two or three years."
Rogers declined to discuss whether the city would sue the board if it continues to resist Barry's demands, saying only, "The District government reserves the right to intervene in the case." He also declined to discuss "all our concerns" in the case, including any possible ramifications on the city's minority contracting law.
The board yesterday sought and won a weekend postponement in the court case. The five-member board then gathered for a closed meeting late yesterday afternoon to plot its next move, but took no action. Meanwhile, Barry, who is attending a conference in New Orleans, summoned board members to a meeting tomorrow afternoon when he returns.
"I think we'll have to reopen the bids," one lottery official said yesterday.
If the board opts for that action, however, lawyers for Lottery Technology Enterprises, the firm that won the contract last month, said they would immediately seek court intervention to try to block a reopening of the bids.
Yesterday's developments were the latest chapter in the increasingly tumultuous four-month fight over the daily numbers contract, which may be worth $4 million annually to the winning company based on anticipated annual wagering of $100 million.
The dispute centers chiefly on the extent and validity of the involvement promised by three white-controlled computer firms to local minority investors or minority-controlled firms. Lottery Technology is a joint venture of a Rhode Island-based computer firm and four minority-controlled D.C. firms, but two losing bidders contend that their minority representation is better than Lottery Technology's and have filed suits to contest the board's choice.
In granting the board's requested delay yesterday, Superior Court Judge Richard S. Salzman extended through May 13 an order that blocks the board from signing the contract. Salzman has held up the signing while he considers whether to issue a preliminary injunction that would bar the signing until a full trial could be held on the losing firms' claims.
City administrator Rogers said it was imperative for the board, which has been represented in court by its general counsel, Jeanette Michael, and David P. Towey of the prestigious law firm of Arnold and Porter, to instead be represented by a lawyer from the office of Corporation Counsel Judith W. Rogers.
The board, however, has been feuding with Judith Rogers over legal strategy in the case and two weeks ago rejected her advice to reopen the bidding.
"We're not going to have one board setting policy for the whole government," Rogers said. "The corporation counsel is the office that represents all city agencies."
According to sources, board chairman Brant Coopersmith attempted to get corporation counsel Rogers to agree to have a new solicitation for bids ready in time for the next court session Monday morning, but she declined. She could not be reached for comment.
In any new bidding, board officials said they would attempt to clarify what they say is ambiguous language in the current solicitation for bids about how to judge the extent of minority involvement. In particular, they would seek to clarify whether revenue to minority firms or potential profits for those firms should be the determining factor.
One of the losing bidders, Columbia Gaming Services Inc., has contended that the board confused revenue and profits in awarding points to the three contending firms for their proposed minority participation and as a result slighted Columbia Gaming.
The other losing bidder, D.C. Data Co., and Columbia Gaming have both charged that Lottery Technology is not a legitimate minority-controlled venture, which Lottery Technology disputes.
The city's Minority Business Opportunity Commission, meanwhile, has notified Lottery Technology that it is considering whether to revoke its certification as a minority business.