D.C. Auditor Otis H. Troupe has issued a report criticizing the Washington Convention Center's award of a multimillion-dollar food service contract, suggesting that vague contract rules were manipulated to award the job to one particular firm while excluding other bidders.
Troupe in his report recommends that the Convention Center board seek new bids for the contract. The contract last year failed to win approval in a D.C. Council committee after several council members raised concerns, and it is the subject of a lawsuit filed by one losing bidder who has questioned procedures used in the award.
Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) requested the audit after it was revealed last year that the former director of the city's Minority Business Opportunity Commission -- which was responsible for certifying firms competing for the convention center award -- also served on a Convention Center committee that evaluated the bids.
Jarvis, who chairs the council's Housing and Economic Development Committee, and other members also expressed concerns about the fact that the Convention Center's former legal counsel -- David Wilmot, a close associate of Mayor Marion Barry's -- had a business relationship with a partner in the company that was awarded the food service job.
Asked to comment yesterday on Troupe's report, Jarvis said, "I hope the Convention Center and its board will carefully review the recommendations and take a prudent course of action," adding that "it would be prudent for them to consider" Troupe's recommendation that bidding on the contract be reopened.
The contract, worth more than $15 million over five years, requires D.C. Council approval and has not been resubmitted to Jarvis' committee since November, when committee members took no action on it before the end of the council's session.
In his report, Troupe leveled his heaviest criticism at what he described as vague Convention Center contracting regulations that permitted the center's board or its staff to eliminate certain bidders on the food contract without having to account for their actions.
Troupe also questioned the board's decision to conduct a second round of bidding on the contract, suggesting this was done in order to allow the eventual contract winner, Service America Concessions Corp., time to align itself with another firm that could qualify as a minority business.
The minority firm involved, National Business Service Enterprises, is headed by Arthur McZier, a political supporter of Barry's and a business partner of Wilmot's.
In a suit filed by ARA Leisure Services Inc., a losing bidder for the food service contract that has contested the Convention Center's procurement practices, a D.C. Superior Court judge found that the relationship between McZier and Wilmot gave "the appearance of impropriety." But the judge refused to grant an emergency order blocking the contract.
Troupe also faulted the role of former Minority Business Commission director William Jameson, who, while judging which firms qualified as minority businesses, also was permitted to sit on the Convention Center committee that evaluated the food service bids.
But Troupe, who described the arrangement as "directly in conflict," said he was unable to pinpoint Jameson's activities during the contract award process because Jameson and his secretary had destroyed critical records before the audit.