IF YOU'RE CONFUSED by what Mayor Barry has said, done and not said about the D.C. Lottery Board's plans for a numbers game, then join a puzzled and increasingly concerned crowd. What he has said isn't satisfactory; what he has done is unusual to say the least, and potentially costly to the city; and what he has not said should be the focus of public inquiry.
Mr. Barry has intimidated the lottery board into reversing its award of a contract to run the numbers game and into starting all over with the soliciting of new bids. The city may lose some $7 million in projected revenues as a result of the Barry-imposed delay. So why this unusually intense intervention by the mayor?
Mr. Barry and his top aides say they question whether the firm selected by the board, Lottery Technology Enterprises, has valid minority involvement. It just so happens that another firm, Columbia Gaming Services, Inc., submitted the most costly original bid and lost out; it happens to be represented by a close political ally of Mr. Barry, Robert B. Washington Jr.
The city's minority-preference contracting law requires that 35 percent of the value of all city government contracts go to minorities. In lambasting the lottery board, Mr. Barry says it incorrectly considered potential "profits" in determining income that minority firms might receive, rather than the income based on "gross revenues." This, he contends, could have resulted in extensive litigation and might have jeopardized the basic law itself.
Maybe, maybe not--but several D.C. council members have suggested that any such defect could be corrected easily by a change in the law. Instead, Mr. Barry made a strange spectacle. First, he called board members into his office and, they said, urged them to ask for new bids. Then came a board session with City Administrator Elijah Rogers, who is said to have threatened a city lawsuit forcing the board members to remove their private lawyer and to reopen the bidding.
Next came another board meeting with the mayor, during which he threatened to fire the members if they did not resolicit bids. To add to the drama, District Building security police, saying they were acting on the mayor's orders, cleared the fifth floor of reporters. At this point, four of the five board members agreed to indicate publicly their intention to resolicit bids and use the city's legal officer as their legal representative.
What next? Will the firm represented by Mr. Barry's friend win after all? Or is Mr. Barry merely being fastidious to a fare-thee-well? Or is Mr. Barry now taking an extraordinarily direct role in every decision by any board member--unlike his hands-off attitude over the years in regard to the elections board?
The answers could come in court: Lottery Technology believes it won fair and square, and is now suing the city, charging that Barry aides conspired to steer the contract to Columbia Gaming. But while that process unfolds--giving city officials an excuse for not discussing their actions while the matter is in litigation--citizens deserve more facts without waiting for congressional committees to intervene. The situation cries for a prompt independent investigation--by an agency with the authority of the D.C. auditor or the General Accounting Office.