When District contractor John Clyburn has a drink at Joe and Mo's restaurant, David Rivers, the director of the Department of Human Services, is sometimes at his side. Another frequent companion is former city administrator Elijah B. Rogers, a close friend of Clyburn's since college and best man at his wedding.
Clyburn's business dealings with the city government -- including past contracts with Rivers' agency -- are never a topic of discussion in social settings or at Mayor Marion Barry's occasional poker games, Clyburn and the others insist.
But critics believe that it is more than a coincidence that Clyburn's friendship with Rivers, Rogers and Barry flourished at the same time his two small firms obtained, since 1980, about 20 contracts worth more than $3.1 million with five D.C. agencies, a number of which were awarded without competitive bids.
Clyburn, 43, is a South Carolina native who spent seven months in prison on an assault conviction for which he was pardoned and who now heads a government consulting firm and computer job training center here. He is viewed by Barry critics as a classic beneficiary of a city contracting program geared to reward politically connected business people -- claims strongly denied by Clyburn and Barry.
D.C. school board member R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8), who was instrumental in canceling a city contract recently awarded to Clyburn's firm to provide drug counseling to public school students, said in an interview that he suspects that Clyburn "is using his political connections in getting contracts."
"It goes all the way back to when Elijah [Rogers] became city administrator," Lockridge said. "Baby [Rogers] has looked out for him . . . . But it shouldn't be taxpayers' money."
Rogers, who has remained a close confidant of Barry since he left city government in May 1983, said that while he was city administrator he never discussed Clyburn's city business with Clyburn or with other city officials.
"I never spoke to anybody #(in the city government about what he was doing," said Rogers, now an executive with a national accounting firm. "I don't know anything about his business in that sense. Our relationship is a personal friendship."
Clyburn said in an interview Friday that since Barry first took office in 1979 and hired Rogers as city administrator, Clyburn has been unfairly haunted by the accusation that he is a "favored" contractor.
Controversy surrounding Clyburn's dealings with the city came to a head two weeks ago when Rivers was forced to cancel Clyburn's most recent D.C. contract -- the drug counseling contract worth $617,220 -- after Lockridge claimed at a hearing that the contract had been "wired" and that Clyburn was unfit to run a drug program because a female companion of his died of a drug overdose in 1983.
Clyburn has said he was unaware that his friend had taken any drugs before she died, and that he never used drugs.
City Council Chairman David A. Clarke, who is among those who objected to the drug counseling contract, said, "I hope we have not put a fox in charge of the chicken coop."
Barry, who described Clyburn as a "good political friend," said Friday that he played no role in awarding the contract, which was competitively bid, but that in retrospect he would have advised Clyburn against seeking the contract, given the likely reaction if Clyburn won it.
"If I had known he was applying for the contract, I'd have given him some political and professional advice not to bid," Barry said.
School Board President R. David Hall (Ward 2) warned Barry before the award was made that selecting Clyburn's firm would not be well received, according to Lockridge and another school board member, who asked not to be identified. Barry said he did not recall the conversation. Hall could not be reached for comment over the weekend.
D.C. School Superintendent Floretta McKenzie also said she warned Andrew D. McBride, the Commissioner of Public Health under Rivers, that an award to Clyburn's firm would be "problematic."
The Department of Human Service's choice of Clyburn's firm to do drug counseling was particularly troublesome, some city officials say, because of the December 1983 fatal drug overdose of a female companion of Clyburn, Joann Medina. Clyburn, who lives with his wife and children in Potomac, told The Washington Post in 1984 that he had been with Medina during the 12 hours before she was stricken in a house on Capitol Hill. He also said that she did not take any drugs in his presence.
Clyburn said last week he wants all the facts in the Medina case to come out in a $25 million libel suit he recently filed against the Washington Times in connection with the newspaper's stories about the death. "I expect there to be blood in the streets before it's over," Clyburn said during a two-hour interview. "But I'm going to see it through."
As for charges that he has benefited financially from his political connections, Clyburn said that in fact he has suffered as a result of them.
"If I'm 'wired,' I would be doing a lot better than I'm doing," Clyburn said. "I heard these same rumors when Elijah Rogers" was city administrator, he said. "I never asked him to intercede. While he was there we got very little. We've gotten a little more since he left, but it's still not a lot."
Of the approximately 20 contracts Clyburn's firms have received, at least seven were so-called walk-in contracts, awarded without competitive bids after Clyburn firms submitted unsolicited proposals to do work. Another major contract with the human services department totaling $724,998 was awarded without bids as an amendment to an unrelated, much smaller contract. D.C. Auditor Otis Troupe in an interview described this procedure as irregular.
Currently, Clyburn's business with the city is limited to a contract with the D.C. Department of Employment Services and a subcontract for a Department of Human Services program, worth a total of $530,223, to provide job training and to help run a drug program.
One of Clyburn's firms has won job training contracts with the Department of Employment Services every year since 1980. Three former or current department officials, who asked not to be identified, said contract officials protested that in the mid-1980s Clyburn's firm was not meeting contract requirements.
At the Department of Human Services, one official who asked not to be identified said that employes from Clyburn's firm seem to be "always getting what they want" in dealing with the department.
Department director Rivers said that Clyburn's firm does not receive special treatment. "His work has been outstanding for the department," Rivers said, adding that the U.S. General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, concluded in 1984 that a study of city drug treatment programs by one of Clyburn's firms made a planned GAO audit unnecessary.
Rivers said his social relationship with Clyburn has "no bearing" on Clyburn's success in getting business from the department.
"Obviously," Rivers said, "I've been out drinking with John [Clyburn] and [Elijah] Rogers. I don't think we're a running pack all the time. They've got a separate social life from me."
He said, "Obviously, there is always the perception that if I have been [seen] with somebody, there is something sinister brewing. That's [nonsense]."
Clyburn, born in Sumter, S.C., graduated from South Carolina State College in the mid-1960s and then worked for a year as a mathematics teacher. He received a master's degree from Northeastern University in Boston before moving to Washington in 1969.
In 1965, Clyburn was convicted in Charleston, S.C., with four other men of assaulting a woman after a New Year's Eve party. The five had been charged with rape, but after a two-day jury trial, which was reported in local newspapers, Clyburn and the others were convicted of a misdeameanor charge of assault and battery. Each man was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Clyburn was paroled after serving about seven months of his sentence, and received a pardon in 1974, according to South Carolina records. Clyburn, who was 22 at the time of the incident, said last week, "I'm proud of my ability to handle that, bounce back and keep going."
Clyburn started his main firm, Granville Corp., in 1978 with $2,000, and he concentrated initially on obtaining federal community and economic development research contracts. The firm, which changed its named to Decision Information Systems Corp. (DISC) in 1984, now concentrates on providing computer software programs, according to Clyburn, DISC's chairman and largest stockholder.
In late 1980, Clyburn formed a second company, Data Processing Institute (DPI), a word processing and computer training center that soon began receiving city job training contracts. The city contracts now amount to about half of the firm's revenues, Clyburn said.
DISC currently grosses more than $3 million a year, according to Clyburn. He said that city contracts have represented 20 percent or less of DISC/Granville's revenues during the past six years.
Other clients of Clyburn's firm have included Jeffrey N. Cohen, a developer and Barry friend; the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp.; the Department of Defense, and the Western Development Corp., which is involved in several major commercial developments in the District.
Clyburn is one of several minority businessmen involved in a Western-led partnership that last year was selected by the city to develop a $640 million complex on the Portal site, a major Southwest redevelopment project.
Clyburn said that financial problems incurred by Granville in the mid-1980s caused creditors to file lawsuits against the firm and resulted in more than $250,000 in federal and D.C. tax liens and an additional $30,000 in Maryland tax liens. Clyburn said the debts were attributable to a failed attempt to open a retail computer store. "We lost about $375,000 on that venture," Clyburn said.
Clyburn said he has paid off all of the federal and D.C. tax liens, is in the process of paying the Maryland taxes and has settled all the lawsuits.
Clyburn's firms had a mixed performance record on their Department of Employment Services contracts, according to city contract documents.
A $201,549 job training and placement contract in 1982 provoked criticism inside the employment department. According to a department memo, an internal monitoring unit found that Granville Corp. had arranged for on-the-job training for 15 of the 41 persons the contract required the firm to serve.
The unit said that the firm had insufficent methods for tracking its contract funds and that invoices were not based on actual expenditures. Granville officials disputed the criticism and said they had complied with the contract.
Clyburn's DPI also drew criticism from midlevel department officials for its performance on computer job training and placement contracts, according to one current and two former agency employes.
Contract records show that the firm placed 40 trainees in jobs when the contract called for 64 placements in fiscal 1981 and 27 of the 40 called for in 1983.
In 1984, almost half of the trainees assigned to the firm's program quit before it was over, according to the contract records. DPI was able to place 10 of the original 43 trainees in computer-related jobs, according to a memo to Clyburn from James Loving, a DPI official.
Loving recently called the 1984 record "terrible by today's standard" but said the firm was in compliance with the contract's requirements. Loving said he could not comment on the 1981 and 1983 contracts because he had not been with the firm then.
Clyburn, who said he is not involved in the daily operations of DPI, said he could not comment on the firm's earlier performance. However, he said the company has done an "outstanding job" in the past two years.