A few details have started to emerge about the focus of a D.C. Council inquiry into allegations that Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s administration orchestrated the firings of two city officials who refused to steer contracts to a political donor.
The closed-door hearing on the matter stretched through a second day Friday and was scheduled to continue Monday.
Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who chairs the committee holding the hearings, said in an interview that City Administrator Rashad M. Young had shown a “keen interest” in the contracts in question. She added that “there’s reason to believe he directed the firings.”
Cheh said Young — a Bowser appointee who oversees the District’s bureaucracy — was behind the dismissal of two senior civil servants who would not award millions of dollars in road work to Fort Myer Construction, a major source of political contributions to Bowser (D) and other elected officials.
The company has a history of winning government contracts.
She declined to say what evidence there was that Young directed the firings or whether she believed his actions were inappropriate. In addition to testimony from witnesses, Cheh’s staff has begun combing through thousands of documents, including emails, provided by the Bowser administration.
The hearings concern the firings in August of Carlos M. Sandoval and Yinka Alao. Both were high-ranking officials in the city’s Department of General Services, which oversees construction work.
Their dismissals came shortly after the abrupt resignation of the agency director, Christopher Weaver, a retired rear admiral who was hired by Bowser to bring greater integrity to the city’s contracting process.
In a complaint filed late last month with the District’s Office of Employee Appeals, Sandoval alleged that he was fired because he resisted pressure from the mayor’s office and Young to award Fort Myer contracts for demolition and road work at a planned soccer stadium at Buzzard Point and a practice facility for the Washington Wizards at the St. Elizabeths campus in Southeast Washington.
DGS awarded both contracts to companies outside the District. Fort Myer filed a protest of the decision on the Wizards project, but that was dismissed in September after the departures of Weaver, Sandoval and Alao.
Even if Young or some other mayoral official was involved in the firings of Sandoval and Alao or showed unusual interest in the contracts in question, it is not clear that city policy or law was violated.
Representatives from the offices of the D.C. inspector general and D.C. auditor are sitting in on the council hearing to help determine whether a broader investigation of the city’s contracting process is warranted.
Young has said he intervened in the contracts in question only out of concern that DGS officials were making “indefensible” alterations to the bidding process.
“The City Administrator has been on record stating he had no prior knowledge that Fort Myers was a bidder, and his concern in this matter was heightened only by sudden changes to a long-standing formula for scoring bids which could disadvantage local firms,” mayoral spokesman Kevin Harris said in a statement Friday.
Young and Weaver are on the list of witnesses released by Cheh’s committee. Sandoval and Alao are not scheduled to testify.
Council member Robert C. White Jr. said this week that the hearings were needed to find out “whether procedures were followed to ensure that there was no issue of pay-to-play.”
“People feel that there was something that happened here that was not appropriate, and the job of this committee and of the council is really to help get to the bottom of it,” he said.
Cheh’s decision to take testimony behind closed doors has drawn criticism from groups including the D.C. Open Government Coalition and the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association, which say the inquiry should be open to the public.
Cheh has said that the questions about inappropriate mayoral influence on city contracting are “inextricably intertwined” with confidential personnel issues involving the fired employees and that an audio recording of the testimony — which may be edited to remove personnel issues — will be made public at some point after the hearings.