A former city employee at the heart of an increasingly contentious shake-up at a D.C. agency is charging that he was fired because he would not steer millions of dollars in road work to a political donor to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser.
The allegation by Carlos M. Sandoval is contained in a filing with the District’s Office of Employee Appeals and was provided to The Washington Post by Sandoval’s attorney. The D.C. Council held a closed-door hearing on the allegations Thursday.
Sandoval alleges that City Administrator Rashad M. Young ordered his dismissal in August because Sandoval’s agency, the Department of General Services, passed over Fort Myer Construction in awarding two city contracts. Fort Myer is a major political donor to Bowser and other elected officials.
The city administrator “demanded that Mr. Sandoval be terminated because he did not participate in steering the contract to Fort Myer and Fort Myer failed to receive the contract award,” according to Sandoval’s filing.
Bowser spokesman Kevin Harris said the mayor’s office would not comment on the allegations in Sandoval’s complaint because they involved a personnel matter.
Chris Kerns, vice president and general counsel at Fort Myer Construction, declined Thursday to address Sandoval’s complaint. “The matter is in litigation,” he said. “We don’t think it’s appropriate to comment.”
Fort Myer Construction was ultimately unsuccessful in bidding to manage demolition and road building and to oversee other preparations for a planned soccer stadium for D.C. United at Buzzard Point and for a practice facility for the Washington Wizards at the St. Elizabeths campus in Southeast Washington.
Sandoval alleges that Bowser’s staff took extraordinary steps to help the company win work. Two administration officials have said that the city followed standard procedures in awarding the contract.
D.C. Council members held the oversight hearing to try to determine whether Sandoval’s allegations have merit.
“Like most members of the public, I’m simply hoping to get an understanding of what happened, whether procedures were followed to ensure that there was no issue of pay-to-play,” council member Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) said in an opening statement before the committee went into executive session.
“I know for a fact that everything that looks good is not good and everything that looks bad is not bad,” he said. “But . . . 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.”
Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who called the hearing, said she expected it to continue through Friday and possibly through Monday.
She said she had requested thousands of pages of documents — including “emails, correspondence, meeting records, personnel files and files related to the contracts in question” — from the Bowser administration. She said that it was too early to assess what happened based on those documents but that a review by her staff confirmed that administration officials — particularly the city administrator — “took a significant interest in the way these procurements were evaluated and awarded.”
Cheh said she hoped to release those records eventually for public scrutiny. She also said officials from the D.C. inspector general’s office and the D.C. auditor’s office will sit in for the private testimony to decide whether a more extensive investigation of the District’s contracting procedures is warranted.
All information not related to personnel matters that arose in the hearings will be made public in a committee report, Cheh said. The committee could also vote to override the confidentiality restrictions and disclose the testimony in its entirety, she said.
The tumult in the Department of General Services started in August, when Christopher Weaver resigned as the head of the agency.
Weaver, a retired Navy rear admiral, was one of Bowser’s highest-profile Cabinet picks. The mayor had said she selected Weaver to bring stability and precision to the awarding of city contracts after years of scandals.
But Sandoval alleges that the mayor’s staff inappropriately intervened in two contracts.
In both cases, Weaver’s agency chose companies from outside the District instead of Fort Myer Construction.
The St. Elizabeths contract went to Gilbane Building Co., based in Rhode Island, which submitted a $6 million bid, compared with Fort Myer’s $16 million bid, according to documents. The Buzzards Point contract was awarded to Maryland-based W.M. Schlosser Co. even though Fort Myer had a slightly lower price, according to several people with knowledge of the competition.
After Fort Myer’s bid to prepare the Wizards site was rejected in the spring, the company protested, and Bowser’s office “forbade” Weaver to seek to override the protest, according to Sandoval’s filing.
That stalled work on the site for 50 days while Fort Myer tried to overturn the decision, Sandoval said.
The Department of General Services said in early August that the delay left Ward 8 neighborhoods around the Southeast construction site “unnecessarily exposed to risk of fire due to the low water pressure in their fire hydrants.” The department said the delay also left a portion of St. Elizabeths partially demolished, allowing “debris, fibers and adhesives to become airborne and seep into the groundwater and drainage systems.”
During the delay, government documents also show that the District was served with a notice of breach of agreement from Washington Gas. The city and the utility had an agreement to build a solar-panel project on the campus, but the city was late in building a road to accommodate Washington Gas trucks to erect the solar panels.
In August, two members of Bowser’s administration, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, said the city could not move forward while the protest from Fort Myer was pending before the District’s contract appeals board. The board dismissed the protest in September as “without merit or untimely.”