- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A consultant hired to run D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ so-called baseball “war room” last year said yesterday he is “completely in the dark” about why city auditors are scrutinizing his hiring as part of an ongoing probe into top city officials’ contracting practices.

“I’ve never been approached,” said Ira Sockowitz, founder of the locally based Phoenix Consulting Group.

Auditors say Phoenix last year received about $100,000 from the D.C. government in transactions related to overseas trips by city officials and the city’s efforts to bring major league baseballback to the city.

“I don’t know how the contracts were let,” Mr. Sockowitz said. “That was not my bailiwick.”

More than $1 million in consulting arrangements, including two involving Mr. Sockowitz, have come under the scrutiny of D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols in her office’s ongoing inquiry into contracting and procurement in the offices of the mayor and city administrator.

Yesterday, Mr. Williams criticized Mrs. Nichols for disclosing details of the inquiry at a D.C. Council committee hearing Monday. Mr. Williams said it was “unprofessional” of her to discuss it before its release.

“I think it is really unacceptable,” he said.

Mrs. Nichols said yesterday the council asked her to testify, and that refusing to do so could have subjected her to a subpoena.

“It’s unfortunate that he would attack me and my professionalism,” she said. “I work for the council, and if I am asked to come in and give testimony, I am going to abide by the law.”

D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr., Ward 5 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, which held the hearing, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Council member Kwame R. Brown, at-large Democrat, who participated in the hearing, said yesterday that the consulting deals deserve greater scrutiny.

“You have contract files that are missing,” he said. “Something’s wrong here.”

Among the consulting arrangements in question include three payments totaling $75,000 by the District to Mr. Sockowitz last year for his work on coordinating a “war room” in the mayor’s office tasked with bringing baseball back to the District.

Mrs. Nichols told the council that city auditors and contracting officials cannot locate a contract file to find out if the three payments were issued through a no-bid arrangement.

City auditors also have questioned the $26,500 paid last year to Mr. Sockowitz in three purchase orders for consulting work for the mayor’s trade mission to China last fall. Mrs. Nichols testifiedthat the purchase orders were “intentionally split” to avoid a $25,000 threshold, which would have required city officials to seek price quotes from other vendors.

Mrs. Nichols said yesterday her office did not contact Mr. Sockowitz because the contractor is not the focus of the inquiry.

Another consulting agreement under scrutiny involves one of Mr. Sockowitz’s former associates from the U.S. Commerce Department during the Clinton administration.

Melinda Yee Franklin, a former Commerce Department official, and Lily Hu, a lobbyist, were hired by the District for consulting services in connection with Mr. Williams’ trade mission to China. TheOakland, Calif.-based consultants were hired without valid contracts, Mrs. Nichols said.

Mr. Sockowitz said he did not play a role in the hiring of either consultant.

D.C. City Administrator Robert C. Bobb knew of Miss Franklin and Miss Hu from his previous job as city administrator in Oakland.

Mr. Bobb defended the deals in February when the council’s Committee on Government Operations first questioned whether local consultants could have been hired instead of those from out of town.

“I have done more and know more about local businesses and minority businesses than any of the critics,” he said at the time.

Miss Hu and Mr. Sockowitz have faced scrutiny in other unrelated government matters.

A federal grand jury recently issued a subpoena seeking e-mails sent to Miss Hu from the office of a California state senator, the Associated Press reported.

Mr. Sockowitz figured prominently in questions surrounding the removal of classified documents from the Commerce Department during the Clinton administration.

Mr. Sockowitz said yesterday he never was charged with any wrongdoing in connection with his work in the federal government and that that has no bearing on his work for Mr. Williams.

• Robert Redding Jr. contributed to this report.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide