- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2011

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh wants to “clear the air” concerning a pair of city lawn-mowing contracts that raise questions about political influence and what it means to be a District-based business.

Mrs. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on the Environment, Public Works and Transportation, has scheduled a public hearing for Friday to explore contracts awarded to Lorenz Inc., a Maryland-based company, and Community Bridge Inc. (CBI), which some officials touted last year as a city-based business although it has an arguably larger operation in Prince George’s County.

The city awarded a $1.8 million contract to Lorenz under former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in April 2010 to mow lawns in Wards 3 through 8. A contract for Wards 1 and 2 went to CBI.

The dual nature of the contract is a mystery that will be explored at the hearing, Mrs. Cheh said.

In April, the city declined to pick up the first of four year-long extensions on Lorenz’s contract, even though the company performed good work at a low cost, Mrs. Cheh said.

Instead, the city issued a partial renewal ahead of a new bidding process for the contracts.

The situation has raised questions about whether CBI was favored as a “local company,” even as questions remain about whether the company, run out of a Northwest town house, was truly based in the District.

The arrangement was first reported in an editorial in The Washington Post on Monday.

The editorial also suggested that the company had support from council member Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat, who is under investigation for an unrelated ethics matter. Mr. Thomas offers a testimonial for CBI on the company’s website.

“There are a lot of allegations around it,” Mrs. Cheh said of the contract. “So what I wanted to do is hold a hearing to find out what the facts are and to clear the air — whatever that may mean.”

Lorenz’s contract had to be renewed by council authority on Tuesday, because it had reached $1 million, to make it through the end of the cutting season in November.

Mrs. Cheh said it was fine to give preference to D.C.-based businesses, but they should not get perks” beyond that.”

She wants to find out whether there are any preferences to one company over the other, who is pushing them and why the contracts are not going forward.

Mrs. Cheh will hold the session with council members Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, and Vincent B. Orange, at-large Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Small and Local Business Development.

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