- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The D.C. public-school system has withdrawn a request that D.C. lawmakers approve a $45.6 million contract with a private security firm whose performance is under review, as city investigators probe whether the three-year deal violates city contracting law.

The decision comes as school system officials reconsider whether Watkins Security Agency of D.C. Inc. should continue to provide more than 300 private security guards in the city schools.

“There were a lot of questions and concerns [about] the contract,” said Lucy Young, spokeswoman for the 65,000-student school district. “We’re going to look at it again to make sure all of the concerns are answered.”

Watkins Security came under criticism after the Feb. 2 fatal shooting of Ballou High School student James Richardson, 17. Thomas Boykin, 18, who reportedly smuggled a gun past school security guards, is charged in the teenager’s death and is being held without bail.

Miss Young said Watkins Security will continue to post guards in the schools while school system officials review the three-year contract. After the review, which could last as long as 60 days, the school system might opt to seek approval of the Watkins contract or hire another contractor.

The Washington Times first reported last week that the D.C. Office of the Inspector General has been reviewing the school system’s contract with Watkins Security.

City investigators are looking into whether the school system violated contracting law when it paid Watkins millions of dollars without seeking approval from D.C. Council.

Under city law, D.C. Council is required to approve all contracts worth more than $1 million. However, the school system already paid at least $6.8 million to Watkins Security since July.

The Inspector General’s Office also is conducting separate audits into Watkins Security and the previous school-security contractor, Vienna-based MVM Inc. The audits examine security at the schools, the attendance record of security guards and contractor billing practices, according to acting interim Inspector General Austin A. Andersen.

Interim Schools Superintendent Elfreda W. Massie first indicated that officials are reconsidering the Watkins Security contract in a letter sent to D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp on Monday.

The D.C.-based security firm is owned by former Metropolitan Police Detective Richard A. Hamilton, who also is co-founder of the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization.

Officials with Watkins Security declined comment in a phone call to the firm yesterday.

D.C. Council member Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, a vocal critic of the school system’s handling of the Watkins contract, yesterday said he welcomed the withdrawal of the security contract.

However, Mr. Fenty said he still wants to know why school officials awarded the contract in the first place and what they plan to do next to address security concerns.

“We couldn’t approve a contract under these circumstances,” Mr. Fenty said. “I think the contract needs to be bid out again.”

A report by the Metropolitan Police Department on Feb. 18 criticized the security at Ballou High School under Watkins in a review of the shooting death of James.

“To say that there is a lack of unity in command and control for Ballou school security is an understatement,” the report said.

Mr. Hamilton, Watkins Security’s president, also is facing scrutiny over a separate security contract in connection with his role as trustee at the United Planning Organization, which administers millions of dollars in federal and D.C. grants to help low-income residents.

Mr. Hamilton stepped down from his post on the UPO’s board of trustees last week after a report by the D.C. Department of Human Services raised questions about the organization’s contracting practices. Sources say the city auditors are examining whether the UPO hired Watkins Security while Mr. Hamilton was serving on its board of trustees.

A. Scott Bolden, a D.C.-based attorney who was hired by the organization last week, said Mr. Hamilton stepped down along with another board member over “very serious issues” raised in the city’s report.

Debra Daniels, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, said it expects to complete the report in about three weeks.

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