D.C. officials have agreed to take another look at city regulations on awarding contracts following a dispute about a company given a landscaping job with the lowest bid but no D.C. residents as employees.
Baltimore-based Lorenz Lawn & Landscaping employs no D.C. residents but last year was awarded a lawn-mowing contract with a bid that saves the city about $1.6 million compared to one by D.C.-based Community Bridges Inc., which hires more than 70 percent of its workforce from the city.
CBI owner Denise M. Shelton and her daughter, Shawn Nance, the company’s chief operating officer, said at a D.C. Council hearing Friday that their company meets all the requirements to be a Certified Business Enterprise, including being based in the District and focusing on hiring there, which entitles it to advantages in contract procurement from the D.C. government.
Joe Lorenz said he offers good jobs with competitive benefits and has been put into the spotlight only because he is based outside the District.
“That’s all we’re guilty of,” he said. “We’re from Maryland.”
Council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, said benefits given to certain D.C. businesses are intended to improve residents’ lives.
“But if it’s costing you more money, that means you have less money to provide for other needs,” she said. “It’s always got to be some sort of a balance, and I don’t know that we have the balance correct.”
Council members agreed that legislation should be crafted to ensure that contracts, especially those awarded to CBEs, are monitored properly and benefit D.C. residents.
Ms. Cheh said she will work with council member David Catania, at-large independent, on legislation that tightens the law on awarding city contracts.
She also said the bill may require a company to conduct a minimum percentage of business within the District and place a cap on how much can be paid to a CBE above the market rate.
Ms. Cheh — chairman of the Committee on the Environment, Public Works and Transportation — said she called the hearing to “clear the air” about the contract dispute, reported first in The Washington Post editorial pages.
The city awarded a $1.7 million contract to Lorenz in April 2010 to mow city-owned properties in Wards 3 through 8. A $500,000 contract for Wards 1 and 2 went to CBI.
Last spring, the city declined to pick up the first of four yearlong extensions on Mr. Lorenz’s contract, though the company performed satisfactory work.
The city instead issued the company a partial renewal ahead of a new bidding process for the contracts, raising concerns that Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s office and other city officials used political influence to favor CBI over Lorenz.
“There are shenanigans by the District government going on here,” council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said Friday.
Mr. Gray has said he wanted to reopen the bid to get the lowest price and more jobs for D.C. residents. His top policy aide, Janene Jackson, testified Friday that the mayor has the “right to do so.”
City officials said discussions are still under way to determine how the contracts for Wards 3 through 8 will be rebid, though they incorrectly told Mr. Lorenz earlier that the new bid would be reserved for CBEs.
James D. Staton Jr., director of the city’s Office of Contracting and Procurement, clarified Friday that only contracts for less than $100,000 are set aside for CBEs.
Mr. Lorenz said he will bid again on the contract, as long as it is not reserved for CBEs.
Ms. Shelton and Ms. Nance testified that District-based businesses tend to hire city residents, buy gas in the city and boost the economy through local income taxes.
Mr. Catania said the administration of former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, which awarded the contracts, should not be blamed for accepting quick savings during the height of the recession.
Council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, praised the work of CBI and chided Mr. Lorenz for not hiring a single person from the District.