Evans moves to end D.C. Council approval of big city contracts

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Photo - Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans (right) with former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty. (Examiner file photo)
Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans (right) with former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty. (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Alan Blinder

A District lawmaker wants to eliminate the power of the D.C. Council to review massive city contracts to reduce political meddling, but the council chairman said he didn't expect such a change would have an impact.

Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans told The Washington Examiner that he plans to introduce legislation that would eliminate a requirement for council approval of major contracts. As a check on mayoral power, D.C. law currently mandates that lawmakers sign off on deals worth $1 million or more.

"In my experience, I don't think it has ever really worked," Evans, a potential candidate for mayor in 2014, said Monday. "The council does not have enough staff to review these contracts and make informed decisions."

Evans, who said he was acting to combat "the perception that people contribute to campaigns so they can get special deals on contracts," said his measure would do more than simply limit political donations.

"If people are truly concerned about a pay-to-play atmosphere, rather than limiting contributions to campaigns, get rid of the source of the problem, which is contracts," Evans said. "Get rid of the contracts because you're never going to get rid of corporate contributions."

Mayor Vincent Gray, a former council chairman who has proposed strict new limits on donations by existing or prospective city contractors, declined to comment because he had not reviewed Evans' proposal.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said he thought Evans' measure, which to become law would require a citywide vote and approval by Congress if it clears the council, would hurt a system already beset by close ties to contractors.

"I recognize that is vulnerable to abuse, but then again, much of the legislative process can be abused through special-interest legislation and through favors that are not readily recognized by the public," Mendelson said. "None of that's good, but that's not a reason to weaken the process."

Mendelson said that even "passive approval" of contracts has led to results for city taxpayers.

"We have the leverage to get information and to bring issues to light and to ensure that contracts comply with District law," he said.

The relationship between the city's leaders and the contractors who receive millions of dollars in public money has undergone intensified scrutiny in recent months as a series of federal investigations have enveloped the District government.

One major contractor, Jeffrey Thompson, has been linked to the $653,800 shadow campaign that prosecutors have said helped elect Gray. Authorities have said the off-the-books effort funded campaign materials and staff for Gray's 2010 run.

Thompson, who has not been charged, was the city's single largest contractor for years, presiding over a health care company with a deal worth more than $300 million annually.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner