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D.C. small businesses getting stiffed by city

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Photo - At-large Councilman Vincent Orange
At-large Councilman Vincent Orange
Local,DC,Liz Farmer

Small business owners in D.C. say they are being yanked around by a city that's taking months -- and in some cases years -- to pay for contracted work.

The complaint came as news to the head of the D.C. Office of Contracting and Procurement James Staton, now in his second year after coming to the District from North Carolina.

"We call it the 'okey doke,' where you could perform work in November and you don't actually get a check until July the next year," Veronica Davis, owner of environmental consulting firm Nspiregreen, told Staton at a small business roundtable Friday.

"That's really disturbing," Staton said. "I thought that had stopped."

The roundtable was part of a daylong small business summit hosted by At-large Councilman Vincent Orange in City Hall. At the roundtable, Staton heard stories from small business owners who had waited on payment from Staton's office or the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, which handles contracts for DC Public Schools, the Department of General Services and several other agencies.

Ronald Evans, head of the National Business League, said he had sued the CFO's office after he didn't receive payment. Another man said he had waited more than a decade for a late payment from the city to come through.

"I don't know how you all stay in business," Staton told the group. "I'd never heard of such a practice until I arrived in D.C."

Staton said he would talk to members of his agency and the OCFO about what is happening with small business invoices.

After the roundtable Davis said that, although the city is required to pay invoices within 30 days, there's a loophole.

"They're rejecting these invoices over a penny -- literally a penny," she said. "And that resets the 30-day clock."

Davis said rejected invoices often mean a 120-day delay in payments from the city.

"I'm a consultant, so I can survive," she said. "But I don't know how people who have paid for goods and supplies can last that way."

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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