Jack Evans to propose curtailing D.C. Council power over city contracts

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A D.C. Council member said he plans to try again to curb lawmakers' authority to influence city contracts worth $1 million or more, but he acknowledged that his effort, which stalled last year, is unlikely to find success in 2013.

Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans told The Washington Examiner he will reintroduce legislation Tuesday that would set up a citywide vote on whether to strip the council of its authority to review major contracts and leave those decisions to the mayor.

"It's a recipe for mischief," Evans said. "If we're going to have this authority, we need the ability to really review contracts and set up an office that's going to have expertise in this area. Just having the ability to review contracts without expertise is silly."

But Evans will likely encounter much of the same resistance he did in 2012, including a council chairman who was steadfastly opposed to the proposal to stage a public vote.

"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," Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said in September. "None of that's good, but that's not a reason to weaken the process."SClBMendelson was traveling late last week and unavailable for comment, but a person familiar with his thinking said his opinion is largely unchanged.

Evans acknowledged his long odds of success, though his proposal attracted some support from lawmakers last year.

"I don't think it will go anywhere," he said. "What it does is bring attention to the issue. If I can't get the council out of the business of approving contracts, maybe they'll have some suggestions about how to reform the process so that members don't continue to meddle in this area."

The council last week approved one change to its contract review process, though, when it backed a new rule that requires at least three lawmakers to sponsor "disapproval resolutions," items of legislation designed to derail or stall contracts.

Mayor Vincent Gray, a former council chairman, welcomed the change, his spokesman said.

"We definitely support the idea," said Pedro Ribeiro. "It has to do with the ability for projects to move forward in a timely manner. It does slow things down when one council member can stop a contract."

Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry regularly used the resolutions to press his legislative agenda, writing more in the last council period than any other lawmaker.

Barry, whose spokeswoman said he was unavailable for comment, often crafted the resolutions alone.

"It prevents one person -- like Marion Barry -- from doing what he was doing and disapproving the contract, slowing down the business of government," Evans said. "People can use that to negotiate for themselves, and that's part of the problem."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

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