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Marion Barry the Latest to Get Investigated for No-bid Contract

Former Mayor of Washington, DC Marion Barry has been in and out of trouble over the last ten years as a City Councilman. He has had high-profile marital problems, Federal tax liens, and controversial "gifts" from city contractors.

His most recent flap concerned a $15,000 contract awarded to Donna Watts-Brighthaup. Watts-Brighthaup had a personal relationship with him at the time and gave back some of the money to Mr. Barry. He lost his chair of the City Council committee he led and is under investigation by Federal authorities for possible corruption. While bidding was not required, any time a contract is awarded directly -- particularly to someone who has a personal connection --red flags go up.

While Barry's colorful past -- he did time for crack possession in the '90s -- is distinctive, he is not alone when it comes to getting into trouble for dodgy contracts.

  • The Post Office's president of Mailing and Shipping, Robert Bernstock, recently raised eyebrows by awarding two contracts, worth almost $6 million, directly to former business associates. The U.S.P.S. announced that these contracts will not be renewed when they expire later this year.
  • In Alabama, Governor, Bob Riley (R), recently had issues with the state legislature over a contract to provide IT services. The $13 million no-bid award to Paragon Source LLC seemed even worse when the Contract Review Committee could not find an address to send a subpoena to the CEO to come testify before them. A lawsuit filed by the legislature to stop the contract was thrown out but the trouble still simmers.
  • In Memphis, the city's Director of General Services, Estrice Boone, had the city invest $37,000 a month in an engine additive to supposedly improve mileage and life of city owned vehicles. This was against the advice of the fleet managers. The $900,000 spent on this product seems to have been wasted as no improvement has been found. Mr. Boone is gone after a new mayor took office as is the money. Mr. Boone told the city contracts office that the contract had to be given to "X-52 Distributing" without competition as they had a patent and could only make the product.
All this goes to illustrate a simple, common-sense point. Except in rare instances when there is little time, or if there really is only a single provider who can do the work, no-bid, sole-source contracts are never the best way to go.