Marion Barry, Councilmember Ward 8 During an interview with LL
Marion Barry in 2009. Photo by Darrow Montgomery.

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Back in November, LL wrote about how Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry was expressing his disapproval of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty by filing things called “disapproval resolutions” on city contracts.

Those resolutions, which Barry’s been filing regularly since the summer, have generally been little more than an annoyance. But late last month, one of the disapproval resolutions nearly had more momentous consequences.

On Dec. 23, Barry filed disapprovals on a series of four contracts providing health insurance to District employees. Each submitted contract exercised an “option year” on contracts that the council had already approved in prior years. Problem was, the contracts were set to expire at midnight Dec. 31, and the council was on holiday recess and could not address the matter; to hear Attorney General Peter J. Nickles tell it, some 21,000 D.C. employees would be left uninsured if the contracts were not approved—a “catastrophic impact.”

So Nickles posted a letter to Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi saying: Pay them anyway. Nickles reasoned that the action didn’t require council approval since the underlying contracts had already been ratified.

In a conversation with LL, Nickles called Barry’s contract holds “irresponsible and unacceptable.” He said he has been trying to meet with Barry about the rash of disapprovals for some time with no success.

Says Barry, “You know Peter does me a favor when he goes off half-cocked.” (That’s right—-Barry spoke to LL. You’ll have to read LL’s column next week for more details on that conversation.)

Barry explains that his obstructionist ways are meant to call attention, he says, to a broken procurement system. “The situation,” he says, “has gotten worse under mayor Fenty than it was under [Mayor Anthony A. Williams].”

In the case of the health care contracts, he says, “what should have happened, the mayor should have had these contracts over here 45, 60 days before Dec. 31….If I had not come into work on the 23rd—which I did—I would have missed it. That’s not fair.”

In any case, the insurance contracts were never in danger of expiring, Barry says, because he lifted his hold before the 31st. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, he says, “asked me about it. I said, ‘All right, no problem!’”

LL asked Barry what Fenty can do to stop the chronic disapprovals. “Make [the procurement system] work!” he said. “Follow the law!”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery