DC Council Defies Mayor; Blocks Her Pick For Jail Contract
After 18 months of deliberations and bidding, The D.C. Council shot down the proposed contract for health-care services in the city’s jails on Tuesday.
The contract was originally awarded to a company out of Tennessee, but is now in limbo as the bidding process will have to be restarted.
A heated exchange left opposing factions on the council visibly frustrated with each other, and it appears new Mayor Muriel Bowser may have taken her first big hit since she took office in January.
The council eventually voted 6-5 in favor of blocking the $66 million contract to Corizon Correctional Healthcare, the company picked by Bowser.
“It is disappointing that the council rejected a contract that went through a fair bidding process over an 18 month period,” Bowser’s spokesman, Michael Czin, said in a statement. “As a result of the council’s action, District residents will continue to overpay a vendor that is servicing a declining population at the D.C. Jail.”
Now that the current contract has been blocked by the council, the previous contract with Unity will continue on a month-to-month basis, which it has been on since the contract ended over a year ago.
Corizon CEO Dr. Woodrow A. Myers, Jr. said on Twitter that the decision was a “vote of no confidence in the integrity of the District’s procurement process.”
The vote left one member of the council perplexed as to the motives of his colleagues. Vincent Orange, who called for the vote on the contract, claimed that Unity Health Care, the local company that currently runs healthcare in the jail, has “relationships” with members of the council.
“It’s not about relationships,” he said later, adding that his son had worked with Unity for nearly five years. Orange said there had been six rounds of examinations of the contract by two different administrations, and Corizon was chosen because it offers the best services at the best price.
“You may not like the result, but it’s open. It’s transparent,” he said.
Other members of the council cited numerous lawsuits against Corizon in other states and said the city would be much better off if it didn’t hire a giant corporation to deal with its inmates.
“Inmates, just like everyone else, have a right to adequate healthcare,” said Councilman David Grosso, who had been leading the charge on the council to axe the contract.
Orange later assailed his colleagues on the council as hypocrites because they previously said the council has no business voting on city contracts and seven of them, whom he called out by name, had supported a bill to stop the council from voting on contracts.
“These seven council members said that the council should not be in the process of contract review when it has gone through a competitive process, and I hope they will stay true to form,” Orange said.
Currently, any contract worth over $1 million has to go before the council for a vote after it is signed off on by the city’s Office of Contracting and Procurement.
Council Member Yvette Alexander, who voted in favor of the contract, also questioned her colleagues.
“Either we want to deal with contracts, or we don’t,” Alexander said.
Council Member Mary Cheh said she didn’t want to second guess the city’s procurement process, but said the council needs to act as a backstop in this case to catch “manifest mistakes” in the process.
“This isn’t a contract about grass cutting,” Cheh said. “People’s lives are at stake.”
The question now, though, is what happens next. Councilman Jack Evans explained to the council that Corizon and Unity were the only two companies to bid for the contract, so re-opening the bidding process would more than likely end in the same result.
“Say we don’t approve the contract. Say Corizon is voted down,” Evans said during the deliberation. “Where does that really leave us? Would they both just compete again, and what if Corizon were to win again?”
Calling the whole thing “ridiculous,” Evans told members of the council if they want Unity to have the contract so bad, and they had already made up their minds, then “just sole-source the contract to Unity.”
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