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Defense Department Looks Into Complaint On Hiring Consultant
May 9, 1996

Thursday, May 9, 1996
Section: news
Page: A03

RICHMOND Federal authorities have referred concerns about the selection of the Point Molate base re-use consultant to Defense Department attorneys, officials said Wednesday.

As the City Council prepares to vote Tuesday on whether to approve the consultant's contract, city officials still do not know if they will be forced to scrap the hiring process they went through in March. They could even lose the planning grant altogether.

In the meantime, several council members accused of corruption in the matter have threatened a fellow council member with legal action.

The planning grant was provided by the Office of Economic Adjustment, a division of the Defense Department. Point Molate is a former naval fuels depot that shut down last year.

"If OEA's investigation determines that Richmond acted in violation of federal guidelines or policies, we could be required to re-bid the grant or the grant could be terminated," Pat Jones told the council Tuesday. Jones works in the City Manager's Office.

Federal officials could also determine that there were no improprieties in the consultant selection.

Five members of the council chose a local architect, Dan Peterson & Associates, as the project consultant. The controversial vote came after a staff committee ranked Peterson sixth out of seven applicants.

Councilman Tom Butt accused his colleagues of choosing Peterson not because he was the most qualified but because they were lobbied by Darrell Reese, who supported them in their elections.

The five have vehemently denied the charges.

The review process may take another two weeks, said Helene O'Connor, acting director of the OEA.

Federal officials are looking into the matter because Butt wrote a letter to O'Connor in April accusing some of his fellow council members of violating federal requirements

O'Connor wrote back in late April, saying that the city must exhaust all of its local remedies for resolving procurement disputes before the federal government gets involved.

But Richmond City Attorney Malcolm Hunter told the council Tuesday that Richmond has no such "local remedies."

Since Peterson was hired by the council, acting as the Local Reuse Authority, the matter had already been decided by the highest legislative body of the city, Hunter said.

He said he told an OEA official that if they needed more information about the city's procurement procedures, Richmond would have to see the request in writing.

That "stalling" has probably added a week to the process, Butt said Wednesday.

In the meantime, the subject still inflames Butt's colleagues.

"I don't understand what, if any, law or ethic has been broken at any level," said Councilman Alex Evans at the Tuesday meeting. Evans is one of the five who voted for Peterson.

He and the others Nat Bates, Lesa McIntosh, Irma Anderson and Richard Griffin hired attorney John Burris to write a letter to Butt.

"Your colleagues demand that you refrain from making any further statements which allege, or suggest, criminal impropriety on their part," the May 2 letter said. "A public retraction is called for and this is a formal demand that you do so immediately."

If Butt refuses, Burris said his clients may seek legal remedies. "This option is under serious consideration," he wrote.

Butt has not complied with the request.

The OEA gave Richmond $150,000 to come up with alternative uses for Point Molate, a 400-acre former naval fuels depot that the Defense Department says it no longer needs.