January 08, 2010 - 9:43 pm

A New Park This Fall

Gage-Eckington Demolition

Our ANC Commissioner Myla Moss (ANC1B01) reported that the our forthcoming park is back on track, despite the contracting fracas that erupted in October.

The contract for the park will be rebid expeditiously and submitted to the Council for approval as required by law.  If all goes well from this point, the park will open in September.

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December 17, 2009 - 5:23 pm

Rebidding the Park

Councilmember Jim Graham (D – Ward 1) informed his constituents via email this afternoon that the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development will rebid the construction contract for the park project in LeDroit Park.

The project is back on track, but the rebidding process will necessitate a delay of several months.

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December 17, 2009 - 12:23 am

Park Contract Shuffle

Gage-Eckington Demolition

The D.C. Council voted unanimously to reorganize the controversial park construction contracts.  Ten of the contracts will be managed by the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization, which mainly handles school reconstruction.  The office is highly regarded as efficient and reliable.

Three of the contracts, including the one for the park in LeDroit Park, will be handled by the Department of Parks and Recreation and not the Housing Authority as originally planned.

Banneker Ventures, which had received all of the original contracts, is threatening to sue the city for a breach of contract.  D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles believes Banneker has strong legal footings upon which to build a case; the Council is not so sure (or doesn’t care).

Councilmember Jim Graham (D – Ward 1) believes the three contracts directed to the Dept. of Parks and Recreation may be able to go forward as originally planned because of the more open nature of their original approval.

Perhaps our local mud pit will open next year as verdant as planned after all.

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November 17, 2009 - 7:18 pm

Gage-Eckington Razing Featured on Fox 5

The new park for LeDroit Park is one of the halted park construction contracts, but demolition work is still going on.  Fox 5 aired a story this evening on our not-quite-stalled park project.

Resident Hugh Boyle and his grandsons are shown observing the construction work while Maria Fyodorova, heavily involved in the planning of the dog park, explains that residents have been caught in the crossfire in the feud between the mayor and the Council.

Even the This is How We Live mural at Third and Elm Streets gets a cameo!

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November 06, 2009 - 10:15 am

More on the Parks Contract

Yesterday’s Council hearing, one in a series on the parks debacle, revealed an expedited (but opaque) process for awarding park renovation contracts.  The Housing Authority issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ), which simply determines which companies have the ability and experience to bid on the final contract.  An RFQ saves time by eliminating groups who do not have the ability to follow through on a project.

The second step is supposed to be a Request for Proposals (RFP), in which the qualified bidders submit cost estimates and designs.  The submitted proposals are what the city government and public review and debate until a final selection is made.

In response to the RFQ, a five-member panel composed of officials from the Housing Authority and mayor’s office selected Banneker Ventures, a firm owned by a close friend of the mayor, from among 13 applicants.  Recall that this step is merely supposed to determine who is qualified to proceed to the next step to bid on a contract.

Well, the administration decided it should end there and, after selecting Banneker as qualified, did not issue an RFP and just handed the $82 million in renovation work to Banneker to manage.  Banneker was awarded $4.2 million to manage the work to be performed largely by other firms.

None of this was done with Council approval, as required by law, and on Tuesday the Council voted on emergency legislation to restrict funneling of park money through the Housing Authority and to require the Housing Authority to notify the Council of all contracts above $75,000.

Voting Yes:

  • Yvette Alexander
  • Marion Barry
  • Kwame Brown
  • David Catania
  • Mary Cheh
  • Vincent Gray
  • Michael Brown
  • Phil Mendelson
  • Harry Thomas
  • Tommy Wells

Voting No:

  • Muriel Bowser
  • Jack Evans
  • Jim Graham (who represents LeDroit Park)
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November 03, 2009 - 12:04 am

Ninety-Day Delay?

The Post reports that Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. (D – Ward 5) will introduce a bill later today to prohibit the CFO from transferring any money to the Housing Authority, which is responsible for the construction of the new park in LeDroit Park, for 90 days.

Mr. Thomas believes the contracting improprieties warrant delaying the projects.  The Post writes:

Thomas, chairman of the Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation, said the council’s oversight powers supersede concerns about delaying construction of the recreation facilities.

“This is just government at its worst,” he said. “We can’t get caught up in the fact that neighborhoods have been promised things.”

Expect delays.

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November 01, 2009 - 7:08 pm

Our Park in Limbo

On Friday the City Council held a joint hearing on the contracting dispute that has now ensnared the forthcoming park in LeDroit Park. The Post reported that Councilmember David Catania (I – at large) insisted the contracts are illegal, but Attorney General Peter Nickles (a Fenty appointee, we should note) insisted the contrary.

Our own ANC Commissioner Myla Moss (ANC1B01) submitted testimony on behalf of the neighborhood and the LeDroit Park Civic Association imploring the Council not to delay park construction. She noted in her testimony that the park design was the product of a transparent and exhaustive community process that developed a plan that is both affordable and popular in the neighborhood.  She further noted that the park plan had been discussed with several members of the mayor’s cabinet and with Councilmembers Jim Graham (D – Ward 1) and Harry Thomas, Jr. (D – Ward 5); the park plan was no surprise.

At the previous LeDroit Park Civic Association meeting, Mr. Graham noted that the Council had specifically set aside money for the project.

There’s still no word on what will happen next, but we certainly hope that certain members of the Council do not take the matter to court; litigation could delay the project for at least a year, if not several. Rebidding the contracts, we have heard, could delay construction by several months.

Alternatively, the Council could simply review the contracts as the law demands and approve the current plan (at least for our park and for other parks that have significant popular backing). We see this as unlikely since this would require the mayor to admit that his administration broke the law and it would require Mr. Nickles to backtrack on his current position that the contracts are legal.

It is also possible that the mayor and Council could come to some sort of lawful agreement to let work continue without delay. We hope the last option prevails and we suspect certain member of the Council are working to that solution; Mr. Graham is well aware of his constituents’ justified impatience.

One last thing: we thank Ms. Moss and the Civic Association leaders for their testimony.  This sort of advocacy requires a significant personal commitment of time and energy.

October 27, 2009 - 11:10 am

Two-Sided Nickles

We wrote yesterday about Attorney General Peter Nickles’s determination that park construction contracts, including the contract for the new park in LeDroit Park, should have received approval from the City Council. Well, somebody in the mayor’s office must have paid Mr. Nickles a stern phone call; the Post reports that he is now recanting his previous statement.

Mr. Nickles now insists that Council review should be reinstated henceforth, but not retroactively for current construction contracts.

The Council, however, is not too pleased.

Council Chairman Vincent Gray (D) is annoyed and told the Post,

For the attorney general to give a carte blanche green light to these questionable contracts, even before council hearings or any legislative action, is inappropriate and not in compliance with my reading of the law. If they are required to be submitted, we make no distinction between the past and the future. We expect to receive these contracts.

Councilmembers Kwame R. Brown (D – at large) and Harry Thomas Jr. (D – Ward 5) will hold a hearing on the matter on Friday and are threatening to sue to halt the contracts.

However, ANC Commissioner Myla Moss (ANC1B01 – LeDroit Park), in an email to Councilmember Jim Graham (D – Ward 1), wrote that the park project in LeDroit Park

was reviewed and discussed before the Council during the last round of appropriations negotiations at which time the Council voted to allocate funds for the project.

While a bidding process was absent this project was not only transparent, it also involved inter-agency and inter-governmental collaborations.

When we spotted Councilmember Graham at last night’s streetcar open house we didn’t realize the urgency of this issue or we would have strongly expressed our opposition to further delays (while of course chastising the mayor for his illegal maneuverings).

The Council and the mayor’s office are at odds; let’s hope that LeDroit Park doesn’t fall victim to this clash of titans.  In fact there’s something better than hope: you can email Mr. Graham your opinion.

Also, you can attend the LeDroit Park Civic Association meeting tonight; Mr. Graham and Ms. Moss will discuss the issue.  It’s at 7:00 pm in the basement of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church (623 Florida Avenue).

October 26, 2009 - 11:02 am

Parks Controversy Hits Home

Gage-Eckington School

The former Gage-Eckington School, which has just been torn down to make way for the new neighborhood park, is caught-up in a citywide controversy over Mayor Fenty’s funding for numerous park projects. City law requires that the Council approve all contracts over $1 million, but the mayor has funneled the $1.7-million park renovation contract through the D.C. Housing Authority, which, as a quasi-independent government agency, considered itself exempt from the requirement.

The Housing Authority is responsible for public housing, Section 8 vouchers, and HOPE VI projects, so the mayor’s choice to spend park money through the Authority should raise eyebrows.

Now, after the controversy already erupted, D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles has determined that the Housing Authority, too, must submit its million-dollar contracts to the Council for approval. Nickles’s decision is based on a 1996 legal opinion by the city’s corporation counsel, the predecessor to the Attorney General’s office.

How does the LeDroit Park project fit into this? The Examiner reports that the park is one of the unapproved contracts awarded to Banneker Ventures LLC:

The Housing Authority recently awarded more than $72 million in contracts to a pair of companies with ties to Mayor Adrian Fenty, none of which were ever seen by the council.

Further complicating the matter is the mayor’s personal ties to Banneker Ventures, the company constructing the new park and several other parks:

Banneker Ventures LLC is the construction manager for at least a dozen parks and recreation contracts, 10 of which exceed $1 million. Banneker has ties to Fenty friend and former fraternity brother Sinclair Skinner.

Even in the event that the contracts were competitively bid and awarded without undue influence, the Council would be right to examine the contracts since they certainly look suspicious. Whether the Council will reject the LeDroit contract—which is well underway—is unclear, but what is clear is that the mayor skirted the law to get this project through.