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.”
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.
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).
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.