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.