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SIMMONS: Going after ‘malfeasance’ at housing agency

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown is fighting mad, and he appears to be fighting a very good fight.

Mr. Brown, at-large independent, announced in a weekend news release that he and fellow council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, have asked the D.C. inspector general and D.C. attorney general to "launch immediate investigations" into evidence that points up "unethical behavior and possible criminal malfeasance and collusion between contractors and current and former employees of the Department of Housing and Community Development."

To say that these are serious allegations against an agency that digs deep into D.C. and federal coffers is an understatement.

To know that the probes will look back upon the Adrian M. Fenty administration's dispersal of public dollars as well as look forward into Mayor Vincent C. Gray's policies and practices at DHCD suggests the possibility that the breadth and depth of brazen abuse reaches far beyond Mr. Brown's single citation of the well-reported case of a $4.4 million award to the anti-violence group Peaceoholics during the Fenty years.

Peaceoholics had proposed building a group home in Marion Barry's neck of the woods on Congress Street Southeast, but that project has been scrapped.

But the penultimate paragraph in Mr. Brown's statement alludes to a far more troubling and pervasive problem.

"This alleged malfeasance by District government employees and the repeated instances of certain outside individuals and entities have surfaced on numerous property records dealing with land transfers," Mr. Brown said. "These property records show that certain individuals and entities have repeated[ly] appeared in several questionable sales, purchases and land transfers, including 1300 Congress St."

If Mr. Brown is in a fighting mood, he should be.

But if he wants to beat the DHCD bureaucratic behemoth, he must let his lawmaking blood run cold so as not to come off as a tepid inquirer. This is no time to cloak what should be a pinpoint oversight inquisition under the cloak of public advocacy.

As chairman of the Committee on Housing and Workforce Development, Mr. Brown should marshal committee forces, especially Mr. Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, and clear the DHCD deck of thieves on behalf of honest stakeholders in general and taxpayers in particular.

Barry watch: Mr. Barry has much face to win and lose as lawmakers delve into DHCD practices.

Facing serious challenges to his re-election bid in Ward 8, Mr. Barry already has raised Cain and appears to be in a losing battle against a homeless shelter for women opening later this year in the Anacostia gateway area in Southeast. Now he is up against another battle just a few blocks away, where DHCD is readying itself to select bids on several properties up for redevelopment.

We soon will see if Mr. Barry has the Rex Grossman syndrome, which first surfaced with the Chicago Bears, resurfaced with the Washington Redskins and always left fans asking the same question: Which Rex is going to show up? Good Rex or Bad Rex?

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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