Friday, November 6, 2009

Key Fenty administration officials rebuffed a D.C. Council request to appear at a hearing Thursday to discuss a city contract giving a fraternity brother of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s control of $86 million funneled through the city’s housing authority to build parks and recreation centers.

The all-day hearing featured council members accusing the administration of violating the law and grilling administration officials about the contracting process that bypassed council oversight and the city’s procurement officer to the benefit of the mayor’s personal friends.

“We’re talking about illegal acts on the part of the Fenty administration,” said former mayor and council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, invoking the names of former mayors. “Any mayor that believes in transparency would come down here and answer questions. Sharon Pratt Kelly would’ve come down here. Anthony Williams would’ve come down here. I would’ve come down here. Eighty-six million dollars has been hidden from the public. I wonder what they were thinking. That no one would find out?”

The Fenty administration has maintained that it was looking to streamline the contracting process to speed delivery of facilities and services to city residents. The D.C. Housing Authority, a quasi-private entity, received the money from the parks and recreation department, channeled it to a wholly owned nonprofit subsidiary, which passed it along to Banneker Ventures, founded by Mr. Fenty’s fraternity brother, Omar A. Karim.

Documents obtained by The Washington Times show that Banneker, which was awarded more than $4 million for acting as projects manager, had assets totaling about a third of that last year.

The refusal of administration officials to appear, in some instances without explanation, offended council member Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat. Mr. Thomas on Thursday subpoenaed one of the officials, interim Parks and Recreation Director Ximena Hartsock, to appear on Nov. 16.

Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Valerie Santos, who signed off on the Banneker contract along with Ms. Hartsock and David Janifer, chief of capital planning for parks and recreation, also were no-shows.

Pledging cooperation on behalf of the Fenty administration, Ms. Santos nevertheless wrote to the council on Wednesday and informed the members of a scheduling conflict. Her office said Ms. Santos was in California on city business, but declined to state the nature of that business.

The hearing reflected increasing tension between the Fenty administration and council members. After council members pointed out that as many as 10 project descriptions in the Banneker contract were incomplete, Chief Procurement Officer David Gragan defended the contract.

Kwame R. Brown, at-large Democrat, replied, “If you say these are OK, then I’d say maybe we have a problem with you as chief procurement officer of D.C.”

Also on Thursday, Michael A. Brown, at-large independent, wrote to D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols and asked to her to conduct an official audit into the contracting and procurement practices at the center of the controversy.

Asked why he turned to the auditor, who already is embroiled in litigation with the Fenty administration over its refusal to answer her subpoenas for documents about other unrelated development deals, Mr. Brown replied: “We are not an enforcement agency; we are a legislative body. With the contentious relations between the council and the mayor, I felt it’s important for an impartial body to investigate this matter.”

Mr. Brown’s letter was copied to D.C. Inspector General Charles Willoughby.

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