- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 15, 2009

D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles filed an emergency motion Wednesday asking a federal appeals judge to delay a court order granting the city auditor access to documents related to a pair of defunct city-run development corporations.

Senior Superior Court Judge Eugene M. Hamilton ordered Mr. Nickles to grant D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols unrestricted access to the documents on Oct. 6 - without a hearing - after the officials came to an impasse over legal privileges and review procedures, as well as the auditor’s scope of authority.

Mr. Nickles on Tuesday asked Judge Hamilton to stay the order pending the appeal. On Wednesday, Mr. Nickles declined to answer questions about the case.

Ms. Nichols, who would not discuss specifics of her audit, said, “This is an important function. It’s about accountability and transparency when taxpayer dollars are at stake.”

The dispute arose in January, when Ms. Nichols wrote to then-Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Neil O. Albert, informing him that her compliance unit intended to review transfers of two parcels of real estate to the District from the Anacostia Waterfront Corp. (AWC) and the National Capital Revitalization Corp. (NCRC).

AWC and NCRC were established in 2004 and 1998, respectively, as independent entities under the District’s control, for purposes of eliminating slums and blight and expanding economic opportunities. After building multimillion-dollar retail and housing developments, both were folded in 2007 under Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

The parcels in question are DC USA, a 500,000-square-foot retail complex in Columbia Heights, and Kenyon Square, a nearby luxury condominium complex. City officials said the audits of the two projects, approved during the administration of Mayor Anthony A. Williams, could serve as benchmarks for auditing up to eight additional completed projects.

Because the projects involved city land, subsidies and tax incentives, the auditor, who falls under the jurisdiction of the D.C. Council, is empowered by D.C. law to examine the completed transactions to ensure the public got its money’s worth, the auditor argued in court papers. Specifically, Ms. Nichols is looking to see that AWC and NCRC complied with developer selection and oversight procedures, living-wage laws, contract requirements, environmental standards and affordable housing mandates.

But after Ms. Nichols’ requested access to the documents, she and Mr. Albert clashed over how to review the large number of records while preserving the organization and integrity of the files. On May 28, Ms. Nichols subpoenaed the documents from Mr. Albert’s successor, Valerie Santos. Mr. Albert is now the District’s city administrator.

Mr. Nickles objected to the subpoena on the grounds that it was too burdensome, and that certain privileges prevented disclosure of some of the documents.

On Aug. 31, Ms. Nichols filed an application in D.C. Superior Court to force the Fenty administration to comply with her subpoena. In a motion for a protective order filed on Sept. 2, Mr. Nickles criticized a method of proceeding with the document review proposed by the auditor as being “utterly unsupported by common sense.”

Ms. Nichols responded in court papers by asserting that the attorney general and the deputy mayor are interfering with her duties.

Last week, Judge Hamilton appeared to settle the matter. However, Mr. Nickles’ emergency motion could delay a final ruling.

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