- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 31, 2009

The D.C. Council on Friday for the second time in as many days accused Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s administration of illegally cutting council members out of government operations, this time to expedite the construction of a dozen recreation projects across the city.

During a public roundtable, several council members criticized City Administrator Neil O. Albert and housing officials for “circumventing” the council, a recurrent theme in recent weeks at the John A. Wilson Building.

“This was intentional. This was by design. This was a scheme,” said council member Mary M. Cheh of the process by which the D.C. Housing Authority executed a $40 million contract for parks and recreation center developments.

The contract, awarded in July to D.C.-based Banneker Ventures LLC and Herndon firm Regan Associates, was to be paid with funds transferred from the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation to D.C. Housing Enterprises (DCHE) via the deputy mayor for planning economic development. DCHE is a nonprofit subsidiary of the city’s housing authority.

But the council said the contract ran afoul of a D.C. law that requires deals of more than $1 million be approved by legislators. Council members also questioned the involvement of Banneker Ventures, which is owned by Omar Karim, a fraternity brother of Mr. Fenty’s.

Mr. Albert backed the process, saying it was proper and that the parks department did not have the capacity to manage the projects.

“This allows us to get the best resources in the District of Columbia,” Mr. Albert said.

Mr. Albert’s testimony was supported by D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles, who said the contracts were legal even after issuing an opinion on Oct. 23 agreeing that the council was required to review contracts worth more than $1 million.

However, Mr. Nickles said future contracts should go before the council.

According to public documents, interim parks department Director Ximena Hartsock and Valerie Santos, acting deputy mayor for planning and economic development, agreed to transfer $86 million for parks department development projects.

Council member Kwame Brown, at-large Democrat, said that beyond subverting council oversight, the closed process can put smaller local firms at a competitive disadvantage because the deals are less transparent.

“It appears that the door is closed before they even pull up to the house,” Mr. Brown said. “This system needs to stop being gamed.”

Unresponsiveness by the Fenty administration has been a recurring theme in recent hearings, with council members saying they have been obstructed in efforts to obtain basic information or that they have been left out of important decisions.

On Thursday, the council discovered that D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee disregarded the council’s decision to cut summer school funds and instead fired nearly 400 school workers to save $9 million in the school budget.

The school system said in a statement Friday there had been no violation of the law because “no money has been moved and no unapproved spending has occurred.”

Also on Friday, a D.C. Superior Court judge ordered the Fenty administration to allow D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols access to documents detailing real estate deals conducted by a pair of defunct city-run development corporations. Mr. Nickles had sought to block access, complaining that the auditor’s requests for documents were “unduly burdensome and unreasonable.”

• David C. Lipscomb can be reached at .

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide