Catania blasts Fenty over AIDS/HIV meeting
D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At Large) blasted Mayor Adrian M. Fenty on Monday for refusing to allow members of his administration to attend a meeting with federal housing officials who recently threatened to withhold $12.2 million in AIDS funding from the District when it failed to submit an audit.
Catania, a longtime mayoral ally on a council where Fenty enjoys little support, echoed some of the mayor's strongest critics, saying Fenty's refusal "showed a level of indifference and lack of engagement" on HIV/AIDS in the District, where the prevalence rate, 3 percent, is the highest in the nation.
"It was completely unacceptable," Catania said. "I still consider myself to be a supporter of the mayor, but my support isn't blind. It is not unqualified support."
Fenty's refusal to attend the meeting was retribution for Catania's decision to support legislation that would elect the attorney general who is now appointed by the mayor, according to a council staff member. Catania would not confirm or deny that assertion.
But Attorney General Peter Nickles said the decision to not attend the meeting had nothing to do with any pending legislation. After the federal department of Housing and Urban Development ended its threat to withhold $12.2 million, "our perspective ... was let sleeping dogs lie," Nickles said.
"I consider this to be a temporary disagreement with David," Nickles said. "With David's help, we moved heaven and earth in weekly meetings to satisfy HUD's concerns. The big issue to me was, 'Are we going to get the money?' "
Catania, who held a series of meetings that addressed HUD's concerns over the District's oversight of millions of dollars in grants to nonprofit organizations that deliver services to HIV and AIDS victims, said the federal agency's worries didn't stop with its failure to submit timely audits.
Monday's meeting with Assistant Secretary Mercedes Marquez was scheduled to address ways that the city could avoid future threats by complying with numerous other HUD regulations. When Marquez entered the meeting, she noticed immediately that the Fenty administration's Department of Health and HIV/AIDS directors were not present.
"Are they coming?" Catania recalled her saying. When it became clear that they were not, Marquez quipped: "Two steps forward, one step back," according to Catania and a member of his staff who was in attendance.
Catania said he took the steps forward and the city took the step back.
When HUD threatened to withhold Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS funding in September, Catania said he immediately recognized the threat. More than 500 indigent AIDS sufferers are on a three-year wait list for housing. "The fact of the matter is that the issues were not getting resolved until I got involved," Catania said. "It should have garnered the mayor's attention."
In weekly hearings, Catania called Fenty administration officials in to testify about why the city failed to submit an audit. The Department of Health blamed the chief financial officer. The city also failed to require timely audits from nonprofit groups that received hundreds of thousands of dollars to deliver services to AIDS victims, and filed cash transaction reports improperly.
Led by Catania, Fenty administration officials met directly with Marquez, who dispatched a letter to Fenty on Thursday saying the issue was resolved. But the next day, when Catania mentioned the Monday meeting on complying with regulations and strengthening the city's relationship with HUD at a hearing, HIV/AIDS Administration Director Shannon Hader said she didn't have clearance from Fenty to attend.
Catania said he spoke with City Administrator Neil Albert and was told that Hader would not attend. Later, Catania said, he learned that the refusal was retribution for his support of legislation.
Catania declined to say which legislation, but a council staff member said it involved legislation that would make the attorney general's office an elected position rather than a position appointed by the mayor.
The two leaders are expected to appear together today in Southeast Washington, where Fenty is scheduled to announce a partnership with the National Institutes of Health to fight AIDS in the District.
"Without the mayor's leadership, and without David's leadership, we wouldn't be able to do these things," Nickles said. "I'm sad that this communication has broken down with David. We'll make up."
-- Darryl D. Fears
Washington Post Editors
January 11, 2010; 7:13 PM ET
Categories: City Finances , City Hall Aides , City Life , D.C. Council , Mayor Fenty
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