Council questions parks contract settlement
D.C. Council members aren't taking well the news that the city reached a $550,000 settlement last week with Banneker Ventures, the company overseeing Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's controversial parks construction.
Democrats Mary Cheh (Ward 3), Phil Mendelson (At Large) and Harry Thomas Jr. (Ward 5) have jointly taken exception to the settlement -- in particular, the decision by Attorney General Peter Nickles to sign an agreement while the council's investigation of the parks contracts is ongoing.
"Your decision to settle at this particular time appears to be poor judgment and motivated by something other than the best interests of the District of Columbia," the members wrote in a letter to Nickles delivered today. It goes on to suggest that the agreement was signed "for no other reason than to bring this matter rapidly to a close."
Cheh was still more explicit about said motivations in an interview this afternoon: "To make something that's problematic for the mayor go away."
She said the move was of a "similar nature" to when the Housing Authority cut a check for $2.5 million to Banneker on Christmas Eve -- when no one on the D.C. Council, which was already investigating the matter, could have stopped it.
"You've channeled the money to the company that's under investigation for not doing their job and maybe even for fraud," she said today. "What would it matter to wait a month? ... The timing of this is to make it go away and not be an election issue."
The move has also reopened old battles with Nickles, with Cheh and Mendelson long being deeply critical of the AG for being more attuned to the interests of Fenty than the interests of the city at large.
"The decision to pay this vendor prior to all the facts being known, for contracts that were not properly approved, and for work that may have been overcharged, is contrary to your duty to place the interests of the District of Columbia paramount to all else," read the letter, which concludes: "We have stressed, repeatedly, that the Attorney General is responsible for representing the public interest and upholding the law. For whatever reason, you still fail to grasp this, and your decision to settle this matter at this point is further evidence of that."
Nickles, in an interview, responded simply: "They really don't know what they're talking about."
The projects, he says, would have been stuck in limbo indefinitely had a settlement not been reached. The legal issues surrounded the ownership of design and engineering documents produced under Banneker's supervision -- documents which the company claimed it owned. With that claim settled, Nickles says, the work can move forward.
Nickles insisted that this was no sweetheart deal for Banneker, saying he "got so [ticked] off" at Banneker attorney A. Scott Bolden in the course of negotiations "that they put someone else on the case." He also noted that Robert Trout, the attorney appointed by the council to conduct its investigation, was informed that settlement talks were underway.
And he shrugged off any suggestion of political motivations: "It comes with ill grace from these council members," Nickles said, while leveling a dig at law professor Cheh: "They should leave matters of law to the lawyers."
| July 6, 2010; 6:00 PM ET
Categories: Adrian Fenty, The District
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