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Bill Slover challenges Fenty's explanation of his firing

UPDATED 9/13, 11:45 A.M.

Back in June, I wrote a column about the "cronyism" allegations that have dogged Mayor Adrian Fenty through the campaign season. Fenty has long argued that the controversial parks contracts that many of those accusations center on were done through an independent process over which he exerted no influence.

But one incident in particular undermined that notion: Bill Slover -- the chair of the D.C. Housing Authority, which oversaw that "independent process" -- was removed last November after raising questions about the high fees handed to Fenty allies and threatening to send the contracts from DCHA back to the mayor's office.

Slover's story, I wrote, represented a "major problem" for Fenty as he battled the "cronyism" charges. At the time, Fenty would not discuss Slover's ouster: "We don't get into why people are promoted, why they are put into certain positions," he said.

Then, late last month, the Post's editorial board wrote a Sunday piece that aimed to clarify several misconceptions about the parks contracts while still noting that it remained "particularly troubled" by Slover's demotion.

That day, with reporters focused on his dismal poll numbers, Fenty was touting the editorial as proof that the "cronyism" aspersions had no basis. I asked him again about Slover.

Here's what Fenty said:

If you look at the full record, and we've got letters to prove this, the attorney general for the city repeatedly raised to the Housing Authority that the contracts should have been sent to the council very early on in the process, and it was that failure to send the contracts to the council by the housing authority that was the chief recommendation by the attorney general to our director of boards and commissions as the reason why the chair was removed.

[...]

The attorney general, in the process of trying to get the housing board to send the contracts to the council, ran into significant difficulty on that issue from the chair of the housing board and that the attorney general felt so strong about that and some other issues which are all documented, we'd be glad to get to you, that his recommendation to the director of the office of boards and commissions was that we should immediately move another person as chair so that we could submit the contracts to the council. He wasn't removed entirely -- just one of the members was promoted, he was demoted. And as you know as soon as that happened, the contracts immediately went to the council. That was the material matter here.

[...]

We've got an entire paper trail that can show you exactly the problems we faced in trying to get the housing board to agree with the decision of the attorney general that the contracts should be submitted.

Later that week, the Slover issue came up twice publicly -- when D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray pressed Fenty on the demotion during a pair of debates. In both case, Fenty responded with a version of the answer to gave me, citing documentation that showed that Slover had stood in the way of sending the contracts to the D.C. Council.

Earlier this week, Attorney General Peter Nickles provided me with that documentation. If it was in fact the case that Slover was the obstacle to sending the contracts to the council, the documents provide little evidence of that.

The proximate cause of Slover's demotion is documented in a Nov. 20, 2009, memo from Nickles to Tracy Sandler, then director of the Office of Boards and Commissions. "I have become increasingly concerned about the leadership of DCHA, particularly its failure to abide by the request I made recently that DCHA submit certain contracts to the Council for its retroactive approval ... [W]hat we need now is a practical resolution to the fact that a number of projects have not yet been completed and DCHA is no longer in a position to fund those projects."

The issue of submitting DCHA contracts to the D.C. Council is an old one. In 2007, when Linda Singer was attorney general, her office corresponded with DCHA over the question without coming to a resolution. Soon after Nickles replaced Singer, in January 2008, he too became engaged in the matter -- 18 months before Slover was named to the DCHA board in June 2009. Correspondence continued until July 2008 but then the issue appears not to have reemerged until after the parks contract issue flared up, in October 2009.

And when that happened, Nickles sent a letter telling DCHA that, in his opinion, the authority should send its locally funded contracts to the council, only to turn around three days later to say that that opinion should only apply to future contracts. The parks contracts, in other words, should not be sent. [UPDATE: Nickles disputes this characterization -- see below.]

Then another problem arose: When the D.C. Council got wise to the DCHA's role in administering the parks contracts, it ordered the flow of funds to DCHA to be cut off. DCHA stopped work and proceeded to tell the council it would cooperate with any investigation it undertook, and it also asked the mayor's office to give directions on how to proceed. Nickles replied, asking DCHA to go to the council and submit the contracts for approval, allowing work to go forward. Three days later, DCHA General Counsel Hans Froelicher responds, and tells Nickles, essentially, do it yourself. The agreement signed between the mayor's office and DCHA back in the spring, Froehlicher writes, says that getting council approval is "clearly a responsibility" for the mayor's office.

Why wouldn't Fenty and Nickles go to the council themselves? For one thing, there is simply no way that the council would have retroactively approved contracts that controversial. But also: If the mayor's office had sought the approval rather than DCHA, it would remove the fig leaf of independence that Fenty and Nickles have claimed all along.

Four days after DCHA told Nickles off, Slover was removed as chair.

Slover, who is a Gray supporter, has now spoken up to defend his role in the process. He has written a letter to the Post. Read the whole thing, but here's the key parts:

Last week, after nearly a year of ignoring the issue, Mr. Fenty finally gave a reason [for my demotion]: He said that D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles recommended that I be removed as chairman for refusing "on numerous occasions" to submit the Parks and Recreation contracts to the D.C. Council.

This statement is patently false. Mr. Nickles did not make numerous requests of me or the Housing Authority to submit this contract for approval, and I did not block this contract from going to the council. Under the governance structure of the Housing Authority, a vote of the full board is required to take such action; therefore, I did not even have the authority to do what the mayor claims I refused to do.

[...]

The mayor has repeatedly asserted that the contracts were awarded through an independent process. Not so. In fact, the 'competitive bidding process' hinged on the decision of a five-member selection panel; three of the panel's members were on the mayor's staff. To top it off, the Office of the Deputy Mayor had final approval of which firm was awarded the contract. Further, the project manager's fee was negotiated solely by the Office of the Deputy Mayor. ... Clearly, the process was anything but independent.

[...]

During my tenure as chairman of the Housing Authority, I upheld my fiduciary responsibility to protect the interest and the mission of the Housing Authority and the 19,000 families it serves. And for that, the mayor fired me.

UPDATE, 9/13, 11:45 A.M.: Nickles calls this morning to dispute one point -- that his memo of Nov. 26, 2009, was not meant to reverse his opinion of Nov. 23 that the parks contract needed to be sent to the council. That said, that's not the way the Housing Authority interpreted the memo, which said that "past or current DCHA contracts awarded without council approval ... should be regarded as legal and binding." The parks contracts had been executed that previous July. And a further point of clarification: Fenty has said that the contracts were taken to the council right after Slover was demoted. But it wasn't DCHA that took the contracts; it was the mayor's office, which had the ability, if not the responsibility to take them in the first place, under DCHA's reading of their agreement with the Fenty administration. Nickles says he doesn't agree with that reading.

By Mike DeBonis  |  September 10, 2010; 6:51 PM ET
Categories:  Adrian Fenty , DCision 2010 , The District , Vincent Gray  
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Comments

Congratulations to Slover and DeBonis for finally getting the information out that allows voters to get to the bottom of this.

This won't help DeBonis win friends or influence people inside 1150 15th Street NW. But maybe the WaPo editorial board will stir itself enough to write a correction in the same place it wrote its original, erroneous editorial about this scandal late last month.

Posted by: Trulee | September 10, 2010 7:52 PM | Report abuse

I hope every Kool-Aid drinking Fenty supporter gets a chance to read this before they vote.

This is simply outrageous.

Thanks, Mike DeBonis for finally bringing this to light.

Posted by: LukasWP | September 10, 2010 8:58 PM | Report abuse

Trulee: Don't shed any tears for Slover. At the start, he was rabid to comply with Fenty's instructions to get rid of Mike Kelly as housing authority exec. Kelly got tired of having to deal with two irritiating know-nothings and moved to NY to head the largest housing authority in the country. He was appointed by Bloomberg, Fenty's idol among mayors. The joke is on Dc tax-payors. And what makes you think that the WashPost editorial writers didn't know all this info before they wrote their latest editorials?

Posted by: atty2d | September 11, 2010 12:21 AM | Report abuse

So DeBonis, have you VERIFIED any of what Slover claims? Or have you simply published his letter - a letter the Post refused to print for a reason - on blind faith?

Oh this blogosphere and its non-existent requirements for journalistic integrity.

Posted by: asuka1 | September 11, 2010 12:32 AM | Report abuse

@asuka1:

The governance structures of DCHA and the Office of the Deputy Mayor are widely distributed public information.

@WaPo:

In light of this information, how could endorse Fenty is inexcusable. This calls to mind the worst excesses of the Barry administration. It would appear you, as a collective body, are a single issue voting bloc and your single issue is the support of the controversial DCPS Schools Chancellor. Newsflash: she's not the only person in the entire city interested in or capable of addressing the problems in DCPS.

Posted by: pfish | September 11, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Update 9/14

Today is election day, and Nickles can try to backtrack and cover his a$$ all he wants, but the facts remain that the Mayor tried to get Slover to do his bidding, Slover wouldn't play ball, and the Mayor LIED on numerous occasions about this episode.

I can't wait until tomorrow, when city employees and others start covering themselves to avoid prison time by implicating Fenty, Nickles, Alpert and the rest in these schemes to defraud the city and besmirch the good names of good people.


Posted by: LukasWP | September 14, 2010 7:07 AM | Report abuse

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