Mary Cheh might not need those subpoenas after all. A little more than a month after announcing her plans to investigate a shakeup at the District’s Department of General Services, the Ward 3 councilmember tells City Paper that the Muriel Bowser administration is cooperating fully with the ongoing probe.
“So far, the administration has been totally cooperative and open,” Cheh says.
That may save Cheh from attempting a vote for an investigative hearing to get subpoena power. For that, Cheh would would need support from a majority of the members of her committee on transportation and the environment. Cheh says some of her D.C. Council colleagues have raised concerns about scope and precedence.
Instead, Cheh will give witnesses a chance to answer voluntarily in a hearing on why DGS Director Christopher Weaver resigned and two top aides were forced out of the agency in apparent retaliation over their refusal to award two lucrative development contracts to a local construction firm with political clout.
“I’m not going to ask for a vote now, but I do want to start a discussion,” Cheh tells City Paper. “I will put this off, and see if we can get what we want that we can get some voluntary compliance.”
Weaver resigned on Aug. 12, citing personal reasons. At the same time, the Bowser administration placed his two top deputies on administrative leave.
Cheh and others want to know if the shakeup has anything to do with the fact that Fort Myer Construction, a company with a troubled past but deep pockets, was passed over in the public contracts for a new soccer stadium at Buzzard Point and the redevelopment of the old St. Elizabeths campus in Southeast (a development that would include a practice center for the Washington Wizards).
Published reports have claimed that the Bowser administration pressured Weaver to fire his two underlings over the Fort Myer contracts (the company had bid millions more than the contract winners), and that Weaver resigned rather than do so.
The Council lacks permanent subpoena authority, and for years its approach to government scandals could only charitably be described as “ad hoc.” The General Services matter is thorny because the company at the center of the controversy—Fort Myer Construction—has givenlavishly to Mayor Muriel Bowser andother sitting officials. (At Large-Councilmember Anita Bonds was a Fort Myer executive until her election, and a company that shares an address with Fort Myer was the top donor to Bowser’s ill-fated super PAC last year).
If this feels unseemly, it’s still a step up in point of respectability for Fort Myer. In 2003, the company was briefly debarred from doing business—five years after company leaders pleaded guilty to bribing city officials to help goose asphalt contracts.
Cheh’s concerns are that people outside the government may need the extra encouragement that only a subpoena can provide. A former prosecutor, Cheh says she’s drafting a letter to her Council colleagues to “clear up some misapprehensions” some of those unnamed colleagues have about whether, and when, the Council should send out subpoenas.