Council Chairman Phil Mendelson
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Ideally, legislators would figure out how to fund something, then vote on it. But that’s not always how the D.C. Council works. This afternoon, councilmembers voted unanimously to back a deal for a D.C. United soccer stadium. They’ll likely vote to support it again later this afternoon. Alas, only minutes after voting the first time for the stadium, councilmembers found out that their funding mechanism for the deal could be illegal.

In an afternoon memo, the District’s Office of the Attorney General says Council Chairman Phil Mendelson‘s plan to pay for $62 million through supplemental budgeting doesn’t have any legal effect. This whole story gets into the weeds, but hang with LL, because there’s some alleged hijinks at the end.

Vince Gray‘s original soccer stadium plan involved swapping the Reeves Center office building at 14th and U streets NW with developer Akridge in exchange for stadium land. After taking Reeves out of the deal, Mendelson aimed to instead set aside $62 million to pay for the land near the stadium outright.

Alas for Mendo, an unhappy Gray refused to send a supplemental budget request to the Council to cover the $62 million.

“The mayor has acted very funny, very strangely about financing the stadium,” Mendelson complained at this morning’s Council breakfast. Later, he described Gray’s behavior to Near Mayor Muriel Bowser—-an opponent of the Reeves swap, who wants to pass the bill Mendelson is pushing—-as “duplicitous.”

Instead of waiting for Gray to come around, Mendelson tried to use an earlier supplemental budget request from Gray to cover the funding. Asked about whether his alternative plan would hold up, Mendelson claimed that he thought he was “on solid legal ground.”

But Gray’s staff claims that Mendelson can’t use the earlier request because Gray withdrew it in June. To prove their case, they provided councilmembers with a scanned copy of the withdrawal letter that includes a stamp purportedly from the Council’s secretary.

All that stamp business doesn’t mean much for whether or not D.C. United will score goals in Buzzard Point in 2017, though, because the OAG memo discounts Mendelson’s maneuver for other reasons. Mendelson can’t use the old supplemental request because it’s meant for a different fiscal year, according to the OAG, and because the plan wouldn’t give Gray enough time to notify Congress. (Council general counsel David Zvenyach countered with a memo of his own disputing the OAG’s analysis).

The debate over whether the supplemental request was withdrawn is now besides the point, but it does point to some intrigue. The Gray administration claims that the request was withdrawn more then five months ago, and they have the stamped letter to back their claim.

The Office of the Chief Financial Officer, which operates independently from Gray’s administration, may have inadvertently added more evidence to the dispute. In an email sent yesterday that was obtained by LL, OCFO assistant general counsel Patricia Gracyalny pulled legislative history from the Council’s database that listed the supplemental request as withdrawn. But Mendelson and Zvenyach, on the other hand, say that the Council’s secretary doesn’t have any record of the withdrawal letter.

Asked about Gray’s claim that he had withdrawn the bill, Mendelson stayed tight-lipped.

“Good for him,” Mendelson said.

Update, 2:45 p.m.: Mendelson claims that he doesn’t know about any mischief around Gray’s supplemental budget request, but says he’ll stick with his funding plan.

“The point is to force the mayor to fund the stadium,” Mendelson says.

Update, 4:10 p.m.: Mendelson passed both the D.C. United bill and a related bill that covers the funding. Bowser, who argued with Mendelson over the legislation’s legality, sat out the latter vote.

Photo of Phil Mendelson by Darrow Montgomery