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The D.C. Council has come to a solution—-or at least a way forward—-for the parks contracting impasse.
It’s a solution that will sound awfully familiar in the John A. Wilson Building’s corridors: Send all the work to Allen Lew!
Certainly the solution preserves the council’s prerogatives: It brushes back Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, cuts out his cronies (mainly Omar Karim‘s Banneker Ventures), and keeps the council in the loop. (Unlike under the previous process, Lew’s Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization has sent his million-dollar contracts for council review.) And it keeps hotly anticipated neighborhood projects moving forward, taking political heat off of ward councilmembers who don’t want to look like they’re obstructionists.
But handing the projects to Lew also makes councilmembers look like collective idiots. Ward 5’s Harry Thomas Jr., in particular.
That’s because before the Fenty administration—before sending the work to the D.C. Housing Authority and touching off this political frenzy—wanted to hand these parks contracts to Lew’s Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization in the first place. That happened last fall; Fenty held a press conference to announce the move, then Thomas led a effort on the council to reject it, citing concerns that Lew already had too much on his plate.
Thomas said, according to the Examiner, that Lew needed to “stay in his lane and do what he’s supposed to do.” And he also said: “I’m going to be very vigilant about ensuring the parks and recreation budget maintains autonomy without the mayor going around the process.”
His original plan thwarted, Fenty sent the parks work, more than $80 million worth, through his deputy mayor’s office to the D.C. Housing Authority—-in the process avoiding council review of contracts that sent millions to Banneker and other Fenty-connected firms.
The irony was not lost on at least one councilmember on the dais this evening.
“It seems to me it’s a complete 180 in some respects,” says Ward 4 Councilmember and Fenty ally Muriel Bowser. “Do we know how that office will support this work with the important school work that they have?”
Gray stepped in to answer Bowser’s loaded question, saying “it was really my idea” to send the projects now to Lew, citing “an emergent situation” and a “vigorous debate” with Thomas over whether to proceed this way.
Thomas, however, got his two cents in, and then some. In a combative exchange with Bowser, he said he only agreed to the Lew solution to appease his council colleagues. “Hopes have been built, hopes have been dashed, and hopes, right before Christmas, have been stomped on,” Thomas said on the dais. “I think that this is a temporary solution that I have had to sit on my hands to do for the greater good of the community.”
In the end, the legislation passed by a voice vote. It requires the city parks and recreation department to enter into an agreement with Lew’s shop within 30 days to complete the 10 projects in question. Council inquiries into the propriety of the contracting process will continue in the meantime.
There is some good news for Banneker: The council, as part of the legislation, moved to ratify its project management contracts to complete the Walker-Jones Education Campus and Deanwood Recreation Center.