New Letter Confronts DMPED’s Decade-Long Flouting of Transparency Laws
by Larry Janezich
On February 11, Muriel Bowser took Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Victor Hoskins to task for the on-going lack of transparency which has characterized his office for more than a decade. She did so during her Committee on Economic Development oversight hearing of DMPED, and in response to earlier testimony from Brian Flahaven, Chair of ANC6B, regarding the Hine project and by Oliver Hall, an attorney for litigants who are appealing the Zoning Commission approval of the West End Library and Hine development projects.
District residents filed formal FOIA requests in both the Hine and West End cases to obtain withheld records and in each case DMPED declined the request in whole or part, but in each case was reversed on appeal to the Office of the General Counsel (OGC) to the Mayor. In the Hine case, the OGC issued a stinging rebuke to DMPED’s citation of the “trade secrets exemption” as a general basis for withholding public records, saying [it] “comes perilously close to insulting the Court’s intelligence.”
Hoskins testified before Bowser that DMPED does not publicly disclose documents relating to the lease or sale of public properties to private developers because “we haven’t been required to do it.” That appears to be flat out wrong, since the Freedom of Information Act requires DMPED to post on its website, contracts created after November 1, 2001.
In a March 3 letter to Bowser and members of the City Council, Hall wrote: “A recent search of DMPED’s website did not reveal a single final LDA available for public review. In fact, most of the projects listed under the ‘Real Estate Projects’ section of DMPED’s website do not link to any documents whatsoever. …the Hine and West End Public Library properties – are not even listed….”
Hoskins went on to testify on February 11 that “We’re not trying to hide anything.” Bowser said, “But we do hide it. It gets lost…. It shouldn’t be FOIA’d. We can do this proactively and just put [the information] out. our default. Will you work with me?”
Hoskins replied, “Sure.”
In his letter, dated March 3rd, Oliver Hall asked Bowser not to rely on Hoskins’ “vague pledge” of more openness. He requested that she schedule another hearing to investigate DMPED’s ongoing lack of transparency and to take action to ensure DMPED complies with the FOIA by posting all LDAs and other public contracts on its website.
At issue, in Hall’s eyes, is the lack of ability of the committee or the city council to provide adequate oversight and ensure that taxpayers get fair market value for public property DMPED leases or sells to private developers. Also implicit is the issue of the slipshod legislative process by which the council approves draft Land Lease Development Agreements, saying in effect, the details can be worked out by staff. This is a tremendous delegation of discretionary authority, so much so that it can be characterized as a failure of oversight.
As of today, Capitol Hill Corner has not been made aware by any response from Muriel Bowser. Hall’s letter was also copied to the city council.
A copy of Hall’s letter can be found in the CHC Library – click on the link at the top of the page.
For Capitol Hill Corner’s February 12 post: ANC6B and Hine Opponents Find Common Ground on Faulting DMPED Transparency, go here: http://bit.ly/1aVCuwD
For the February 27 post: New Documents Show Developer Pressed City to Close on Hine to Avoid Bowser Hearing, go here: http://bit.ly/1fLp2vl