Solar energy projects are sweeping the region, from rooftop and community solar panels to large-scale farms. We'll talk about community solar programs, bigger solar projects and how these intersect with state legislation.
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Virginia’s legislative map, which was updated after its previous one was found to be racially gerrymandered. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring joins us to talk about that, as well as the upcoming special legislative session on gun laws and his call to legalize cannabis in the Commonwealth.
And, we check in with Washington, D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson about the Housing Production Trust Fund, education funding and the 2020 budget.
Plus, we hear the latest on D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans, who announced that he is stepping down from the WMATA Board of Directors.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Mark Gunnery
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood. Yep, he's back. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst. He's a contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Hopefully you are rested and ready.
TOM SHERWOODI was until a few hours ago. I'm exhausted now, but I'm back, thank you very much. Hello everybody.
NNAMDIWhen things started happening at a frenetic pace this morning. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking with Kathy Patterson, who's the Auditor of the District of Columbia. We will also be talking with Mark Herring, the Attorney General of Virginia. But we start off talking about the latest developments in the case, so to speak, of Jack Evans, the Chair of the Metro Board and Ward 2 Councilmember of the district, long serving councilmember for 25 years and joining us in studio to talk about this is Martin Austermuhle, Reporter here at WAMU 88.5. Martin, thank you for joining us.
MARTIN AUSTERMUHLEHappy to be here.
NNAMDIMartin, this morning the FBI searched D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans's home in Georgetown. What's the latest?
AUSTERMUHLESo, well, that's what we know. I mean, the Feds all that they will admit is that they were there. That they got a court ordered warrant to go into his home. They showed up early. We spoke to one of the neighbors and they said they were there probably 5:30, 5:45 in the morning. They stayed until I think 9:30 or so after which point they left. Evan's attorney, Mark Tuohey, showed up. He was in there for about maybe 35 minutes. He left without making any comment. We tried to knock on the -- we did knock on the door. Not surprisingly Councilmember Evans did not respond, but what we know is that they took stuff out of the house. They were seen coming out of Councilmember Evan's house with boxes of what could have been documents. It could have been other things. But they came out with something.
NNAMDIWhat are the responses of the Wilson Building, the mayor, other council members?
AUSTERMUHLEI mean, not surprisingly they're starting to pick up. At the end of yesterday there were three council members, who had said that the revelations in the Metro memo regarding the conflicts of interest had made them think that there should be an internal Council investigation. And now Councilmember Allen has added his voice to that. But he also wants a full censure. He wants Councilmember Evans removed from all committees. Councilmember Grasso has not backed up that one.
AUSTERMUHLEThe mayor herself just speaking right now at a press conference for an alley rebuilding project, not surprising not a lot of questions about alleys. But she did get a lot questions about Evans and she said she's definitely disappointed and she's concerned about the allegations. She did say that the allegations go right at the heart of public trust. And she said that the Council does have a wide range of powers to look into this and act. And they probably will.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, this started out as a D.C. matter with Jack Evans being essentially accused of violations of ethical rules here in the District in his work on the Council, but then we heard about the grand jury investigation, now Metro. How did we get here?
SHERWOODWell, that's pretty it in a nutshell. Let me just say what's happening just on what Martin just said. The Council meets Tuesday for the last time I think before it goes on summer recess. And there's enough council members now to take, you know, last past spring when some of this was roiling some council members wanted to do a Council investigation. And Chairman Phil Mendelson said, no, let's don't interfere with the federal investigation, let's remove Jack from some of his responsibilities, and they reprimanded him. Well, now it's gone beyond that.
SHERWOODIf Phil Mendelson doesn't remove Jack Evans on Tuesday from all his committee assignments not just Chairman of Finance and Revenue and if Phil Mendelson, the Chairman, doesn't call for a special investigation of the Council into what's happened with Jack Evans, the longest serving councilmember, then I believe you'll see the council members themselves vote for it. I do believe Phil Mendelson will act, though, not wait for the Council to force his hand.
NNAMDIThis is all coming after the Washington Post published a memo outlining the councilmember and Metro Board Chair violations of WMATA's ethics codes, which said that he had a -- quoting here, "pattern of conduct in which Evans attempted to and did help his friends and clients and served their interest rather than the interest of WMATA." What did we learn from this memo because we were initially told that there was nothing written down?
SHERWOODWell, this is the law firm that was used by the Metro Ethics Committee to investigate the allegations against Jack Evans. But then the Ethics Committee met privately with this law firm. There were no records taken. There was no transcript. And the committee hearing all these allegations that are now public decided they could only vote one and that was a violation of his private consultancy with Colonial Parking. The rest they couldn't get a majority vote and they apparently got an agreement Jack would not run for chairman again.
SHERWOODJack Evans disputed all of this saying he -- the Ethics Committee had found him guilty of nothing. And that it was over and that he wasn't going to run for chairman again in Metro anyway. That he was going to remain on the Board. Well, then I think Chairman Crawford -- can't remember his first name at this moment, anyway of the Ethics Committee was being hammered by everybody for saying, what did this committee do? You didn't report to the full board. You just stopped the investigation.
SHERWOODWell, now the leaks from Robert McCartney and the Washington Post did most of the reporting on this. The reference you just did. The law firm did in fact do a memo for the record of all the things it found. And that now is public and whether it should have been made public or not is one process issue, but it's devastating what's in there.
NNAMDIOne of the more surprising revelations that Tom just referred to is how Metro's ethics investigation operated with pretty much zero transparency, likely to become a major issue?
AUSTERMUHLEWell, I think so. I mean, you know, it might be a relatively minor point in the grander scheme of all the things he's accused of. But he was -- I think the report said he was interviewed for, I think, seven hours over the course of a day. He was there with an attorney. But the same point there was a number of people, who were also interviewed as part of the investigation, but --
SHERWOODThis is the way the Ethics Committee -- as I understand it having talked to people there have been any number of Ethics Committee inquiries about alleged wrongdoing by other members of the Metro -- I don't want to say just Board, the Metro community. And where the Ethics Committee met and decided nothing happened. You can go all the way back to Jim Graham, the former councilmember. That Ethics Committee did a thorough investigation, made it all public and then presented it to the Board, which is the process. If you find wrongdoing, you're supposed to present it to the full Board for action. In this case, this Ethics Committee presented nothing to the Board.
NNAMDIAnd it was in large measure, because of Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland and Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia insisting that the results of this investigation be made public that we have -- and, of course, the work of the Washington Post that we have now heard of it, but this implies that there is something fundamentally wrong with how the Metro Board has been operating.
SHERWOODAnd on the one hand there are many ethics investigations and there's a lot of raw material. You don't normally make that raw material public unless you go forward with a formal decision to go forward. And in this case they just didn't do it. But, you know, before that some ANC members had asked for this report to be made public. I think the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission had also asked for it. I know Governor Hogan has been a severe critic of Jack Evans since 2016 and so Jack Evans got a lot of enemies, when he virtually forced the Maryland and Virginia to raise more money for Metro, but, you know, when you have done these things that this law firm alleges it leaves you open to severe criticism.
SHERWOODAnd that's where Jack is now, he's got to decide if he's going to remain -- not only has he resigned as Chairman of Metro from the Metro Board as of next week. He has to decide if he wants to go forward on the D.C. Council. And we may have that knowledge before Tuesday.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, there is -- he has several challenges if he does decide to run for election again. And there's the recall petition being circulated against him even as we speak in Ward 2. Here's Gary in Columbia Heights. Gary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GARYHey, thanks, Kojo. Yeah, I just wanted to know how this guy got to where he is in the first place. I mean, this isn't the first ethical issue with this guy. I don't know how he keeps winning reelection. Are his challengers like serious? Do they have a chance to really win here?
SHERWOODWell, three -- there may be four now challengers not as well known. But, you know, Jack Evans is the longest serving councilmember. He was the Duport Circle Advisory Neighborhood Committee Chairman. He ran and replaced John Wilson when Wilson was elected Chairman of the Council back in the early 1990 -- 91. And he's been a long serving member. He's given a lot of credit for understanding economic development in the city. He's been behind the new convention center, the baseball ball park, and other major development issues, but he also has been, on this show and other places, very proactively business. Kind of taking what Tony Williams the former mayor said, "If you don't have economic development, you don't have money for social services." And he has been there. And he's been criticized for parking his car at fire hydrants and irritating things like that. But he is the longest serving councilmember.
NNAMDII tell you, though, Martin, one thing he's never been accused of before until the last week or two is lack of access to news reporters. He was always very open and friendly to news reporters, yeah.
AUSTERMUHLEHe was, and that's the one thing, you talk to people who knew him personally and they'll say on a personal level they liked him a lot. He was a very engaging guy. And he cared about -- he did care about his community. He cared about the work he did. But I think the thing this case proves and what his situation proves is that when you have a councilmember, who's been there a long time who has served his constituents well -- a lot of constituents will say he's fought for schools. He's fought for the basics of like the retail level politics that matters to the wards, the constituents.
AUSTERMUHLEYou know, when you have someone that fights like that when ethical issues come up some people are willing to look the other way. And the criticism was always of the late Marion Barry. It's like how do they keep reelecting him? It's like, well, Ward 2 has kept reelecting Jack Evans. Part of the problem is that he hasn't always had challengers. I mean, there was two elections cycles recently where no one ran against him.
SHERWOODYou remember that Jim Graham was ensconced in Ward 1 and he got censored by Metro and then Brianne Nadeau went around and bitterly complained about him and she won election. You know, this type of alleged corruption is true whether it's city, county, state or federal government all the time. But Jack is -- I always thought and have always thought that he knew where the ethics line was and he knew how he could put a toe on the ethics line, but not go over it. And given the history of Harry Thomas, the former councilmember, Michael Brown, the former councilmember, Kwame Brown, the former Council chairmen, given the troubles that all these other people have had, I would think, how could you not -- whether you've been there 5 minutes or 15 years or 20 years, how could you make these ethical decisions to do what this is alleged in the lawyer's report? It just seems kind of foolish.
SHERWOODSome people thought Jack Evans because he had a difficult divorce was financially strained. And needed money and overlooked the ethics rules to get some of these consulting contracts.
NNAMDIWhat are we expecting next, Martin Austermuhle?
AUSTERMUHLEYeah, Tuesday is the big day. And I think it's additional -- I don't think it was a planned meeting, but before any break they have all these additional meetings, because they have to wrap up loose ends and whatnot. So this is an additional meeting. This is one of those things that they probably didn't expect that they were going to be handling this at this meeting. They probably just had some bills they wanted to work their way through before they have to go on this two month recess.
SHERWOODOn a two months, yeah.
AUSTERMUHLEBut I can't -- I mean, the timing just plays into it. You can't ignore this at this point with that many council members saying, we need to do something.
SHERWOODYeah, but don't wait till Tuesday. This is a 24 second news cycle not 24 hours. We will see probably new developments before Tuesday.
NNAMDIAnd that's all the time we have in this segment. Later in the broadcast we'll be joined by Kathy Patterson who is the Auditor of the District of Columbia. When we come back we'll be talking with the Attorney General of Virginia, Mark Herring. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to The Politics Hour. We were talking about the problems faced by D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans also Metro Board Chair, who's now resigning. Tom Sherwood, you have an update.
SHERWOODYes. We were saying how Council Chairman, Phil Mendelson, probably would not wait until Tuesday to take action, because of the Jack Evans matter and he has now put out a statement. And he has said that in light of the revelations about Jack Evans in the Metro Board he has removed Jack Evans as Chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue. He also says his rules require a full Council vote, which will be in early July. But he will appoint a Council Committee to investigate what Jack Evans has been doing as a councilmember.
SHERWOODMr. Mendelson says, "I share the disappointment of all my colleagues that Councilmember Jack Evans used his position on the WMATA Board to violate WMATA's code of ethics. He took the right action in stepping down from his position on the Board." He says that, "It's imperative that public officials maintain high ethical standards. Public trust is critical. At the same time it is delicate and precious. We must now work to regain it." This is not only for Jack Evans, but this is a blow to the city's representation on Metro Board, the long standing thing, all those people in the District are all corrupt and crazy or foolish. It's broadly a bad thing for this city.
NNAMDIJoining us now by phone is Mark Herring, the Attorney General of Virginia. General Herring, thank you for joining us.
MARK HERRINGWell, thank you having me. It's great to be back on the show and a lot of news involving Virginia as well. And a couple of really big Virginia Supreme Court wins too.
SHERWOODAre you down in Richmond or are you out in your home in Loudoun County? Where are you? Just so we'll know where you are and if you're in the Commonwealth.
HERRINGActually I'm in Farmville.
HERRINGI just had a great conversation with about 6 or 700 rising high school seniors at Girls State. So I'm down here at Farmville.
SHERWOODYou could ask people to Google Farmville and the history there. We'll move on. Kojo's looking at me.
NNAMDIThis week the Supreme Court struck down a challenge that Republicans in Virginia's House of Delegates made to the boundaries of 11 legislative districts in the Commonwealth. And we know that in November every seat in Virginia's legislature will be up for grabs. What does this decision mean for that election?
HERRINGWell, first of all let me say it is a big win for democracy in Virginia. It feels really good to have a win like this in the Supreme Court, because it means, you know, we're protecting people's voting rights, which are so important. Just to set the background for it, House Republicans had drawn the map to set a racial quota and then drew lines to pack African American voters into a limited number of districts, which reduced their voting power and the voting power of African Americans. And the court ultimately said that -- this was the trial court that the Republican plan had sorted voters into districts based on the color of their skin and the effect was to dilute the political strength of African Americans.
HERRINGSo the speaker of the House tried to appeal that. I thought that given the facts of that case, the way the trial court ruled so clearly in a detailed 100 page opinion that what we needed to do was to fix that problem rather than to try to conjure up legal reasons to try to excuse it. And ultimately the Supreme Court agreed with me that that was a decision that Virginia voters elected the Attorney General to do. So that case has been decided in a way that allows voters this November to be going to the polls in districts that are legal and constitutional and that is the good news.
SHERWOODAnd Mr. Attorney General the district court itself had to appoint someone to redraw the lines, because the State of Virginia would not act. But just for people here in Northern Virginia who may be listening, all of the districts, the 26 or so districts that were adjusted are pretty much from the Richmond area down to the Tidewater area; is that correct?
HERRINGThat's right. There were ultimately 11 districts that were ruled to have been racially gerrymandered. Those districts generally run from Richmond down to Hampton Roads.
SHERWOODKurt Cox is the leader of the Republicans in the General Assembly House and his district is affected. He's now in what the Virginia Public Access Organization thinks is now going to be a Democratic district for Kurt Cox. He says he still thinks the Republicans will do well this fall. It's important to remember that the Senate in Virginia and the House in Virginia are separated only by two seats. The Republicans have two seat majorities in both the Senate and the House. So it makes this November's elections very important for Democrats and Republicans.
HERRINGIt is. It's 51-49 and 21-19 in the Senate, and so all 140 seats are going to be up for election or reelection. And at the political level, you know, that's going to be a focus for me and for Democrats all across the state. I think there are a number of pickup opportunities that Democrats have in districts around the state. And we're going to be working as hard as we can to get back into a majority, because, you know -- and it's not just about, you know, who's side has more than the other. But it's about the things that we can do for people with the Democratic majority.
HERRINGI'm hopeful we will get some important gun safety measures passed in the upcoming special session, but if not, if there's a change in control we can get some real gun safety and gun violence prevention measures passed. We can get some real criminal justice reform. We can be doing so much more for Virginians. And so I know at the political level there's going to be a huge effort all around the state.
NNAMDIWell, I was about to get to the special session, because we only have less than six minutes left. And you've indicated what you're hoping will come out of the session. But Republicans, who as Tom and you mentioned still have a narrow majority in both Houses. Their plans for this session are very different. Their firearm agenda is wanting to increase penalties and mandatory minimums for certain gun crimes and block gun control legislation. Isn't there a danger that Democrats could actually end up worse off than before?
HERRINGWell, you know, I don't think that that is the right approach and coming off of, you know, another mass shooting this one in Virginia Beach, I hope that Republicans in the legislature will see that it is time that they listen to their constituents. They are the ones who are standing in the way and blocking things like universal background checks, limits on high capacity magazines, assault weapons ban, reinstating the one-gun-a-month law.
HERRINGI remember just a couple of years ago -- and, you know, as attorney general, I'm doing everything I can to step up our enforcement efforts, which we've done. But there's only so much you can do on the enforcement side when your laws are as weak as they are. And just a couple of years ago, I remember a case where some gun traffickers who had bought guns in Virginia with gang ties to Virginia were caught on tape mocking how weak Virginia's gun laws are. We can do better than this. We need to do better than this, and our constituents are demanding that we do it.
SHERWOODGeneral Herring, one of the things that the Republicans say they will want to do is they may try again to hold a public hearing on Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and the allegations against him by the two women who accused him of misconduct. Has that been any role -- one, what do you think about that? Is that something that should be done at the special session? And has there been any role that you've played as attorney general?
HERRINGWell, I'd like to see the special session stay focused on the gun violence emergency. And it is a gun violence emergency. You know, the mass shootings grab our attention, as they should, but we also know that gun violence plagues communities all across the Commonwealth and across the country every single day. The CDC reported in 2017 there were over 1,000 deaths in Virginia due to firearms. So, I would like to see the focus stay on that. And no, our office would not have anything to do there. These allegations are crimes that took place in other states. But I think the focus of the special session needs to stay on the gun violence emergency.
NNAMDINatalie in Leesburg, Virginia. You're on the air, Natalie. Go ahead, please.
NATALIEHello, Attorney General Herring. Today, I'd like to address issues about the proposed frack gas pipelines cutting through Central Virginia. There is one pipeline in particular that has a huge problem, the Mountain Valley Pipeline. You, in fact, issued a suit against the builders because of the water quality violation.
NNAMDIWhat's your question?
NATALIEMy question is please issue a -- why aren't you issuing a stop-work order to stop the pollution? It's still occurring, to this day, despite your suit filed in December.
HERRINGWell, the authority to issue a stop-work order rests with the Department of Environmental Quality and its administrator. The caller is right, though. I did file suit against the developer of the Mountain Pipeline for what we call over 300 violations of permit conditions and Virginia's erosion and sediment control laws and regulations. And I will do everything I can to make sure that we get to a successful resolution of that. That means significant penalties for past violations. And I would like to see a clear court order also requiring full compliance in the future.
SHERWOODGeneral Herring, let's go back once more to Lieutenant Governor Fairfax. On this show last week, while I was on vacation -- and then this week in the Richmond Times-Dispatch -- Justin Fairfax said that the accusations against him have raised his profile quite a bit, and that he still is seriously considering running for governor in 2021. You also have announced that you're going to run for governor. You had your own incident in the spring that you were embarrassed about, but you disclosed. Where are you in terms of your plans to run for governor?
HERRINGWell, that is certainly not a focus of mine right now. My focus is on the work that is ahead, and we've got a lot to do. We're working on some criminal justice reforms. Just this past Saturday, I announced an initiative to try to get new cannabis policy in Virginia. You know, criminalizing marijuana possession is not working. It is needlessly creating criminals and saddling them with convictions. Taxpayers are having to pay a lot of money for enforcement. And the whole system falls disproportionately on African Americans and people of color. And there are smarter, better ways to approach cannabis, and that means decriminalization of simple possession of small amounts. It means addressing past convictions, and it means moving toward legal and regulated adult use.
SHERWOODAll very important issues. It's Politics Hour, I got to ask you one more question. Normally, during a campaign season for the General Assembly, you, Governor Northam and the lieutenant governor would be out all over the state campaigning for delegates and state senators. Terry McAuliffe, who was former governor, has stepped up and done a lot of that. What have you been doing to help Democrats win? Have you been actually out with your campaign PAC, or whatever, helping people run in Senate and House seats?
NNAMDIIn 30 seconds or less.
HERRING(laugh) The answer is absolutely yes. I am out helping our candidates as much as I can, attending their events and helping wherever I can. So, I'm helping them with fundraisers and helping -- when the time comes, it'll be helping to get out the vote, and certainly welcome Governor McAuliffe into that effort. We need everybody out there working as hard as we can, because there is so much at stake this November in getting to a Democratic majority.
NNAMDIMark Herring is the attorney general of Virginia. General Herring, thank you very much for joining us.
HERRINGThank you for having me.
NNAMDIGoing to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be talking with the auditor of the District of Columbia, Kathy Patterson. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Joining us now in studio is Kathleen -- or Kathy -- Patterson who is the auditor of the District of Columbia. Kathy Patterson, thank you so much for joining us.
KATHLEEN PATTERSONThank you.
NNAMDIYou served, what, three terms on the D.C. Council --
NNAMDI-- did you not?
SHERWOODAnd she ran for chairman.
NNAMDIExactly right. And so when we get to talking about what's going on on the Council in general, or in this case -- Jack Evans' dilemma in particular -- I and Tom and our listeners would be interested to hear your take on this.
PATTERSONWell, as Tom and I were speaking, it's never a good thing to see FBI agents carting boxes out of a friend's house. And I do count the councilmember as a colleague and a friend, so that is not a happy picture. But one of the things I would mention from the chairman's statement just recently in the last 20 minutes or so is noting that what he's proposing that they do would be ad hoc actions. And one of the things that I had recommended in testimony, actually, eight years ago now, when they were considering what to do on Ethics in 2011, recommended a couple of things that the Council, of course, did not do.
PATTERSONBut one was to create a management committee, essentially an executive committee of the council whose purview would include ethics and would include investigations, would include taking any kinds of complaints. That was recommended by the National Conference of State Legislatures when they did a study of the Council 20 years ago.
PATTERSONSecond thing I recommended was a rule that says if anyone is under investigation, they relinquish their chairmanships, and they relinquish them automatically, and until the investigation concludes. That way, you now have rules that are ahead of the game, that encourage good behavior, and that aren't after-the-fact, episodic and ad hoc. And, personally -- as a personal opinion, not a DC auditor opinion -- I wish they had taken up both of those actions.
NNAMDIAnd, you know, both Tom Sherwood and I have been around for a while. I'd been talking earlier about institutional memory. We got a Tweet from Chris, who says: for context on how long Jack Evans has been in office, Kathy Patterson -- now DC auditor, and up soon on the Kojo Show -- wasn't yet on the DC Council's Ward 3 rep when Evans won Ward 2's highly contested special election in 1991 to replace John Wilson after he became chair.
PATTERSONThat's right. He was a veteran by the time I got there.
SHERWOODRight. You ran for chairman in 2006, and Vince Gray won that race.
SHERWOODBut there have been three terms on the --
PATTERSONYou going to mention that loss a third time now, Tom? (laugh)
SHERWOODWell, you know, I'm trying to set up --
NNAMDIThat's the institutional memory part. (laugh)
SHERWOODYeah, before we move onto your audit things, which are really interesting, I do want to say this. You know, in this city, we had a CFO who ran for mayor and won. I'm just wondering, given your election history, what about the DC --
NNAMDIThis is the Politics Hour.
SHERWOODYes, thank you, Kojo. This is the Politics Hour. You're very well strong-spoken on a lot of issues in your audits, and you've done a lot of work to change the way the city does a zillion things, and you're doing some now we'll talk about. But is elective politics ever -- is it out of your future. Is it a potential? Where are you?
PATTERSONI believe it's out of my future. And let me just point out that even on the Council, I had a four-year term. In this job, it's a six-year term. And the code doesn't even say how they could get rid of me. So, you know, I'm (laugh) in a real good position.
SHERWOODSo, when does that term expire?
PATTERSONAnother three-and-a-half years.
NNAMDILast month, you published a report about the District's $100 million affordable housing fund, the Housing Production Trust Fund. You said that because of the way money is handed out, hundreds fewer units of affordable housing were built than should have been. What are the issues in how this money is being deployed?
PATTERSONI think, generally speaking, the money has been deployed reasonably well over time to get affordable housing created and preserved. But we had a whistleblower come to us about the procurement process, the wards that were announced a year ago. And the issue was there was a good internal staff evaluation of proposals, according to a request for proposals. And then with the leadership of the agency's discretion, projects that were --
SHERWOODWho's the leader of the agency?
PATTERSONPolly Donaldson. She has discretion to select projects, even if they weren't the ones highest-ranked by staff. And that's what happened a year ago. The 20th-ranked proposal -- the proposal ranked dead last -- was awarded funding around a year ago. And that's something that we talked about. We talked about it in a hearing this past Monday. That is concerning, when you have an objective evaluation process that then is essentially tossed out.
SHERWOODAnd I think your report said that nearly 400 affordable homes were not able to -- are not going to be built, because of the way they decided.
PATTERSONBased on what they did a year ago. Again, there were nine projects ranked by the staff. The director awarded nine projects, but five of them were different, or one of the ones that weren't as highly ranked. And so, as a result of that, there were fewer total units and fewer units at the lowest income level. That said, all of those projects from a year ago this time around this year were awarded funding from the trust fund, but, again, a year later, and with additional holding costs themselves.
SHERWOODYou told WAMU and talked about this audit that this is not a good thing for taxpayers, that we are not only not getting the housing we want, we're not clear exactly on what the rules are or who gets to build the housing. And it costs money.
PATTERSONRight. It raises questions about the integrity of a process when you have, as I said, an objective process that then is ignored, essentially, in the final decisions that were made a year ago.
SHERWOODCan we ask about schools?
PATTERSONJonetta Rose Barras is writing a pretty strong column and talking about your audits of schools and how the money for at-risk students is wasted away on bureaucratic spending and not targeted for students. Where are we on that, at-risk students?
PATTERSONWe have a report that we'll be releasing next week on how the school system has spent at-risk funds. And the real concern that we found -- we previewed this in testimony earlier this year, one part of it. Money that's supposed to be for at-risk kids -- kids that are homeless, foster care, low income -- has been used to pay for the salaries that every school is entitled to by the comprehensive staffing model.
PATTERSONSo, we have a model that supposedly pays all of the teachers, but in schools where the high proportion of at-risk students, their money was -- some of that money was taken away, and then the at-risk money filled in for what should've been a standard formula. What that means is some kids -- some schools in Ward 7 and in Ward 8 that have a high-risk population didn't get the formula funding that they were supposed to have. So, the at-risk money that was supposed to have been targeted for particular uses was used for just standard operating expenses and other teachers' salaries.
PATTERSONAnd it's a real concern in a couple of areas, particularly some of the social workers and psychologists that should have been paid for by formula funds were instead paid for by at-risk money, which meant no at-risk spending or little at-risk spending on targeted things to improve outcomes for those kids.
SHERWOODAnd so the children themselves do not get the very services they need so they can perform in the regular school system --
SHERWOOD-- which is what the money is supposed to be. And it's like 2,000-something dollars per at-risk child.
PATTERSONIt was supposed to have been an add-on.
SHERWOODIt's not a de minimis amount of money.
PATTERSONRight. It was supposed to have been an add-on, but instead, it supplanted some of the money that should've come from the formula.
SHERWOODWell, I'm looking forward to your full report. When is it, next week or --
PATTERSONNext week, early in the week, I hope.
NNAMDIOn Tuesday, the DC Council deferred a $46 million tax break for the Line Hotel in Adams Morgan because it failed to meet the hiring requirements. It led to a media blitz on the part of Sydell Group, who owns the hotel, claiming that they'd be forced to lay off workers if the tax abatement is rescinded. What's going on here?
PATTERSONThe bait-and-switch, I'd say, is going on here. One of the things that is at issue here is an audit, apparently, that DOES is conducting.
SHERWOODThat's Department of Employment Services.
PATTERSONRight, thank you very much. But I would like to point out that we did an audit report that came out last year that looked at the First Source program, which the Line Hotel was also supposed to have complied with in order to get this $46 million abatement. And we found that they did file some claims that there were DC residents working, but they could not -- I'm quoting from that report -- "Could not provide a listing of the employees, could not provide their name, address, date of hire and ward of the hired employee."
PATTERSONSo, we have findings from a year ago that said they did not meet the requirements of the basic law. So, I don't think there's any way they can claim to have met those, plus the additional requirements of the specific law.
SHERWOODAs I understand it, reading about it, in order to qualify, this Line company cited as employees for construction, hired for construction executives of the company, like, the chief executive officer and others, architects and others as Line employees doing construction work, as if they counted as city employees.
PATTERSONRight. And if they come up with documentation today to claim that they met the requirements, my question would be: when did you create those documents? Because they did not exist when we were in the field, and this would've been toward the end of 2017.
SHERWOODNow, the Council last week took some action, delayed some of the tax break, or do you --
PATTERSONWhat I understand is they spent --
SHERWOODIt's very confusing to me.
PATTERSON-- they spent a million dollars that would have been otherwise paid out in that 46 million. Which my question is: does that mean the CFO had certified a budget that included the $46 million? I haven't had a chance to ask that question, but if you spend from that, it had to have been in there somewhere.
NNAMDIOnly about two minutes left. You've expressed concerns about the District, quoting here, "Spending money like there's no tomorrow and at a completely unsustainable level.” And that to maintain these spending levels, the District will need to make funding cuts next year. Where do you see the District spending too much money, and if you were to make those cuts, where would you start?
PATTERSONThat is a very good question that I'm going to dodge by saying what I would do is I would try to build in requirements for evaluation, requirements for evidence before you spend money. Just as a small item in this year's budget, 1.6 million for community schools. So, you have the school system doing community schools, in addition to the Office of the State Superintendent. So, we have two different models, same kind of program, but two different models. I want to see the evidence to say, this one works better than this one, and then fund the one that works.
NNAMDI(all talking at once) I've got to get this call in, because it's Brian in Adams Morgan, and I'm pretty sure it's Brian Weaver. Is that you, Brian Weaver?
BRIAN WEAVERThat is me, Kojo. It is I.
NNAMDIYou got less than a minute.
SHERWOODOnce in your life, be quick.
WEAVER(laugh) My question is, is there a working definition of what's considered a construction worker?
NNAMDIBecause in the reports we've been seeing, allegedly, the Line Hotel has been saying people in management, people who are with the firm --
PATTERSONAbsolutely, the answer is yes. Under all of the Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Labor definitions, there are a certain number of people who are supposed to be sheet metal workers, who are supposed to be bricklayers, who are supposed to be -- yes, there's lots of definitions.
SHERWOODVery quickly, there's some fears that the D.C. Council, D.C. government is slipping back into its pre-control board period of the 1990s, that is being too loosy-goosy with its money.
PATTERSONLoosy-goosy is not a term I would use. I think --
SHERWOODThat's a technical term, for sure, (laugh)
PATTERSONI think we have a majority of council members who were not there in the lean times. And when you have -- I spoke last night at a community group and talked about when we had zero-based budgeting then, because zero is what we had in our budget. You have to make decisions based on scarcity, not having a ton of money. I think the Council's going to have to learn to measure one program against another.
NNAMDIKathleen -- or Kathy -- Patterson is the auditor of the District of Columbia. Thank you so much for joining us.
PATTERSONThank you very much. I feel like we've done a lightning round.
SHERWOODThat's right, it's a lightning round.
NNAMDIToday's Politics Hour was produced by Mark Gunnery. On Monday, we'll have an update on this year's 4th of July celebrations in the District and what you can expect now that the White House has released plans for the President's Salute to America event. And we'll find out why honeybees are dying in record numbers and what that means for all of us. Until then, have a great weekend, and thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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