Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Using "arms-length" government controlled instrumentalities to support influence peddling

(for the first time, I understand the value of twitter, when you want to communicate but don't have time to write a full entry.) In response to the Mike DeBonis piece, "Paying for an inaugural ball, the Harry Thomas way," in the Post...

From the article:

The trust [Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp.] is a nonprofit, public-private collaboration set up by then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams in 1999 to take government money for out-of-school youth programs, combine it with private and philanthropic funds, and dole it out to worthy community organizations. ...

The Thomas prosecution appears to be the culmination of a three-year tailspin for the trust, a trajectory precipitated by the encroachment of politics on what was intended to be an independent grantmaking process. More and more money sent to the trust during the time Thomas was fleecing taxpayers came in the form of “earmarks” — grants directed by council members to favored groups, absent any competitive process. In fiscal 2009, for instance, council members directed funds to 47 groups.

During the same period, the trust was roiled by then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s move to bring its board more solidly under his control. He ousted two longtime board members with deep ties to the philanthropy community — Federal City Council chief executive John W. Hill and youth advocate Diane Bernstein — and replaced them with several of his political aides and the wife of a member of his running team. In the aftermath, outside funding dwindled while political meddling ran amok.

Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) had oversight of the trust at the time, and he pushed back hard Tuesday against the suggestion that he could have done more to prevent the theft. He said he implored the trust to improve oversight of grant funds and moved to curb his colleagues’ interference in grantmaking.

With all due respect to Councilmember Wells, the creation of "off-the-book" government related entities like the Children's Youth and Investment Trust, that entity created by the DC Housing Authority which Mayor Fenty used for off-the-books construction, and the Foundation created to accept money for the DC Public Schools System is done to be able to have extra-normal ways of directing and receiving funds, in ways that are seemingly more flexible, but truly, more open to fraud.

In the case of the CYIT, it was created to make it easier for Councilmembers to influence grant funding to Ward-based organizations in ways that would benefit councilmembers.

The Housing Authority entity was used by the Executive Branch in a similar fashion, to expedite contracting while bypassing Council review of contracts over $1 million.


The issue is to build robust regular operating procedures, so that the regular and expected outcomes are high quality and ethical.

Also see "A nose for rooting out fraud," from the Financial Times. With regard to ex-Councilmember Thomas, the piece sheds some light on familial aspects. From the article:

In the course of her work, she also uncovers all sorts of behaviour, such as bigamy and drug-taking. There are, she says, very few female fraudsters. In fact, Ms Brittain has only come across one. “She was doing it for love,” she says. “She wasn’t the brightest spark.”

Women do, however, play a strong supporting role. “The fraudster will have convinced the wife he is right and she will also [worry about] losing her standard of living.”

Note that all was not hunky dory with regard to corruption in the Thomas Family legacy, as opposed to how it's been portrayed in the media, such as in this Post article from the weekend, "Thomas dynasty may be near an end." Many people I've talked with over the years discussed the petty kind of graft that occurred around CM Thomas Senior.

Thus far, focusing on what to do with the Ward 5 seat ("Ward 5 ponders political life after Thomas," Post) while not addressing more fundamental systemic failures means that more of the same is the likely result.

More on that tomorrow, maybe. In the meantime, surprisingly one of the only articles that adequately captures the reality of problems with "the system" is by Deborah Simmons in the Washington Times, "Times are tough in a city without any kingmakers."

She makes the point that I have made in some community e-list discussions about the Ward 5 election, that the Mayor and Council Chair won't likely get to involved in making the special election part of the normal citywide election access and control system, so that the possibility of a progressive re-set is theoretically possible.

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