It comes down to this: Can we rely on the word of Muriel Bowser, the Democratic nominee for D.C. mayor, that she did not act inappropriately to protect the interests of two political supporters?
In April, the city declared the Park Southern Neighborhood Corporation (PSNC) in default on a $3 million city-backed loan, and it took control of the dilapidated Park Southern Apartments the nonprofit owns in Southeast from PSNC President Rowena Joyce Scott and property manager Phinis Jones. Both are Ward 8 big wheels and prominent Bowser boosters.
Mayoral candidate and D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) has accused Bowser, who represents Ward 4 on the council, of intervening on behalf of her supporters with city housing officials.
Serious issues have been raised regarding alleged mismanagement and misuse of funds. A lawsuit filed by tenants accuses Scott and the corporation of property neglect. Leaking roofs, mold and mildew in rooms, water on hallway floors and security doors off their hinges are some of the deficiencies they cite. They claim Park Southern is behind in its mortgage payments and in arrears to utility providers. And they say PSNC lacks audited financial statements and has hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable claims on its tax returns.
Scott maintains that she has done nothing improper. She told The Post that the Gray administration is acting out of “revenge” over her decision to back Bowser in the April 1 mayor primary. Jones, too, has said he did nothing wrong.
That the city declared Park Southern in default and assumed control of the property should come as no surprise. The apartment complex has been in trouble for years, despite city pressure to correct the problems. If anything, the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) should have moved sooner. Now, authorities must determine what happened to the public money that went into the apartments, as well as the whereabouts of the rent collected by Park Southern. Was money properly spent — or squandered?
But that should not be the extent of the public’s interest in this matter. The roles played by Bowser and Catania in the Park Southern affair also demand scrutiny. Each wants to be entrusted with the D.C. government. Each wants to manage the city’s business for the next four years.
At issue in the Park Southern case: Can we rely on Bowser’s word?
Catania asserts that Bowser, who chairs the council’s economic development committee, which oversees housing, improperly interfered with the city’s efforts to address Park Southern’s problems. He says she has been looking out for the interests of her supporters, Scott and Jones, and not the complex’s residents and the taxpayers whose money is at stake.
Bowser maintains that her interest all along has been to preserve Park Southern’s status as an affordable housing project. She scoffs at the suggestion that her efforts had anything to do with her campaign supporters.
That, however, is not the way city officials see it.
Housing department spokesman Marcus Williams told me this week that Bowser called on May 7 to request that agency director Michael Kelly attend a meeting with Scott and Jones regarding the April decision to bring in a new manager for the property. Bowser disputes that account. In a phone call Friday, she told me she wanted DCHD officials, Scott and Jones to brief her and council members Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Anita Bonds (D-At Large) on Park Southern’s problems. Williams said Kelly responded a day later with a letter requesting that Bowser’s “Committee on Economic Development schedule a public oversight hearing on the Park Southern Apartments.” Kelly wrote that a public hearing would promote greater transparency.
If Kelly had been given a chance to testify publicly, Williams said, he would have shared the department’s findings about the complex and justified the actions taken in recent months to stabilize its finances, prevent further decay and bolster day-to-day operations.
Kelly, the DHCD spokesman wrote, believed that a hearing would help allay residents’ concerns and communicate to them that the District was aware of their living conditions and taking action.
Bowser did not schedule a public hearing. She told me she saw no need for a hearing because, after meeting with DCHD officials, she was “satisfied that the government had a reasonable plan.”
As for Bowser’s interest, the Office of the D.C. Attorney General provided me with a copy of an e-mail the office sent to a Post colleague. It states that in a May 8 meeting: “Bowser made a verbal request for [the] OAG to provide the legal authority under which DHCD took over management of Park Southern and hired Vesta Management Corporation to temporarily manage the property.” Bowser disagreed with that characterization of her request, telling me that she asked, “How could a non-law enforcement, private entity” — Vesta — “be used to seize a building?”
What about allegations of mismanagement and misuse of housing funds? This week, following Catania’s charges, Bowser asked the D.C. inspector general to investigate the matter.
Bowser said in a statement that when the mess was brought to her attention, “I properly and appropriately met, through my Council oversight role, with each of the parties involved. . . . I have nothing to hide.”
Was Bowser going to bat for the taxpayers or her backers?
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