The Alexandria City Council has renewed its feud with the Montessori School of Alexandria by again insisting that the school allow city auditors to examine the books of bingo games run by the school.
State law passed in the wake of gambling and bribery scandals associated with bingo games throughout Virginia now require local officials to audit books of bingo sponsors when the games gross more than $50,000 a year. The Montessori School ahs acknowledged that its games grossed more than $300,000 last year.
Since the council first ordered the audit, however, school officials have refused to open their books to city examiners, insisting that the school will first wait for a ruling from the Virginia attorney general.
"You are raising the (legal) issue at the 11th hour," said council member Carlyle C. Ring Jr. at a council hearing last week. "You should have asked for a clarification from the attorney general three months ago."
Earlier this summer, the school asked the opinion of Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman as to whether city officials can look at the books.
School officials' use of bingo profits has embroiled the nonprofit organization in controversy for more than two years. The school director, Dirgham Salahi, testified two years ago he bribed then-commonwealth's attorney William L. Cowhig with $32,000 skimmed off the top of the games' proceeds. The testimony came in one of two trials of Cowhig, who denied the charges and later was acquitted of any wrongdoing.
Since that controversy, the City Council has attempted to get a closer look at the school's books on its bingo operations. At the public hearing Saturday, council members told city Finance Director Howard Holton to begin his audit and to report back to the council Tuesday on whether he gained full access to the school's books.
In other business, the council delayed action on a request by the Watergate of Alexandria development firm to build an office building on a square-block of land originally planned for townhouses. Attorney William Thomas, representing the developers, said sales of expensive townhouses built by the same firm on two adjoining blocks had been surprisingly slow.
"We had not been as successful (in selling the units) over the last few years as we anticipated," Thomas told the council.
Thomas said only 78 to 100 townhouses has been sold or were under contract, a record that put the development company in a difficult financial position.
Instead of building townhouses, the developer has proposed that its architectural firm, VVKR, be allowed to build a new corporate headquarters on the site, which is between Washington Street and the Potomac River. Council approval is needed because speical use permits already have been issued to build only the townhouses.
The council took the request under advisement after several citizens who live in townhouses next to the site protested that commercial building would be out of keeping with what they said developers had led them to believe would be a residential area.
The council gave final approval for construction of Claridge House II, an $11 million, 300-unit high-rise. The building, designed primarily for the elderly and some handicapped persons, will be in the city's West End. The complex is similar to one in Arlington built by the same developer, Maurice Lipnick. Rents will be subsidized through federal funds and financing has been guaranteed by federal agencies.