The District of Columbia's historic preservation program is "in disarray" and its management is "inept," the outgoing chairman of the city advisory board that oversees preservation activities in Washington said yesterday.
"The D.C. government seems to be engaged in a deliberate effort to deny the citizens of Washington the benefits of the District's Historic Preservation Law," said J. Ernest E. Harper, chairman of the Joint Committee on Landmarks, at a press conference yesterday.
"To say that the D.C. preservation program is in disarray is an understatement, and to characterize the management of its preservation office as anything but inept would be inaccurate," Harper said. If the problems are not corrected, he warned, the D.C. government may lose permanent federal government certification of its preservation program. National Park Service representatives contacted yesterday discounted that possibility.
Harper said that Mayor Marion Barry "hasn't given any attention to historic preservation that can be seen as creditable."
Barry should replace the chief of the D.C. Historic Preservation Office, Lucy Franklin, in order to remedy "the impossible management situation" that now exists, Harper also said.
Barry named Harper to the Joint Committee in 1980. Harper was elected chairman in both 1982 and 1983.
On May 9, Barry nominated 11 persons to a new board that will take over nearly all the responsibilities of the joint committee. Harper was not nominated to the new board.
Earlier this year, the National Park Service suspended its approval of the city's historic preservation program because of "longstanding budgetary and staffing problems," according to a March 31 letter from the federal agency to district officials.
Following Barry's nomination of the new historic preservation review board members, the Park Service partially lifted its suspension. The city and the Park Service have been working to resolve the remaining problems, which involve the failure of the D.C. Historic Preservation Office to fully account for its use of federal funds provided to the city for historic preservation activities.
Last month, the D.C. auditor, at the request of City Council member John Wilson (D-Ward 2), began a broad investigation into the management of the preservation program. The bulk of that agency's work should be completed this month, Auditor Otis Troupe has said.
On April 1, the preservation office was transferred from the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development to the new Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. The director of that department, Carol Thompson, has said that a number of steps have been taken to correct past deficiencies with the preservation office.
"My position remains the same," Thompson said yesterday. "Yes, we've had some problems with the preservation program, but we're moving to resolve them."