News Release: From Eastern Market Metro Community Association, Contact: Oliver Hall, (617) 953-0161, Marci Hilt, (202) 445-0458
EMMCA Lawsuit Compels DC Government Agency to Disclose Agreements When DC Leases or Sells Public Properties to Developers
Washington, DC, March 28, 2017 – The Eastern Market Metro Community Association (EMMCA) said today that a lawsuit the community group filed against the District of Columbia’s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) has successfully compelled the agency to publicly disclose the contracts it executes with private developers for the lease or sale of taxpayer-owned public properties.
EMMCA filed the lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court in September 2014, pursuant to the District of Columbia Freedom of Information Act (D.C. FOIA), said Oliver Hall, attorney for the association. DMPED initially opposed the lawsuit, but eventually reversed its position and agreed to disclose the contracts on its website, as required by the D.C. FOIA. Once the agency came into compliance, EMMCA dismissed its claims pursuant to a settlement agreement executed earlier this month.
“EMMCA has done a great service for all District residents,” said Oliver Hall, Esquire. “DMPED has been willfully flouting its disclosure obligations under the FOIA for the past 15 years, leaving District residents in the dark about the terms by which it leases or sells valuable public properties like schools, libraries, police and fire stations to private developers at rates far below their fair market value.”
The D.C. FOIA requires that all District government agencies publicly disclose any contract dealing with the receipt or expenditure of public funds, by posting the contracts on the agency’s website. See D.C. Official Code §§ 2-536(a)(6), (b).
Although the requirement took effect in November 2001, DMPED apparently had never complied with it. When EMMCA filed suit in 2014, the agency had not posted any contracts on its website.
DMPED has now established a dedicated section of its website, available at http://dmped.dc.gov/node/1019962, which provides links to electronic files of the contracts it has executed with private developers since 2001. The contracts, known as Land Disposition Agreements (LDAs), contain the terms that specify the millions of dollars in tax breaks, subsidies and incentives that DMPED gives developers who take possession of formerly public properties around the District.
EMMCA’s lawsuit was captioned Eastern Market Metro Community Association v. District of Columbia, No. 2014 CA 005768 B (D.C. Super. Ct.) (filed Sept. 12, 2014). After reversing its position and agreeing to post LDAs on its website, DMPED enacted a new policy governing disclosure of such contracts in the future. The policy was promulgated as DMPED Office Order No. 2015-8, and requires that DMPED project managers ensure that LDAs for their projects are timely posted on the agency’s website.
“This is an historic victory for EMMCA and for the citizens of DC,” said Marci Hilt, a member of EMMCA’s steering committee. “People in the Eastern Market neighborhood know all too well that when DMPED is allowed to negotiate these deals without disclosing the terms to the public, taxpayers often lose. We saw that in the Hine Junior High School deal, where taxpayers will pay millions for benefits and amenities the developer took credit for providing. This includes $50,000 to improve the Eastern Market Metro Plaza and $75,000 to finance building a playground.”
Steering committee members Carl Reeverts and Gerald Sroufe also represented EMMCA in the lawsuit.
Hall said that EMMCA had agreed to dismiss its claims against DMPED based on the agency’s current compliance with the D.C. FOIA. However, he noted, no settlement can ensure that DMPED will continue to post LDAs on its website in the future.
“The public needs to be vigilant,” Hall said, “to ensure that all District agencies, not just DMPED, disclose the information required by law.”
In the event that DMPED fails to post these documents in the future, EMMCA, or any other organization or person, can file suit to bring the agency back into compliance.
EMMCA is an unincorporated non-profit organization founded in 2008 to promote the civic interests and enhance the quality of life for DC residents who live in the area near the Eastern Market Metro. This includes preserving the historic, architectural and aesthetic value of property and objects within the Eastern Market neighborhood, as well as presenting the views of EMMCA’s membership to government, public, private and other organizations. EMMCA works to educate the public about land use, historic preservation and other community issues, and advocates on behalf of its members’ interests regarding the use and development of public property in DC.
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Note: The Final DMPED Final LDA Policy is a pdf file.