City Desk

Nickles Swims While Council Burns

The D.C. Council had a very important hearing Friday afternoon to discuss the District's $550,000 settlement with Banneker Ventures—and, specifically, to berate Attorney General Peter Nickles for agreeing to the deal without so much as a glance in the council's direction. The only problem? Nickles wasn't there; he was away on a previously scheduled vacation in Maine.

Still, the councilmembers had a cathartic couple of hours, in which they expressed how “deeply disappointed” and “extremely concerned” they were about the settlement payout to a company that’s owned by a frat brother and friend of Mayor Adrian Fenty and is currently under council investigation. “I’m not appalled at anything Peter Nickles does anymore, he’s so outrageous in his conduct,” said Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry. (Which reminded Loose Lips of a certain word... What is it? Ah, yes: irony!)

But while the council ranted, the 71-year-old Nickles was enjoying a dip in the Atlantic.

Reached by LL on his cell, Nickles said the water was “a little cold, it’s about 60 degrees.”

For his part, Nickles faulted the council for trying to score political points when they knew he was on vacation, by bashing a settlement that he says is totally legit and a great deal for the citizens of the District of Columbia. LL isn't sure yet about the total legit-ness of the settlement, or whether it's a great deal for D.C. citizens, but Nickles does seem to be onto something with his critique of the timing—leave it to the D.C. Council to schedule a hearing designed to provide political theater and a venue for outrage when everyone involved knows the subject of the outrage won't be there!

Then again, Nickles could have tried to play along, and sent one of the "experts" he said helped him negotiate the settlement. But he said he wasn’t going to subject any of his staff to the council’s “ridiculous harassment” in his absence.

“If they want to hear from the horse’s mouth, they can wait until Monday,” he said.

And as to Barry’s criticism, Nickles said: “He doesn’t know anything, he’s a has-been.”

Ouch.

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  • tired

    How is he able to get away with this? If this was anybody else their ass would be fired.

  • Truth Hurts

    Fair commentary, Alan. Pretty soon, I hope you'll also be covering Gray's frat bro cronies, not just linking to their reports.

  • tired

    Truth Hurts what is your problem with Gray. Fenty has done more damage to this city and its people so spare me the Gray frat brother analogy. This article is about Nichols remember your comment to me about Fenty's ticket stick to the topic at hand. But also read what I told you.

  • tired

    wrong Nichols my bad Nickles

  • Truth Hurts

    I believe you said you pay taxes and that your head's up Gray's ass.

  • downtown rez

    "Tired": the AG doesn't work for the Council, much less a malcontent faction of it.
    The council can't fire him. If you want to fire someone, fire those councilmembers who waste your tax dollars on shameless political grandstanding.

  • Trulee Pist

    The AG works for the people of DC--or did before this one came along.

  • LOL

    Well it isn't like the council saw the settlement coming. It is gonna be fun to see how this plays out.

    I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.

  • larry

    Um, Peter Nickles, you better start listening and learning from the "has beens" because you're gonna be joining them (and searching for a new job) on September 13th. Christmas in September!

  • Jason Cherkis

    Whatever one thinks about the settlement, Nickles is not doing Fenty any favors with his comments. Pre-Nickles, did the city ever have such a contentious AG/Corp Counsel? No. Something is amiss here and Deborah Nichols said as much at yesterday's hearing on the living wage bill:

    “This administration doesn’t even consider itself subject to philosophical standards, practices, that you would expect them to have, that you see in national government, local, state governments throughout the country,” Nichols said. “It’s just not the same mentality.”

    I'd take Cheh, Mendelson, and their diligence over Nickles' beach-front bitchiness any day.

  • Jason Cherkis

    By my count, this is the third no show by the Fenty Admin in like a month: The city forbade the police to testify at the DYRS hearing (anyone think that was cool?), Fenty staff failed to show at the hearing on the living wage issue yesterday, and today, Nickles and the rest of the OAG blow off the hearing on Banneker.

  • ahab

    I hope a giant sea squid eats him.

  • larry

    Still, the Fenty campaign issues statements that our extreme displeasure with the mayor is because of an image problem. It is based on actions and blowing off the city council is just the tip of the iceburg.

  • DCDem

    I actually believe that it HELPS Gray when Fenty supporters come out to defend the repulsive behavior of the city's Attorney General.

    It is an undeniable fact that no Attorney General or Corporation Counsel has ever entered into the political fray in support of a political candidate. The AG's client is the people of the city NOT the Mayor. Not to mention, this is a clear violation of the federal Hatch Act.

    Nickles predecessor, Robert Spagnoletti, demonstrated the integrity and professionalism that this position requires. He understood who his client was and, more importantly, who it wasn't. His opinions and the cause of actions that he pursued where clearly on behalf of the citizens and not derived to support the Mayor and provide cover for the legal malfeasance of the Mayor, his friends and cronies. Even Anthony Williams' general counsel, Lynn Becker, carried himself with a professional legal acumen that was beyond reproach. Nickles, as an attorney, prefers to dance on the edges of the law, testing the resilience of the law vs. strengthening and enforcing it.

    That Peter Nickles settled a case for over half a million dollars, when the company he settled with is the subject of a pro-bono investigation into the legality of the contract and service delivery to the city, during a council recess (2nd time), speaks to his allegiance. It could not be to the people of the District. What he has attempted to do, is remove any liability that this company may have to face in the event the investigation reveals illegality. You would think the AG would be MOST interested in the findings of the investigation with such financial stakes. This was a RUSH to settlement. Put on the fast track, and why?

    Never before has the city been called to question whether the Attorney General should be elected prior to Nickles. He has aligned himself so closely to the Mayor that any and all lines of independence have been dissipated. We now see that to have an AG that represents the people in ANY administration, particularly this one, the AG must be elected BY the people; not appointed.

    Peter Nickles IS Adrian Fenty's Achilles Heel. Those who can't see that don't WANT to see it. But reality is reality.

  • DBrighthaupt

    @Cherkis- It's a matter of your opinion if Nickles' comments actually hurt Fenty, today, of course, I don't believe they do. Track his history of it: 97% percent of the time, Nickles ain't lied one bit.

    And Marion, (knowing full well he doesn't read CP) you mean to tell the public that you recognize 'dispicable behavior when you see it?' What is strong- arming Lil' Kwame for not one, but two Chairmanships?!

    Nickles, since the public doesn't want to listen to someone who knows, call me, I've got more How it hits the voting masses, does not matter at this point.

  • DBrighthaupt

    LOL- If only you knew what Marion does during the times taxpayers expect him at work. Let's just say he's trying to swim too.

    Kwame, u can win without Marion's endorsement. Keep a respectable professional distance man.

    Gray, I really don't care what you do. because, for what its worth, I'll do all I can to assure you do it from home next term.

  • downtown rez

    Cherkis/DCdem-
    The obvious political campaign yeartactic here is to silence Nickles and thereby strengthen Gray's bid for Mayor.
    Personally, I'd rather council members not use the council chambers to engage in campaign-year grandstanding on my tax dollar's time.
    And which council members participated in this latest bit of theater? Let me guess, Barry, Thomas, M. Brown, K. Brown, Mendo, Cheh. Right? And aside from pure theatrics what have any of them accomplished? What have any of them done to ensure that the parks at the heart of this controversy actually get built on time and on budget? Nothing. And on the flip side, have any of them actually leveled any legal charges to back up their rhetoric against any of the people who did build these parks? Um, no, they haven't.
    So, on one hand they sit on the sidelines and benefit from these projects in their wards (which are all wildly popular, by the way) and on the other hand they take political potshots from the sidelines and try to score points over how these projects get done and by who.
    But the big picture is, either way you look at it, they have stayed on the sidelines, and haven't actually accomplished anything beyond bluster.

  • Sally

    @Cherkis: How long have you lived here? Do you remember the good ol' days when Barry was Mayor and Fred Cooke was Corp Counsel? Those weren't exactly lovey-dovey days in Mayor-Council relations. And Fred was hardly Mr. Nice Guy.

    Of course, if your institutional knowledge of DC doesn't go beyond the Control Board, it's easy to understand how you can write some gibberish.

  • John

    Jason, again. Are you taking a vacation first before becoming the Gray's press liaison, or just going straight to work?

  • Truth Hurts

    Any truth to the rumor that Fenty and Nickles issued a press release demanding that Gray, Thomas, Barry and Brown resign? Something about enormously expensive shady earmarks, sweetheart contracts, cronyism, ethics breaches, felon frat bro donors, tax evasion, political grandstanding, etc?

  • Jason Cherkis

    John, it's not like I'm praising Gray here. If he was mayor, I'd be just as critical. And there's lots to go after Gray for....but Fenty is the mayor and we can assess him critically and should.

  • John

    Jason: Vince is also running for Mayor. Saying one he gets elected elected Mayor...hoorah, yaaay, the guy I like won!!!!

    Ooops. Sorry.

    I mean your obvious impartial and objective "If he gets elected Mayor". My bad.

    So if he gets elected Mayor I'll be just as tough isn't objective, it's punting objective and fair minded coverage until after it doesn't matter. That's just crap to be quite honest.

    Moreover, you gloss over the reality that is an election between two governing styles and principal objectives. If you feel one of the duties of an elected official is to "feel your pain", and cry with you...Vince is your guy. If you feel that elected officials are just supposed to get things done efficiently, you likely lean Adrian.

    If your primary goal is pure social programs as #1, the rest be hung as a "luxury". If you think that fixing things in a slower manner, so everyone can have warm fuzzies even if in doing so you drag out change and leave non-productive people on the payroll...Vince is your guy.

    If you think "just fix the damn problem quickly and efficiently, let the lifer gadflies lump it"...if you feel that you have to balance expenses in social programs with evil dog parks, steetcars, and bike lanes to get buy in from the folks paying the bills and try and attract more, upping tax revenue, you probably lean Adrian.

    From what I've seen you lean to the former, and your chosen new beat covering social programs kind of reinforces that.

  • Truth Hurts?

    I don't understand the argument that the Council is undertaking political grandstanding. It was the AG, not the Council, that entered into a settlement with a vendor a week before the Council goes on recess and then went on vacation. The Council scheduled a hearing immediately to bring attention to how taxpayer dollars are being spent; it is AG Nickles that decided to be unavailable at the same time. After Wednesday, the Council is on recess (as they are every year), and so cannot hold hearings.

    Nickles gets for being unavailable for entering into a
    settlement agreement with a vendor when the Council is investigating the matter, while legislation is pending before the Council to prevent such payment, while all the facts are still not known... as was brought up during the hearing the typically settlement time for a contract dispute is 18 months. This matter, which is politically embarassing for the Mayor, was resolved in 3 months...

  • downtown rez

    It was the AG, not the Council, that entered into a settlement with a vendor a week before the Council goes on recess and then went on vacation.
    I'm sorry, where is that report by the council's high priced attorney? You know, the one they hired on the tax payer's dime to look into all of this? It was due, what, 2 weeks ago?
    Oh, who cares where it is. My crystal ball says it will be all smoke, no gun.

  • Anonymous, Too

    I'm sorry, where is that report by the council's high priced attorney? You know, the one they hired on the tax payer's dime to look into all of this? It was due, what, 2 weeks ago?

    Saturday, March 6, 2010 -- Washington Post
    "The appointment of Trout, who will work pro bono, comes days after the council censured Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) following an independent investigation by Washington lawyer Robert S. Bennett."

  • Truth Hurts

    @ "Truth Hurts?": It's unclear to whom you were directing comment 22. I suspect it was Alan Suderman, who penned this blog, or Drez (his comment 17). However, if you intended to direct it to me, I suggest it would been clearer if you posted the comment using your screen name, and began the text with @TH, hey truth hurts of something of that nature.

    Also, I'd appreciate you not posting generally under "Truth Hurts?". People might think your comments come from me. There's plenty of other monikers. Perhaps you already use one or more of them.

    Finally, I think Nickles was quoted as saying he could have been available (and presumably still is) on Monday (ie, tomorrow). Also that the council knew he was away on vacation when it set Friday's hearing. I doubt scheduling it one business day later would've irrevocably prejudiced council members from adequately questioning Nickles. So, in my view, yes, Friday's non-hearing looks like political grandstanding.

  • downtown rez

    @TH
    Wasn't me.
    Drez

  • downtown rez

    @TH- I misread you. You are right. I'm pretty sure it was directed at my 17.

  • LOL

    If the name of the poster is accurate, I think that it is completely inappropriate for Jason Cherkis to comment. He is a reporter. If he is so interested in having questions answered, do the work of researching and writing a news story about it.

    If it is not to clarify a READER'S comment on a story they have written, he should be silent.

  • LOL

    @ the real Truth Hurts, I am not so sure that Friday's hearing was a complete waste, though it involved a lot of posturing.

    They commented on the complete lack of cooperation from the AG's office. More importantly, they asked the CFO's office a lot of questions about how to stop any city agency from processing the payment.

    The most interesting part of the hearing was the scope of the AG's settlement authority. Allegedly, Nickles only has the authority to settle up to $500,000. This settlement was over that amount. It was also interesting that the source of funds for settlement have normally been reserved for Tort claims, not contract disputes.

    I think that while Friday had a great deal of showmanship, I really don't believe the AG has any intention of EVER going before council.

  • John

    Other than a badly typoed first paragraph, why is my comment locked in moderator hell for days?

  • Truth Hurts

    @LOL: Interesting info. The blog didn't mention these items; it mainly discussed scheduling issues and Nickles' whereabouts. Nickles was quoted as saying he'd be available tomorrow (Monday). Wonder if the council has requested that he appear then.

    Re settlement authority, many years ago the AG (then corp counsel) had independent authority to settle up to 100k -- anything higher had to be approved by the mayor (who always - to my knowledge - followed the AG's advice). Later, the AG's independent authority was dramatically increased (possibly to only 500k as you suggest). I do know that the AG has settled cases in the 750k range in recent years (with no "subject to the mayor's approval" language in the settlement agreement). Frankly, this is a question that ought to be easy to answer definitively. On Friday, who claimed the AG's limit was 500k? And did he/she cite some rule/regulation/etc?

  • LOL

    The staff from the CFO [there was no one there from the AG's office]. Their deputy general counsel use to work in the DC AG's office [not 100% sure about that claim].

    I have noticed that when the news talks about stuff now, I better watch it myself. They tend to go for the low-hanging fruit when now. I thought reporters were supposed to tell you what happened. I guess they missed the real fight. [Nickles is being Nickles doesn't seem as juicy as "Council Take Steps to Stop Fenty Friend's Payment"]

    I don't remember who brought the authority up. I think it might have been Mendo because he was referring to a a court case about city contracts as well. Though it could have been Cheh. She likes rules.

    The council did ask the CFO's office to instruct all of the Agency Fiscal Officer under their control not process the payment. Ghandi wasn't there, so the council members said that would send the request in writing as well.

  • Truth Hurts

    Does the council have authority to tell the CFO not to process an executive settlement payment? That's hard to believe. Besides, pretty sure the city's settlements are paid out of the AG office's "settlement/judgment" fund. Interesting legal issue. Did the CFO's general counsel contend that the CFO (or the council) has authority to "stop payment" on an executive branch's settlement of a legal claim?

  • LOL

    I don't know the answers to those questions. I agree it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  • downtown rez

    What a shocker. Of course some partisan members of council would pretend to arrogate authority to themselves.

  • Mike Madden

    Sorry, John, we didn't have anyone looking at the comment moderation over the weekend. I've approved it now. Not sure why the system initially flagged it as spam -- it clearly wasn't, so, again, sorry about that.

    Mike

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    I don't understand why every single time a negative issue about Fenty or his administration is brought to light, some of you come out in full force against Gray. We're not discussing him here. Please address the relevant issue. Oh right, you all cannot defend Nickles or Fenty, so instead, try to bash someone else. It's a good strategy, and unfortunately, a proven one. But come on, some of you actually seem intelligent. Do we really have to settle for this?

  • Coldbliss

    Man,I really hope the DC voters decide to remove the notorious Fenty-Rhee-Nickels Clique on September 14.

  • Truth Hurts

    @ ABM: About the only opportunity to comment about Gray comes after a negative Fenty and/or Fenty administration blog. If CP devoted equal time to its coverage, I'd be happy to limit Gray-bashing comments to Gray-bashing stories.

    Here's my (dumb) offer: Post one thing you dislike about Gray and I'll post one thing I dislike about Fenty. We could work up to 2,3,4 things. As a good faith gesture, I'll go first if you want. I believe you're an honorable guy. Lemme know. Or not.

  • DCDem

    @Coldbliss, it's gonna happen.

    Did you hear, Fenty supporters are now comparing the man to Jesus.

    http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2010/07/13/fenty-ally-compares-embattled-d-c-mayor-to-jesus/?fbid=nrkUYQFTzzs

    It never stops.

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    TH- I don't like the fact that Gray is too silent and relatively inactive. I know Fenty's numerous screw-ups are giving him a lot to work with, but I would love for the guy to just be out and about, talking to people. He knows a lot, cares a lot, and will do a lot for DC. He just needs to be more active. This is as bad it gets for me with Gray. I'm sure he's got skeleton in his closet, but to be a politician in this City, it's almost a requirement.

    Your turn.

  • DCDem

    Fenty stole money from the estate of a family that he was assigned to represent as trustee. Only to return it when caught by the family and reported to the D.C. Bar Association where he was sanctioned for professional misconduct. His attorney(s) before the bar? Peter Nickles, today's District Attorney General and Chip Richardson, today's most previous Mayor's General Counsel now Director of the D.C. Office of Risk Management. The same man associated with the illegal attempt to sell District surplus equipment to a foreign nation.

    Nonetheless, Ron Moten seems to believe Fenty is to be compared to Jesus. Well, he can be baptized in the name of Fenty if he pleases, but he shouldn't be surprised if thereafter he will be in need of an exorcism.

  • Truth Hurts

    ABM - If that's how you play the game, it would've been better if you'd just said: "No thanks, TH". Nevertheless, I'll go first. I don't like the fact Fenty promised transparency, but has deferred to Nickles' big firm corporate defense strategy of limiting the public's access to agency actions. Eg, stonewalling/denying FOIA requests.

    If I were inclined to play like you, though, I might've said the following: I don't like the fact that Fenty hasn't challenged Gray on the sources of his campaign contributions, Eg, Bereano. Fenty ought to ask Gray why he continues to associate with, and solicit money from, a disbarred atty (both Md and DC) who was convicted of fraud for illegally funneling money to politicians who he lobbied.

    Maybe it's better we don't play more if you can't/won't try harder. Was a dumb idea anyway.

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    TH- It's all that I have that is critical of Gray. He's just not out there campaigning sadly.

    To respond to your point about why Fenty hasn't challenged Gray about campaign contributions- Fenty's might be worst.

    If you really value transparency, then there is no way you can support Fenty and his secretive nature.

    For all of your concerns about Gray, none of them add up to a fraction of what Fenty and Friends have done. It's just that plain simple to me.

  • Truth Hurts

    ABM -- we ought to have a couple drinks on election night. Gray wins, I pay. Reverse if Fenty wins. You'll probably get very drunk on my tab. Don't you wonder, as I do, who is behind some of these screen names? You're one of the few over the top Fenty hater's I could hang with. I understand, you hate Fenty as much as I hate Gray.

...