At least a dozen developers involved in projects that won subsidies have had employees who worked for a city entity or agency.
Critics said former government employees can give developers unfair access. "The reality is that there is a revolving door between developers and government," said Parisa Norouzi, executive director of Empower D.C., which advocates for low- and moderate-income city residents.
Former government workers said they're tapped by developers for their understanding of city government and their companies won the subsidies because they were the most qualified.
Having a government background doesn't always help, said Adrian Washington, who took a leave of absence from his company, the Neighborhood Development Co., to be the director of the Anacostia Waterfront Corporation, a D.C. government-owned corporation that managed public land deals.
He said he took the job at AWC because it was a new challenge and it was a way to give back to the community he grew up in, Anacostia. AWC was shuttered a couple of years later, and its duties were folded into the office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, which plays a key role in city subsidies.
After Washington went back to his company, three projects it was involved in received tax breaks but he said the company competed for several requests for proposals from DMPED and didn't win any. "Maybe it's the paltry level of political contributions we've made. So I guess my trip through the revolving door wasn't very helpful, although I did enjoy my brief stint in public service...and am glad that I was able to help my city in some small way," Washington wrote in an email, adding that he hasn't done any business in the AWC boundaries since leaving.
WAMU identified a dozen other former government employees or consultants that have worked for developers.
Elinor Bacon does consulting work for the DC Housing Authority and at least one private client that has partnered with the agency. Her firm has been on development teams receiving city subsidies. Bacon could not be reached for comment.
Buwa Binitie worked as a consultant for DMPED and after that worked at Dantes Partners, which he formed before the consulting job. Binitie declined to comment.
Robert Bobb oversaw D.C.'s government operations as city manager from 2003 to 2006 and went on to create the Robert Bobb Group. Bobb said the company does business across the country, the company is a "very small" part of an entity that won a subsidy and he and his partners "had zero knowledge" that the entity asked for a subsidy: He found out when reading about it in the local press.
Nkosi Bradley managed the transfer of public land with federal restrictions to private developers at DMPED and later joined B&D Consulting. Bradley could not be reached for comment.
H.R. Crawford, a former council member, created Crawford Edgewood Management. Crawford could not be reached for comment.
Charlene Drew Jarvis is a former council member who served two decades until 2000. She said she served as an unpaid advisor to the Jarvis Co. for a few months in 2011. That was after projects that the company is involved in won city subsidies. She said she's careful to avoid even perceived conflicts of interest. For instance, she resigned from the unpaid role "out of an abundance of caution" when she joined an advisory city committee on the redevelopment of the former St. Elizabeths Hospital – even though the Jarvis Co. wasn't vying for the project, nor planned to.
Neal Drobenare oversaw housing loans for the city's Housing Finance Agency before leaving for the private sector where he was part of a development team that was granted a tax exemption for an apartment complex in Northeast D.C. Drobenare could not be reached for comment.
Erik Johnson negotiated the sale of district-owned properties to developers, among other things at DMPED until 2007, when he joined WC Smith as a project manager until 2010. Johnson could not be reached for comment.
Alex Nyhan worked as a special assistant at DMPED. He joined Forest City in 2006, the year it was part of teams that scored $145 million in tax incentives. Nyhan said it's not so much the relationships that have helped him and his company but his understanding of public-private partnerships and when they're warranted and mutually beneficial, or not.
Konrad Schlater worked as a project coordinator at DMPED. He then was a vice president at WC Smith. Schlater, who now works for an affordable housing non-profit in Chicago, said he took a few months off after working for the District government before starting his job search and consulted with a city's ethics officer before he looked for work in private development. He said he didn't have anything to do with the subsidies WC Smith won: The company was working on the projects before he joined it. He added that his government experience probably helped his company’s development work but not in an unfair way: “It helps you navigate the process, which is government intensive.” He said he suspects he was also hired for “having a mind for planning, understanding the market and where the next [hot] neighborhood is."
Joe Sternlieb was a staff director of the council's Committee on Economic Development in the mid-1990's. Ten years after leaving the District government, he worked as vice president of acquisitions for Eastbanc for six years. He said by then, none of the city staffers working on development deals at DMPED had worked with him from his days in city government. Sternlieb, who spent most of his career working in the non-profit sector, said Eastbanc won the right to develop city land after a highly competitive process that scored candidates on issues such as their ability to finance projects and their experience building complex, mixed-use projects in the city.
Jamison Weinbaum was the director of the D.C. Office of Zoning from 2009 to 2011 and a government project manager at DMPED before that. Weinbaum confirmed that he's now a developer at the JBG Companies.
-- Julie Patel and Patrick Madden