Records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request reveal that Commissioner Dianne Barnes, then Chair of DC Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 5E, asked the District Government to give $8 million more to Vision McMillan Partners (VMP), a consortium seeking to commercially develop historic landmark McMillan Park, for construction of an apartment building intended for senior citizens. Commissioner Barnes made the request on behalf of ANC 5E although there is no record that the full ANC voted to make or approve such a request. ANC Chairs have no power to pretend to speak on behalf of a full ANC without specific authority to do so approved by a majority vote of a given Commission.
The District Government, at least as far as is known to the public, has yet to provide the additional funds requested. VMP has set aside some of the housing included in its development proposal specifically for senior citizens.
On September 26, 2013, Commissioner Barnes sent an email to Marchim Williams, Ward 5 Liaison in the DC Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs, requesting that the District Government give an additional $8 million to VMP to cover overlooked costs of including a seniors-only apartment building in VMP’s plan for mixed-use development at McMillan Park. Barnes told Williams, “Regarding the request for the Senior Building, Ms. Corbett, the Project Director, informed me that they made the Senior Building fit physically, but it does not yet fit financially. VMP will need additional subsidy of about $8M to make the 80-90 unit senior building affordable to households at 50-60% of Area Median Income.”
Commissioner Barnes did not indicate why VMP did not request the additional money directly.
Commissioner Barnes also sent the email to the offices of DC Councilmembers Kenyan McDuffie, Anita Bonds, Muriel Bowser, David Grosso, and Vincent Orange.
The only apparent response that Commissioner Barnes received to her request for additional funds was from Councilmember Anita Bonds who expressed her support for VMP’s project centered around a one-million square-foot medical office tower. Councilmember Bonds asked Commissioner Barnes what she could do to help make the project a reality. On the same day, Councilmember Bonds emailed Commissioner Barnes and said, “Can we talk about how I can help make this development a reality. Many months ago I understood that the community had settle on many of the items you mentioned herein as components of the McMillan project. Has there been a change? Let me know when you are available to talk about the project.” Although Councilmember Bonds and Commissioner Barnes agreed to meet to discuss senior housing, the content of their subsequent discussion was not revealed in this correspondence.
It remains unclear who authored the email request for an additional $8 million sent by Commissioner Barnes. The font, grammar, tone, and vocabulary included in the email differ substantially from that of other Barnes letters reviewed as part of this FOIA request. Records obtained through the FOIA process reveal that Commissioner Barnes maintains extraordinarily close relationships with VMP employees and with key District Government officials pushing to develop McMillan Park. For example, the records reveal that the ANC 5E resolution of support for the McMillan project was written for Commissioner Barnes by VMP’s public relations contractor, Tania Jackson. It is possible that the Barnes request for the additional $8 million was also ghost-written by VMP or by an associated organization.
The District Government fought the disclosure of Commissioner Barnes’ emails and other public records related to the McMillan Park project for over one-and-a-half years. Judge Nash of DC Superior Court ordered the District Government to turn over the last records in July 2015. Kirby Vining was represented by Don Padou in the FOIA suit to obtain the hidden records.
The article above is based on documents 005761, 009506, and 009510 available in the “Barnes FOIA Documents” folder at the following location: