ANC Round Up: The Great Jelleff Battle of 2010

Passions ran high last night at the February ANC meeting as the commission addressed the deal between the city and the Maret School concerning the Jelleff fields. Constituencies from across the board were represented by speakers throughout the entire two hours spent talking about it. Huge kudos go to Chairman Ron Lewis for managing the contentious and difficult discussion. While it was the most dramatic ANC meeting GM has ever attended, the tenor of the discussions was civil and (for the most part) orderly.

Here’s an audio recording of the Jelleff discussion:

The Case for the Deal

The discussion started off with a brief statement from acting Director of Parks and Recreation, Jesús Aguirre. Aguirre began describing how great it was that the city purchased the land from the Boys and Girls club. He then casually transitioned into a discussion of the deal with Maret. But cutting to the chase: Aguirre has only been acting Director for two months. He had little to do with this process and, frankly, added little to the proceedings last night other than to acknowledge that the process was not ideal.

The responsibility to defend the deal fell primarily to Maret School Head Marjo Talbott. Talbott rested her defense on three main points:

This deal is substantively good for the city and the residents

This argument asserts that with a brand new field, the city is gaining so much more than it is losing to Maret’s exclusive-use hours. In GM’s opinion, there is a decent amount of merit to this point. The fields will endure rain, sleet, and snow significantly better than they do now. This will enable groups or individuals to use the fields at times when it would currently be unusable.

Additionally, Talbott asserted that Maret will only use 10% of the daylight hours. This is a tad disingenuous. Nobody is clamoring for field space at sunrise. The real issue is that limited band of peak hours when all the other fields in the city are being used. Maret has a ten year fixed reservation on a huge chunk of those peak hours for Jelleff.

Also, Talbott acknowledged that astroturf fields are only good for 10 years or so, but argued that only the carpet needs to be replaced. The community will continue to own a workable foundation, which according to her is the bulk of the expense. She was unable to quantify what percentage of the $2.5 million they may spend would represent capital improvements that would last longer than 10 years, but her point is fair nonetheless.

In all honesty, GM is still not sure whether this is a good or a bad deal for the city. And that’s the point. A broken process could produce an optimal result, but we’ll never know for sure.

The process was public

Talbott also asserted that this was a public process. To analyze this, GM has to walk you through the true story of this deal as it was revealed last night: Several years ago when the Boys and Girls club was first considering selling Jelleff, it sent out an RFP to interested parties to come forward with a possible lease arrangement that would obviate the need to sell the land. Maret was among several entities that submitted a proposal. They were selected by the Boys and Girls club as the preferred party to enter a three-way agreement with the city and the club.

About this time the city, led by Councilmember Jack Evans, decided that instead it would like to buy the property itself. Legislation was approved to buy three Boys and Girls clubs for $20 million. Rather than issue an RFP for the field and/or the gym, DPR simply moved ahead with negotiations with Maret on similar terms that were in their original proposal to the Boys and Girls club.

In Talbott’s view, other parties knew about this negotiation and could have stepped forward if they had their own proposal.

In all honesty, if this is Maret’s idea of a public and open process, GM seriously questions their civics curriculum. The RFP issued by the Boys and Girls club is completely irrelevant. The city could not simply operate under a third-party’s RFP and consider that acceptable. The fact remains that this deal was the result of back-room discussions. While some parties had an inkling that Maret was in discussions with DPR, that in no ways eliminates the necessity to engage in an open and public contracting process.

Maret acted in good faith and will continue to be good citizens

Talbott also argued that Maret has acted in good faith and will continue to be good citizens willing to work with the community. While Talbott made the unfortunate argument that those objecting to the process are merely angry at the result, from everything GM has seen so far, he can say with some confidence that, for the most part, Maret has acted in good faith and appears genuinely committed to cooperating with parties like Stoddert going forward. So, point to Maret.

The Case Against the Deal

Several groups spoke out either concerned about the deal or simply against it. First up was Stoddert Soccer. Nick Keenan essentially argued that so long as there are lights on the field, this is a good deal for Stoddert. But if lights are not built, this is probably a bad deal for Stoddert. In GM’s opinion, lights are a remote and distant dream. After years of fighting, they may finally get some sort of lights built but they will not be adequate for serious night-time play.

Marshall Bykofsky spoke forcefully against the deal on behalf of the Friends of Jelleff. He argued two veins, both that the process was bad and that the deal was bad. He argued that they did not know before it was too late to participate in any discussion. Their group is also concerned about the future of the gym, which is not subject to the agreement. They would like to see a new addition to the building but no additions will be able to be built since Maret won’t grant access to allow construction vehicle across the field during their hours. Talbott generously promised that in ten years they’ll be fully able to build then.

Finally, Peter Harding of the British School spoke. The British School now is the main user of Jelleff. They use the gym and fields during the school day and use the field after-school. Under the current plan they will be bumped from the after-school part of that schedule. Harding made it clear that the British School had deep pockets and would have submitted a bid if given a chance, which he claimed they were not. They are Exhibit A for the proposition that by following a back-door process, we’ll never know whether the city could have gotten a better deal from someone else.

The Public

It’s safe to say that the vast majority of the crowd was against the deal and wanted it scotched. (Two parents spoke in favor for the deal, but whispers around GM indicated that they both had or have children at Maret.)

GM himself weighed in. Although he wants to be clear, when he said deals like this are the very currency of corruption, he wasn’t saying that the parties involved in this deal are corrupt but rather that allowing deals like this to go forward allows corruption to fester. Insisting on a public and open process, no matter the parties involved, cuts off the corrupt from their source of “currency.” It is a basic, basic tenant of good government.

The Debate

GM’s ANC rep Charlie Eason (in whose district Jelleff lies) kicked off the debate proposing a motion objecting to the process and asking forcefully that DPR and Maret void the agreement and start over again with a public RFP process. Commissioner Lewis offered an alternative that would essentially give up the fight to void the contract and instead strongly encouraged Maret and DPR to operate in a public and cooperative process going forward. After some reasoned and respectful back and forth, Charlie’s motion won the day. It was passed seven to zero.

What does that mean? GM doesn’t know. Aguirre asserted at the beginning of the meeting that the contracts were not voidable by DPR and Talbott indicated that Maret had no intention to void the contract. But there is still a chance that the Council could review this contract and void it. Eason offered, for example, that DPR’s authority to even enter into this contract may not have existed.

But on another level, insisting on redoing this contract is simply the right thing to do. If we shrug off back-room deals like this, then we simply don’t deserve good government. But GM doesn’t believe that’s true. We deserve better. While the effort to void the contract and start over with a public process may be futile, last night the ANC made a stand for good government.

The Rest of the Meeting

Jelleff wasn’t the only topic on the agenda last night, but GM is way too tired to write anything but bullets at this point:

  • Like P St. in the East Village, 34th St. in the West Village will be losing its traffic lights.
  • ABRA is considering issuing two new liquor licenses for Georgetown to address the 15 or so licenses that are held but aren’t being used.
  • Farmers and Fishers sells a sandwich consisting of two grilled cheeses wrapped around a hamburger. GM’s cholesterol just jumped 30 points simply from writing that sentence.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “ANC Round Up: The Great Jelleff Battle of 2010

  1. Leslie Morgan Steiner

    I was at the ANC meeting to discuss Maret and Jelleff last night. You are not correct that most of the crowd was against the partnership to reinvest in Jelleff. Yes — the people who felt negatively were louder in their opinions, as they often are in contentious public forums. But I, and many of the people in the room last night, sat quietly and politely, wholeheartedly in favor of redeveloping our treasured Jelleff facility exactly as Maret and DPR have agreed. All kids who use Jelleff — Maret kids, Hyde kids, British school kids, Hardy kids, neighborhood children, Stoddert soccer players, and rec center members who swim in the pool, shoot hoops, and play baseball at Jelleff will benefit from the tremendous investment in Jelleff’s field, pool and infrastructure.

    As a DC native who grew up playing on Jelleff’s field and in its gym, a Stoddert soccer coach, mom of three kids, Georgetown resident and Maret alum and parent, I think it was clear last night that unfortunately some opponents to the Jelleff renovation have lost sight of the beneficiaries of the Maret-DPR partnership:

    THE KIDS OF DC!

    This investment will not cost the city of DC, Georgetown residents, or Jelleff a nickel. While Jelleff’s gym is in pretty good shape, the field and pool are deplorable. Jelleff is getting up to $2.5 million in a state-of-the-art soccer field that will be the best all-weather field in all DC for the next decade or more. The pool, long neglected, will be completely redone — in time for our kids to use this summer! Not just Maret kids — most of whom are also DC residents, by the way — but ALL KIDS who come to Jelleff for recreation.

    There was a lot of talk last night about “the message the ANC is sending” to Mayor Fenty about transparency in politics. That’s well and good. But only a few people talked about the message we send our children by so vociferously opposing a workable public-private partnership to improve this facility. Improving our kids’ beloved rec center matters far more than scolding our mayor — without whom, I think it should be noted, Jelleff may easily have fallen into the hands of a commercial developer. Then we wouldn’t be having this discussion at all! It’s time for all the people who love Jelleff to come together for the sake of our children, and support a public-private partnership designed in good faith to benefit all children who come together at Jelleff.

  2. My dad always used to tell me, “Son, don’t pass up a good thing.” If someone wants to put down a state-of-the-art soccer field, for soccer kids, I say go for it. Most of the Maret children are DC children, so that is who will benefit, along with all the other DC children who will play on the field. And if the city will fix the pool, and the basketball league of Jelleff Boys & Girls Club can continue, I think it is a good thing for the children. And I’m a baseball coach, who usually doesn’t care about soccer at all.

  3. GM

    Leslie, with all due respect, the message that this agreement is sending to our kids is that good government is a waste of time and as long as you can describe a deal as providing some benefits, the manner in which it was reached and the opportunities that were lost simply don’t matter. That was pretty much the motto of the Barry administration.

    Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that a DC-native is inured to habits of bad government, but I would hope that it would be one tradition that we don’t pass on to our children.

  4. EastGeorgetowner

    Since I don’t have kids, and don’ t use the park, I can’t be criticized as either for or against this deal on that basis! But I will add to the debate that I fail to see why having the DC goverment purchase and own the land, as opposed to private parties, is at all a good thing; the land would almost certainly have been better managed by private parties than the DC goverment will manage it, and this episide over the RFP is perhaps just the first of many examples on that score.

    Moreover, I thought DC was in a budget crisis, requiring higher taxes on citizens — and yet Jack Evans could find $20M (of my taxpayer dollars) to buy the land? So, I am not sure why having DC step in was such a great idea in the first place, regardless of who eventually partnered with the government.

  5. Leslie Morgan Steiner

    Hey, no disrespect taken!

    But I’m pretty sure that kids care far more about having a wonderful, safe place to meet friends and play than some vague criticism of government. Unfortunately no one on the ANC seemed to be thinking too hard about kids’ perspectives.

    And by the way, DC was a great place to grow up, despite Marion Barry (who I must admit, taught me quite a few hard lessons about government and elected officials that I will never, ever forget)!

    Yes, DC inured me to some aspects of government. But DC also exposed me, as a kid, to many wonderful ways of changing the world — through the many committed writers, teachers, coaches, politicians and ordinary public servants who filled my days…Plus we had wonderful playgrounds such as Jelleff, the blacktop at Horace Mann, Battery Kemble Park and Maret’s old rock-and-stick soccer field.

    I think DC remains a fantastic place to be a kid. I was lucky to grow up here and consider my kids lucky to be growing up here. I hope that Jelleff and other such idylls stay a part of DC childhoods for many years to come.

  6. Dens James

    Leslie,

    Such a sense of entitlement for Maret and DPR to redevelop the Jelleff field and pool with no open bidding process that may well have yielded a better overall deal for Jelleff and its users. And no involvement of those of us who’ve been looking out for this facility for so many years, despite benign neglect from Jelleff’s former parent organization, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.

    And let’s not forget that this now-public facility will need to serve folks the way most DC rec centers do – sometimes on a casual basis, other times programmatic, but you can bet there will be public demand. Where will those hours come from if Maret takes so much of the most sought-after times?

    And it’s time someone set the record straight about how Jelleff, Clubhouse #10 in Ward One and the Eastern Branch on Capitol Hill in Ward 6 became DC property. CM Evans, working with the administration, got a line item of $10 mil put into the Mayor’s 2009 budget proposal. Sounds good, right? Well, as a stand-alone item it was going nowhere. There just wouldn’t be the votes on the Council to buy a club in the well-to-do part of town with no balancing purchase in other, less well-to-do parts of town. CM Harry Thomas’ Committee on Libraries, Parks & Recreation disapproved that line item and re-programmed the dollars back into rec center capital projects in other parts of town.

    Members of the Friends of Jelleff allied with other community members from neighborhoods around the other clubs, including Clubhouse #11 in Ward 8, which was also on the block for sale. Activists from all 4 neighborhoods helped lobby the Council to purchase all 4 clubs for $20 mil. We got Chairman Gray’s attention. He worked with his colleagues to form a majority on the Council who would, after negotitations with BGCGW, vote to purchase the 3 clubs for $20 mil. Clubhouse #11 was sold by BGCGW during this time and thus was left out of the deal. Our goal was to save recreation facilities for children all over the city. I believe the vote on the authorizing legislation was unanimous and for that I thank the Council. And Ward One Councilmember Jim Graham was very helpful in bringing the various activists together and engaging BGCGW.

  7. GM

    Leslie,
    You are presenting a false choice. The decision is not whether we should have facilities for children, it is whether we should provide those facilities with the optimal circumstances or not. The only way to know whether it is optimal is to get a second and a third opinion through an open process. This is a very simple concept, but as a Maret board member it is obviously too inconvenient for you to admit.

  8. Leslie Morgan Steiner

    I understand and agree that as a Maret board member, alum, and parent of three kids at the school, naturally I am biased in favor of a place I have had deep connections to for over 30 years.

    However, I’m also a Georgetown resident, a native of DC who grew up using Jelleff on a weekly basis, and an alum/parent of DC public schools (all four sibs in my family went to Horace Mann and my kids went to Hyde Elementary and Fillmore).

    So I have more than one bias, which I hope gives perspective that balances my Maret leanings. I am strongly in support of Maret reinvesting in Jelleff for the good of all kids who use the facility.

  9. East Georgetowner

    As DenJames notes, due to government ownership, the park will now have to operate on a public basis — which means the neighbors can look forward to the kind of loud events that are currently held at the rec center on 25th street, complete with 6 foot tall speakers and booming bass music that can be heard all the way into Georgetown. Maybe the plan supporters who live nearby will not be so happy about the plan when that happens.

    And, while I appreciate the clarification that it was $20M for 3 parks and still doubt that a DC-managed property will be well run, I nevertheless respectfully submit that the argument for spending that money for children in underprivileged parts of the city is far stronger than for having spent that money in Georgetown so that affluent private school children could largely use it. It smacks of entitlement, and invoking the “it is for kids” argument does not solve the problems here.

  10. esmith

    I can only say that after paying close attention to the ANC meeting, and back and forth prior and since, DPR, Evans and Maret come out looking bad. Prior to all of this I was worried what to do if our middle school aged child (since pre-k a DCPS student) was offered a coveted spot at Maret vs. a couple of other private schools for next fall, what a struggle it would be to decide! Not any more. The sense of entitlement of the parent of 3 Maret kids alongside the school director’s “let them eat cake” attitude are a real turn-off. Behind the scenes/no bid is unacceptable and needs to be thrown out, for the sake of ALL of the kids!!

  11. Pingback: New Jelleff Field Complete «

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