Jack Evans has portable friends
By Jeffrey Anderson
When Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans pitched his ability to leverage contacts and relationships to a law firm he was looking to join, the first business leader he named was Rusty Lindner, CEO of The Forge Co., a private real estate and transportation company whose principal subsidiary is Colonial Parking Inc.
Evans, chair of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, was not over-selling it. The prospect of bringing Lindner as a client with various interests to Nelson Mullins, a law firm Evans approached with a “good faith business development strategy,” was real.
For years, Evans’s Council office had served Lindner as one-stop shopping for networking and problem-solving, according to emails obtained by District Dig through a Freedom of Information Act request.
During that same period of time, Lindner’s company was a client of Evans’s former law firm, Squire Patton Boggs, while Lindner himself was enjoying access to Evans’s Council staff.
The timeline of roles and relationships is disjointed. There’s no linear explanation, if one is constrained to publicly available documents and information.
One minute Lindner is tapping Evans the lobbyist (on his personal email) for an update on the “re-creation of a D.C. empowerment zone that would benefit Colonial Parking.”
The next, a university foundation where Lindner serves a trustee is engaging Evans the Council member at his office in a property tax matter that would drag on for more than a year, and result in a change in the law that appeared specifically tailored to that university at the time.
With one or two exceptions, almost all of the emails are on Evans’s official Council account. They show Lindner routinely inviting Evans (or his staff) to parties, dinners, private club events and baseball games.
Evans in turn solicits from Lindner a campaign contribution here, a charitable donation there.
But their relationship’s real value is forged in the space where private interests meet political influence and public resources. Evans’s Council staff and Lindner’s associates might communicate multiple times a day, for days and weeks at a time.
A convivial spirit pervades. A casual closeness dovetails neatly with the business at hand.
While lobbyists and politicians inside the D.C. bubble see such arrangements as commonplace, a plain look at a Council member’s office being called upon by a business leader on a regular basis can be jarring.
Particularly now that Evans has sought to cash in on that relationship in the private sector.
Evans’s use of Lindner and others in his effort to secure employment is detailed in a business plan he presented to multiple law firms in 2018, as his employment at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips was ending, according to emails obtained by The Dig. (The business plan was first reported last week by The Washington Post.)
Evans had “quietly” departed from Manatt in late 2017, the National Law Journal reported, as the firm’s attorneys were pushing the D.C. Council for a tax break on a commercial property in Ward 2.
“I plan to originate government relations and legal business for Nelson Mullins in three ways,” Evans wrote in his Draft Business Strategy Development Plan in January 2018, a month after the firm had lobbied him on behalf of a client:
“[By] contacting my network of business relationships developed as an elected official, as the Chairman of WMATA, and through my professional and personal affiliations and relationships;
“[P]artnering with other professional services firms whose clients could benefit from my insight and relationships;
“[A]nd cross-marketing my relationships and influence to Nelson Mullins clients.”
Lindner tops the list of “contacts and relationships.” A civic fixture who worked his way from the ground floor of Colonial Parking up to the front office at Forge Company, he has leadership roles at prominent organizations throughout D.C., including the Federal City Council, the D.C. Policy Center, Washington International School, the National Rehabilitation Hospital and Landon School.
Lindner also is an elected trustee of the University of Georgia Foundation, a fiduciary arm of the university itself, which reported spending $90,000 on Evans’s former law firm, Squire Patton Boggs, to lobby for “education” in 2016, according to OpenSecrets.org’s Center for Responsive Politics. (University of Georgia paid the firm a total of $410,000 from 2016-2018, according to the Center.)
Evans left the firm at the end of 2015. But in 2014, the foundation was seeking an Industrial Revenue Bond issuance, and Evans’s Council office, with Lindner holding the door open, was there to assist.
“Hi Rusty, Cindy Coyle, Executive Director of the University of Georgia Foundation testified at the hearing,” wrote Ruth Werner, Evans’s finance committee director on June 17, 2014, copying her boss. “The measure was voted out of committee earlier today and will go before the full council for approval next Tuesday. So the Foundation should be all set to go to market for the bond issuance –and proceed with the project!”
Conversely, the following month, Lindner sought review of a business development initiative related to his parking lot company, reaching out to Evans (and Squire Patton Boggs) at Evans’s personal email address:
“Jack, Here’s some relevant background on the matter we discussed regarding how SPB might [assist] in the re-creation of D.C. empowerment zones, which would benefit Colonial Parking. At this point I ask that you review it, and then give me a call. I do not want to launch [anything] until I’ve had a chance to sit down with those on the SPB team who might assess the [likelihood] of success. I also don’t want to bring the [Federal City Council] into the matter just yet.
“PS–do you have a SPB e-address?”
Even after Evans left his job at Squire Patton Boggs as an Of Counsel attorney in the Government Relations practice group in January 2015, his Council office attended to Lindner with care.
The university where Lindner’s children attended college had acquired property on Massachusetts Avenue NE that houses its Capitol Hill interns and provides instructional space; a private foundation that operates for the benefit of the university was looking to eliminate a property tax burden.
Evans’s staff was ready to assist.
“Ms. Coyle, I’m writing regarding the Real Property Tax exemption denial issued by the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue regarding the University of Georgia Foundation,” wrote Werner to the foundation’s executive director on November 19, 2015.
“I work for Councilmember Evans on the D.C. City Council, and Mr. Evans would like to introduce and move legislation that would resolve the problem. I have attached a draft of a bill that would provide for the exemption–could you take a look and let me know if there are any additions, edits or changes that should be made.”
“Thanks so much. My contact information is below,” replies Cindy Coyle, executive director of the foundation. “I’d be happy to talk–if that’s easier. I had attempted to call you, but I don’t think I have the correct telephone number.”
“I’m trying you now on the number below!” replies Werner.
“You girls have all the fun!” chimes Lindner. “Thanks so much, Ruth.”
“I certainly appreciate your work on our behalf,” adds Coyle.
Within days, legislation was making its way through Evans’s committee. “Ruth, can’t thank you enough for all you and the Chairman are doing,” wrote Lindner, on December 4, 2015, “not just for the University of Georgia and its students, but for all public universities who one day may wish to establish a similar presence in our city…You’re a great shepherd and I’ll follow you anywhere!”
The “Higher Education Tax Exemption Act” would exempt real property taxation for properties leased by foundations to colleges and universities for dormitory, classroom, and other student facilities. It received a hearing on January 7, 2016.
“I wanted to thank you for the personal meeting [beforehand] today and the support that you have provided in getting this Bill heard,” wrote Coyle to Werner. “Next week could we discuss next steps and what I need to prepare to get ready for the Feb 3 meeting. Thanks so much.”
Such assistance from Evans’s office did not come without a show of appreciation by Lindner.
On January 19, 2016, in an email to Evans at both his personal and Council addresses with a subject line “Evans 2016,” the chief executive officer of EDENS, the commercial developer behind Union Market and the Mosaic District, wrote, “Jack ‐ I received your call yesterday. Thank you for the reminder. I will get something to you shortly. All the best ‐Jodie W. McLean Chief Executive Officer EDENS”
Within a half hour, Evans forwarded the email to Lindner from his Council account, leaving the body of the email blank. Just 10 minutes later, Lindner replies to Evans: “Yes, she emailed me for some direction ‐‐ but did not equivocate one bit, and sounded resolved. What was your ask? I also reminded her (in response to her offer to get the checks to me) that Fed Reserve laws prohibit me from being involved in a campaign. All good.”
A week later, on January 26, the bill hit a snag. D.C.’s Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt wrote in a Fiscal Impact Statement to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson that, “Funds are not sufficient in the fiscal year 2016 through fiscal year 2019 budget and financial plan to implement the bill. The bill would reduce real property tax receipts by $93,788 in fiscal year 2016 and $398,267 through the four-year financial plan.”
But that didn’t derail the measure. The following day, in response to an email of concern from Lindner, Werner wrote, “I’m pretty confident the amount is [findable] in the budget – course I stress until it’s done done, but I think this is in a good position to be on the books as law by 10/1/16. Hope you had a cozy and safe blizzard! Ruth”
As the legislation is approved unanimously on the consent agenda that day, Lindner marvels at the office’s efficiency and Evans’s ability to steer the bill to swift passage: “Why’d it take him so long?” he jokes, in an email to Werner. “I counted it as 47 seconds, from introduction of the legislation to gavel!!”
Subsequent work on the budget language draws praise from Lindner: “Elegant craftsmanship on your part! When it comes to ‘finding money in the budget,’ is it only the one-year (not aggregated) FY amount?
“And did you get the King Cake baby? If so–Party-Girl!”
“It’s aggregated,” Werner replies, “we’ll have to find a recurring source of funding…I think this is doable. (but I remain nervous until it’s done done…)
“Yes–we devoured the king cake,” she adds. “Thank you so VERY MUCH! It really hit the spot yesterday afternoon. And, great to see you! Always a good time!”
On February 4, Werner delivers the good news to Cindy Coyle of the foundation, “That just leaves the funding –which we are on track to find/resolve as a part of the city’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget process – so that come October 1, 2016 this is law, funded, and in effect. Let me know if you have any questions –at any point in time‐ and I’ll endeavor to send occasional updates (with the goal of having only good news to report!).”
“Wonderful news,” replies Coyle. “we owe a debt of gratitude to you.”
Lindner soon had an opportunity to begin to repay that debt. On March 7, a board member with the Woolly Mammoth Theater contacted Evans (at his Council email address) and asked him to sponsor a table for a spring benefit. Evans then wrote to Lindner, on April 8: “Dear Rusty, As you may know, I am the Honorary Chair of the 2016 Woolly Mammoth Theater Company’s Spring Benefit. As such, I am asking for your support of the event. Please let me know if you are able to support this worthy cause.”
By May 4, the property tax exemption is approved on first reading and funding is secured. Final approval is not far behind. “This is music to my ears!! I so appreciate all the work you and Councilmember Evans have done on behalf of the University of Georgia!” writes Cindy Coyle in an email to Ruth Werner.
“So what have you done for us lately?…..” quips Lindner. “Seriously, you and Jack are the best, Ruth. I know how much work it’s required and attention that it’s demanded. Do you want a fountain or a park named after you (or, in Jack’s case, a bar)? As always, Rusty”
On May 17, Werner provides Coyle and Lindner with what might’ve been a final update: “Councilmember Evans asked that I let you know that the budget passed today (unanimously) with the funding to cover [the bill].”
Yet the ongoing stewardship lasts through the fall and into 2017, the emails show, with Werner enlisting officials in the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue to continue to advise on tax compliance matters.
The funding for the tax exemption, at least at the time, appears to have been for the sole benefit of Lindner’s children’s alma mater:
“Ruth and Jack, the University of Georgia is deeply indebted to both of you–as is the District of Columbia itself, for your efforts have incented not only UGA to increase its commitment to the Nation’s Capital, but also other educational institutions that may well wish to follow suit in the years to come,” Lindner wrote, on June 25, 2016.
By that fall, Lindner and Evans had moved on to new endeavors, new connections. “This is a relationship you’ll want to develop, as he has almost zero knowledge of Wilson Building (but is crackerjack smart, and understands politics),” Lindner writes to Evans, lining up drinks with the new chair of the Federal City Council.
Lindner seeks Evans’s assistance on matters such as overcoming a financial hurdle for the National Children’s Museum, while Evans seeks Lindner’s advice on an issue with the Dupont Business Improvement District.
The relationship takes on many shapes, some of them indirect in nature. In August 2017, Evans reaches out to the inspector general for the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority, which he chairs, with concerns about one of Lindner’s fellow parking lot operators.
“You will recall that foremost among them was the history of the relationship between the former Parking Director – a convicted felon when hired by WMATA – and the third‐party parking operator selected by him, Laz Parking. Among those episodes most troubling to me were mismanaged procurements and, in the case of the RFP that was withdrawn last year, evidence of inappropriate emails between the Parking Department and Laz representatives while the RFP was underway. To me, where there’s smoke, there’s often fire. It was my understanding that you would look into this serious matter and get back to me in short order,” Evans writes, sharing the correspondence with Lindner.
Evans also shares with Lindner an exchange he has with the CEO of a major developer who is advising him on a “Letter to President Trump regarding Relocation of FBI Headquarters.”
“Very good,” writes Lindner, on September 8, 2017. “Keep me in the loop. Should be able to help, both project‐specific and generally. Did you talk about Trump Infrastructure?”
In turn, the same developer looks to get his foot in the door should the FBI headquarters remain in the District. “Thanks Jack. It was great seeing you the other night. We should get together more often and talk about your various plans/ideas. Whether there is something in it for JBGS or not, I’d be happy to lend my thoughts to the extent you’d find them helpful,” writes Matt Kelly, CEO of JBG Smith Company.
Alas, Lindner is but one of the “contacts and relationships” Evans sought to leverage in his business plan of January 2018. “Note that this list is by no means exhaustive since, on a weekly basis, I am introduced to business leaders entering the DC market for the first time, or confronted by new problems facing D.C. businesses,” the plan states.
And as he himself knows, there is no one quite like Jack Evans:
“I am uniquely positioned to create a cross-marketing plan that could be very successful. With the support of the firm leadership, I would like to embark on business development meetings to each of the firm’s offices in an effort to identify clients that would benefit from my hiring and develop, with the responsible attorney, a pitch to engage them.”
*Editor’s Note: In reporting this story, The Dig sought comment from Evans, Lindner and Werner, none of whom responded. An official with the University of Georgia Foundation returned a call and confirmed that the foundation’s acquisition, zoning and property tax issues at its Massachusetts Avenue NE property were a “heavy lift,” but did not call back with any further comment.