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Where was the mayor?
(Published April 8, 2002)

Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ continual attempts to deflect attention from his own ethical and managerial problems in performing his public duties must end.

This time, the public needs more than an apology, delivered with the politically appropriate "puppy dog" downcast eyes, for failing to provide adequate oversight of his underlings’ activities.

It’s time for the mayor to tell the public why he can’t seem to pay attention to what people are doing when he hires them – at exorbitantly high public salaries, to boot – to perform duties in his name.

In short, it’s time for Mayor Williams to hold himself accountable to the public.

The mayor is seeking re-election this fall and so far faces no serious opposition. He owes the voters and taxpayers a full, credible accounting of the numerous questionable financial transactions that have been instigated and carried out during his first term by his top aides while using taxpayer resources under the auspices of his own office.

According to Inspector General Charles Maddox’s recent report, which details findings of a 13-month investigation into private fund-raising activities by the mayor’s staff, the mayor "claimed to have very little knowledge" of the specific methods his aides used to solicit approximately $1.5 million from donors who were primarily D.C. government contractors or businesses regulated by the government.

The donors’ status should have raised a red flag for the mayor. If he didn’t know, he should have asked.

The IG said the fund-raising effort began about six months after the mayor took office and continued until January 2001, when published reports began questioning the propriety of such activities by the mayor’s office. The IG’s report found that "over a dozen" city employees under direct supervision of the mayor’s office, as well as numerous employees of other government agencies, were implicated in "actions that did not adhere to the District’s Standards of Conduct." The IG has referred some of his investigation’s findings to the Office of Campaign Finance and the entire report to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for review.

"It strains credulity to believe that the Mayor did not know … that the company that provided regulated cable television service to the city donated $50,000, or that the White House donated $400,000, or that distinguished local business leaders such as Donald Graham, Mark Warner and Mario Morino donated upwards of $100,000 each," the IG’s report states.

Indeed, it does strain credulity. In Washington’s polite parlance, what the IG means is that the mayor seems to be lying about the extent of his knowledge of his underlings’ activities.

Although the IG did not uncover any evidence that the money raised by the mayor’s staff was used for personal enrichment or direct political gain, the money essentially paid for parties that primarily entertained Washington’s elite. Let’s add some perspective. While rampant crime continues to plague most D.C. neighborhoods and the city’s poor are increasingly seeing their housing choices and health-care services diminished, the mayor’s top aides have been using their government-paid time to plan parties.

Mayor Williams is supposed to be a green eyeshade "detail man" – who crosses T’s, dots I’s and makes sure all the line items add up. That – and his pledge to hold government accountable to the public – was why the voters elected him.

But the public also is still waiting for the mayor’s long-promised accounting of public resources that were improperly spent in 2000 by his office to campaign in support of the charter amendment that changed the Board of Education’s makeup. The mayor was reprimanded by the Office of Campaign Finance for allowing his staff to violate government personnel rules by campaigning on government time.

Something is seriously amiss about the way the mayor is performing his job. If the mayor truly doesn’t know what his top aides are doing, why doesn’t he know? It shouldn’t take an IG investigation for him to find out.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator