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Whoís accountable?
(Published April 9, 2001)

We donít understand why the Williams administration is unable to identify hundreds of city employees who were driving government vehicles that were photographed running red lights.

And we are appalled that City Administrator John Koskinen is asking that these tickets be thrown out due to the cityís lack of responsible fleet management.

It sounds as though government workers have simply been throwing keys willy-nilly at one another and saying, "Here Ė take the car!"

While that attitude might be acceptable within a family, where responsibility for collisions and violation of traffic laws would be fairly clear, it is not acceptable for our public employees.

City taxpayers own these vehicles, and city taxpayers can be held liable when government employees operate them recklessly. There should be a comprehensive system for tracking who is behind the wheel of city-owned vehicles.

D.C. police began photo-enforcement at selected intersections in August 1999 but failed to issue citations to city-owned vehicles until the Washington Post filed a Freedom of Information request in January for a list of red-light runners who were driving city vehicles. D.C. police then issued 862 tickets to city agencies for infractions that occurred through Jan. 5 of this year. Koskinen recently asked that almost half of these tickets be voided because the drivers could not be identified.

Koskinen blames the problem, in part, on the time lag between the infractions and the issuance of the tickets. We donít understand why tickets were not issued in a timely manner to city agencies in the same way they are issued to other motorists. Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance Gainer says new procedures have been implemented that require citations to be issued to city agencies within 10 days of a violation involving one of their vehicles.

Average motorists who receive a ticket after being caught on camera running a red light canít avoid a $75 fine by arguing that they donít know who was driving at the time of the violation.

Previously, the city threw out about 10,000 tickets issued to motorists who ran a light on H Street NE, just east of North Capitol Street. There was no question that these motorists violated the law, but city officials decided these motorists were somehow entrapped and should be let off the hook Ė even though the traffic light continues to operate, without the camera.

D.C. officials appear to be selectively enforcing the law when it comes to red-light cameras, which is clearly unfair.

Mayor Williams touted "accountability" as his watchword when he swept into office. Now in the third year of his four-year term, the mayor doesnít seem to be emphasizing accountability for the shortcomings that began on his watch.

All of the red-light cameras in the District were installed since Mayor Williams took office in January 1999. All of the city vehicles caught by those cameras were being driven on Mayor Williamsí watch. The police chief, all department heads and most agency managers serve at the pleasure of the mayor. Itís the mayorís job to enforce policy within most of the government, which is under his control.

So why donít we know who broke the law while driving those city vehicles? Why is the Williams administration being so cavalier about disciplining on-duty workers for infractions behind the wheel of city vehicles? And who is responsible for failing to keep track of the cityís motor vehicle fleet? Is anyone being held accountable?


Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator