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Harvey request for car, driver raises eyebrows

(Published September 20, 1999)


Staff Writer

A hard-won truce recently established between feuding factions of the D.C. Board of Education is at risk of coming apart over a series of chauffered car rides.

Board president Wilma Harvey, who narrowly survived an attempt by other members to oust her from the seat in July, asked D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman Sept. 14 to provide her with a government car and driver for a series of official trips to schools in Ward 1, which Harvey represents. A copy of the request was faxed to The Common Denominator. Harvey does not own a car.

Harvey’s request violates an agreement signed Aug. 31 that established an executive committee which was to be kept informed of all the president’s actions and which had to sign off on her official correspondence, said executive committee member Tonya Vidal Kinlow, At-large, when asked about the incident. Kinlow is one of six members who voted to remove Harvey as board president earlier this summer.

Harvey said she was acting as Ward 1 representative, not as board president, when she made the request and therefore had no obligation to notify the committee of her request.

"I don’t have to get permission from them to do my job," she said. "Their role is not to serve as an oversight mechanism for me."

Instead of approving or denying the request, Ackerman handed the matter straight back to the school board, sending copies of Harvey’s request to all members.

"Since this has been a sensitive issue in the community, I am looking for clear direction as to how I should respond... Please advise," Ackerman wrote in an accompanying memo.

Councilman Kevin P. Chavous, D-Ward 7, brokered an agreement between pro- and anti-Harvey factions of the board in late August following weeks of infighting.

The agreement called for the creation of an executive committee to be informed of all the president’s official actions. As part of the agreement, Ward 2 school board member Westy Byrd also agreed to drop a complaint filed with the Office of Campaign Finance that alleged Harvey improperly used a board employee to perform personal work.

Chavous could not be reached for comment on Harvey’s request.

The matter has been referred to the board’s committee of the whole and is expected to be taken up at its October meeting.

In the meantime, Harvey said, she cancelled scheduled visits to four Ward 1 schools because of lack of transportation.

"I see absolutely nothing wrong with asking for transportation to do my job if I don’t have the resources to buy a car," she said. "There are senior members of Ackerman’s administration who get driven in government vehicles all over this city as part of their job."

Instead of requesting a car and driver, Kinlow said Harvey could easily have used part of the $2,500 allotted annually to each school board member for transportation and other expenses.

But Harvey said taxicabs are impractical as transportation for her routine school visits because cabs often take long periods of time to respond to calls or ignore calls for service from outlying regions of the city.

A previous request for a car and driver without notifying other board members was among several actions cited by Harvey’s opponents as grounds for her removal as president.

Kinlow said board members simply shouldn’t ask for private cars, even for performance of public duties. "It just doesn’t look right," she said.

Some other board members attached less importance to the incident.

"I think Mrs. Harvey’s intentions were to get some transportation," said Vice President Dwight Singleton, who represents Ward 4. "She has had transportation problems for some time.

"Of course, we are all concerned about actions that incur costs to the system. But most of the board members really would like to move on and focus on doing the business of the schools."

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator