- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2000

Some D.C. Council members say the District's chief financial officer (CFO), Valerie Holt, must go. Given the unfolding debacle over the city's audit, they do have a point.

Ordinarily, the District's CFO would have completed the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) by now. Due Feb. 1, the report details money matters that are critical in diagnosing the District's short-term and long-range fiscal health. At present, though, finance authorities cannot say with certainty when the report will be completed.

The implications of this failure are potentially quite serious. Unable to secure an honest audit of city finances, Wall Street could downgrade D.C.'s creditworthiness, effectively raising the cost of city borrowing. It could mean extending the oversight of the financial control board over the District.

In addition, Mayor Williams, the D.C. Council and the control board face pressing matters that can't necessarily accommodate themselves to the leisurely pace at which Miss Holt is pursuing this audit. Among other things, they are in the midst of budget negotiations for fiscal 2001. They have to fund unprecedented tax cuts that will be implemented this year. They have to pay for substantial spending this year and next for social services, health care, and another round of tax cuts. Also under consideration are newly proposed tax breaks for seniors and retirees and a repeal of the personal property tax. And they have to negotiate labor contracts and put in place programs to streamline government.

The data that would show whether the city has the financial wherewithal to pursue this ambitious agenda, however, are unavailable. They are unavailable because the data have not been entered into the city's new computer systems. The data have not been entered because 47 percent of the employees who work on behalf of the CFO skipped training classes. That's right. When the CFO wasn't looking, they cut class.

When Mr. Williams appointed Miss Holt in May 1999, skeptics predicted big problems. When she was a finance "whiz" for D.C. government in the 1990s, they said, Miss Holt was acutely aware that the District was sinking deeper into red ink. Miss Holt has said officials misled her about the city's financial well-being.

Miss Holt used to work for the control board, and she used to work for Mr. Williams when he was CFO. Critics know that at that time school teachers, firefighters, ambulance workers and other city employees had problems with their checks if workers received any check at all. They also know the problem was not the computers, per se, but the information loaded or in this case, not loaded into the computers. There's an unhappy pattern here.

The mayor cannot, even if he chose to, fire the CFO. Only the control board has that authority. Jack Evans, the council's Finance and Revenue Committee chairman, and his colleagues sent a letter yesterday to the control board urging its members to remove Miss Holt and name a replacement. The letter was necessary, critics say, because they doubt Miss Holt would otherwise be fired.

At this point, the mayor, the council and the control board must ask one very important question: Does Miss Holt, CFO, fit in with the image of the District they have conjured up for years to come?

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