- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2000

Valerie Holt, the District's embattled chief financial officer, said she is leaving to work for the federal government. Thomas Tippett, the interim fire chief, is leaving, too. Neither resignation came as a surprise.

Miss Holt's appointment drew criticism in the first place; the D.C. Council had no confidence in her budget analyses or her leadership, and the routine annual audit was three months late. Betwixt were late paychecks for school teachers, incorrect paychecks for firefighters and Miss Holt's decision to question whether the city could afford bonuses promised by the mayor. Indeed, she had to go and did so precisely as expected after completion of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

Miss Holt, in a written statement explaining her departure, gave herself credit for helping improve the city's financial standing and said the audit was late because of "system control issues and data processing difficulties … . I have worked diligently through many long hours to successfully resolve numerous challenges … in a relatively short period of time."

Thing is, as a 16-year numbers-cruncher for D.C. government and a strategic planner in recent years for the control board, Miss Holt should have had the professional familiarity and political gall to resolve those "issues," "difficulties" and "challenges." It is hoped the interim CFO, Nat Gandhi will.

Thomas Tippett, unlike Miss Holt, did not resign because of criticism. He said his resignation stemmed from his displeasure with the powers that be and on a single principle: firefighter safety. Chief Tippett, make that former Chief Tippett, quit because the control board nixed his idea to add a fifth man to fire trucks. His was an old argument, one dating back to his days as a union boss.

Mr. Tippett, who grew up in Anacostia and now lives in Southern Maryland, joined the fire department in the 1960s. Years later he became union president and was deputy chief in charge of firefighting when he replaced Don Edwards in the fall of 1999. Like Miss Holt, Mr. Tippett, had troubles during his own "relatively short period of time" at the helm. The handling of the April underground explosion on the subway continues to raise eyebrows, his proposal in February to cross-train fire and emergency medical is questionable, and his shakeup of the upper ranks in January rattled some cages. Then, for FY 2001, Mr. Tippett proposed dusting off an old union cry and proposed hiring a fifth man. When the control board flat out refused to finance his $4 million request, Mr. Tippett said adios.

The union (surprise, surprise) made some noises because their boy is gone. The fire department is the last frontier, the last major D.C. agency run by someone who moved up through the ranks. Experienced newcomers are everywhere else schools, police, public works, consumer and regulatory affairs, chief financial officer. Those outsiders, if you will, are struggling to uncover mismanagement and change the status quo because, as the mayor said, "adjusting the drapes," simply will not do. While the fire department has its share of problems, they are nothing that can't be handled by a top-flight public-safety chief. There are scores around the country who would be pleased to serve as fire chief for the nation's capital.

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