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Richard J. Wood, a tax professor at Capital University Law School in Ohio, who spent 10 years with the IRS Office of Chief Counsel, said the IRS policy is to demand payment first before filing a notice of a lien. He said the filing puts potential creditors of the taxpayer on notice that the IRS is owed money.

“It’s a notice of a debt that can be enforced,” he said.

Michael Brown is a lawyer at Edwards, Angell, Palmer & Dodge law firm. He won council office as an independent in 2008 after his two previous attempts as a Democrat failed. He dropped out of the mayor’s race in 2006. He waged a subsequent unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for the Ward 4 council seat vacated by Adrian M. Fenty, who had held the seat before being elected mayor.

Pete Sepp, vice president of policy at the nonpartisan National Taxpayers Union, said people from all walks of life can find themselves in tax trouble. But when the debts involve an elected official who also helps decide how tax dollars are spent, “people want to know that this is a matter being handled above board and it’s being handled quickly.”

Earlier this year, Mr. Sepp noted, Michael Brown was among a group of council members who had been pushing for an increase in the tax rate for wealthy residents, a proposal that was rejected in May.

“We can only hope that council member Brown’s experience with the IRS will give him additional perspective about the financial hardship taxes can create, including local income taxes,” Mr. Sepp said.