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Queries OK’d on personal drivers

Wells seeks to ask agency heads about violations of city law

- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2011

D.C. Council member Tommy Wells wants to use hearings on Mayor Vincent C. Gray's personnel practices to ask agency heads if they are violating city law by employing staff members as personal drivers.

Mr. Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, posed the request to council member Mary M. Cheh during a meeting of the Committee on Government Oversight and Environment on Wednesday because it could affect who the committee invites to the Gray hearings.

"Using people as chauffeurs seems to be something that should be reviewed," Mr. Wells told the committee, noting that multiple agency heads may have a D.C. government-issued car and a driver "who would take them to their nightly residence and back."

He singled out the Department of Health as an agency that may have employed chauffeurs, although he did not cite specific evidence or personnel.

Dena Iverson, a spokeswoman for the agency, denied the allegation on Thursday, stating, "Neither the director, nor any senior deputy director within the Department of Health, has a personal driver."

Mrs. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat and chairman of the committee, was caught off guard by the line of proposed questioning for the Gray hearings, scheduled to begin Monday.

She said she would permit the questions as long as they are limited in scope and not a "general run-through of all of the executive departments to find out who may have cars and who might have a driver."

"The hook for me," Mrs. Cheh said, is "was this part of a system of compensation, was this thought to be part of what one would be entitled to, and who made these decisions?"

Mr. Wells agreed with the chairwoman's premise.

"It's not meant to be a broad base," Mr. Wells said. "There are indicators of one or two other agency directors who may have violated this."

Mr. Wells also alluded Wednesday to Department of Employment Services Director Rochelle L. Webb, who "to her credit" self-reported that a staff member had been reassigned to shuttle her to and from her temporary residence in January and February.

Ms. Webb disclosed the role of staffer Vernon Lindsey in response to a fleet-management survey that Mr. Wells, chairman of the Committee on Public Works and Transportation, sent to about 40 D.C. agencies earlier this month. The survey is part of ongoing oversight amid reports that high-ranking D.C. officials had acquired "fully-loaded" luxury sport-utility vehicles or engaged in unlawful uses of government vehicles.

Mr. Wells' chief of staff said Thursday the number of non-reporting agencies was down to a few, "including the Department of Health."

Ms. Iverson said "the department's response to council member Wells will be submitted today."

Only the mayor can use a personal driver for transportation between home and work, according to D.C. law. The mayor can authorize a driver for another D.C. employee, but the approval must be in place before use.

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