- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The D.C. office of the inspector general says a former council member tried to get 10 traffic tickets voided last year by leveraging a law that exempts legislators from parking rules while on official business — a common political perk that has led to confusion and abuse across the country.

The audit dated Nov. 15 says the lawmaker’s chief of staff submitted the request Jan. 25, 2011, to the director of the Department of Motor Vehicles. A hearing examiner dismissed six of the tickets but declined to exempt the elected official for four citations — two speeding tickets, one red light violation, and one failure to report for inspection.

The inspection violation was included in a May 4, 2011, request by the D.C. Department of Public Works to void 135 tickets. It was approved along with the other items on the list, according to Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby’s office.

“The void request list did not contain information to alert DMV officials that a listed citation had been previously adjudicated by DMV. Officials indicated that they were not aware of any control that will allow the system to identify this type of situation,” the audit said.

The episode may be the most eye-catching part of the general audit on the DMV’s ticket-processing services, but “ticket-fixing” schemes are hardly unique to the District.

In 2007, the State Ethics Commission in Massachusetts concluded that a Boston city council member used his position to have 35 parking tickets dismissed.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in 2003 that federal authorities were investigating whether the “well-connected” could pay to get their tickets tossed, while other news reports show officials from New York to San Francisco either misunderstood their parking benefits or used their connections with unions, police and motor vehicle offices to get off the hook during the past decade.

In July 2002, the D.C. Council voted to exempt itself from the city’s parking regulations. The exemption extended to council members the same parking privileges enjoyed by members of Congress, including the freedom to park in bus zones, in restricted spaces near intersections, at building entrances and on restricted residential streets. It also freed council members from having to put money in parking meters.

The District’s audit does not name the former council member in question. Based on the time line, it could be one of three people — Kwame R. Brown, Harry Thomas Jr. or Sekou Biddle.

Mr. Biddle had not been on the council for very long when the first request was sent to the DMV. He was appointed by the D.C. Democratic State Committee in January 2011 to fill the at-large seat vacated by Brown — who rose to council chairman in the 2010 elections — before he lost his interim seat to Vincent B. Orange in a special election in April 2011.

Mr. Biddle said Wednesday he is sure the former lawmaker in question is not him, considering the time frame of his tenure on the council and that he pays his infractions on time.

“I haven’t had that many tickets in the last four years, not to mention a period of four weeks,” he said of the figures in the audit.

Thomas, who represented Ward 5 at the time, and Brown resigned their seats and pleaded guilty to felonies in January and June, respectively. They shared the same attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., even though their cases were unrelated.

On Wednesday, Mr. Cooke said by email, “I do not have any reason to believe that either Mr. Thomas or Mr. Brown are at issue here.”

A DMV spokeswoman said she did not know the identity of the former lawmaker referred to in the report.