- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On a recent weeknight, D.C. Department of Mental Health Director Stephen T. Baron, his arms full of groceries and dry cleaning, encountered a visitor in front of the Capitol Hill row house where he rents a basement apartment.

“How long have you been waiting for me?” he asked a reporter from The Washington Times, who happened by to see whether Mr. Baron — or his roommate, D.C. Lottery boss Irving W. “Buddy” Roogow — were around.

The two D.C. agency directors have a lot in common. They are married to women who live outside the District and they own homes in Maryland, yet they bunk together in a subterranean bachelor pad in Northeast — a direct result of a D.C. law that says such officials must reside in the District.

D.C. officials say both men meet city residency requirements. Yet Maryland property records show that Mr. Roogow and his wife refinanced their Ellicott City home of 31 years in February last year and swore in an affidavit that it was a “principal residence.” Mr. Roogow has told reporters that he had no intention of moving into the District. In November, county authorities said, he voted in Howard County in the general election, with a ballot that included a gambling referendum.

Mr. Baron and his wife granted priority to a new lender on the mortgage of the couple’s Howard County home as recently as August and have applied for a homestead exemption, a tax break reserved for a principal residence.

The situations of Mr. Baron and Mr. Roogow, a modern-day version of “The Odd Couple” — absent the divorces of Oscar and Felix — raise questions about how seriously D.C. officials are about enforcing the residency law.

Renting vs. owning

Appointed in 2006 to lead more than 1,200 employees at the Department of Mental Health, Mr. Baron earns $177,000 annually, according to city records. He has voted in D.C. elections since at least 2008.

His situation — he was recruited from outside the city — is similar to those of other agency heads. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, for example, bought a condominium in the District after living in Silver Spring at the time of his appointment in 2000.

But Mr. Baron and Mr. Roogow rent — a distinction that invites scrutiny. Mr. Baron said he had rented the apartment for some time, while Mr. Roogow moved in only recently. Asked whether Mr. Roogow signed a lease at the pair’s pied-a-terre, Mr. Baron replied, “He certainly has.” Neither Mr. Baron, Mr. Roogow nor their landlord, Todd Gerdes, responded to requests to verify the lease, and Mr. Roogow told The Times that he stays in the District on “various occasions.”

Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier is familiar with the dilemma. She purchased a town house in the Fort Lincoln neighborhood of Northeast in 2007 when she assumed her post and claims a homestead exemption on the property. Although she also co-owns a house in Anne Arundel County that Maryland property records identify as a principal residence receiving the homestead exemption, state officials said the law allows such arrangements if the exemption is claimed not by Chief Lanier but by her co-owner, D.C. police Sgt. James Schaefer.

In fact, Chief Lanier defended the requirement that agency heads live in the District.

“We’re making decisions that impact the residents of the city,” she said, without referring to any specific officials. “It’s been my beef all along when people don’t live here and make those decisions.”

But even Chief Lanier, whose living arrangements were scrutinized by The Times in a May report, draws a distinction between actual and superficial compliance with the District’s residency law.

“You’re welcome to come over and talk to my neighbors or see my dirty dishes,” she offered. “But compared to someone who is renting an apartment, no one would question my residency status.”

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