- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2002

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams has employed a "hands-off" management style that has reaped as many setbacks as successes in his 3 -year tenure.
Mr. Williams himself has said his most recent reversal of fortune the Board of Elections and Ethics' rejection of his primary nominating petitions resulted in part from blindly delegating authority to his campaign co-chairmen, Gwendolyn Hemphill and Max Berry, and adviser, Charles Duncan.
"One of the things that put me in this position is not carefully reviewing and exploring what people were doing in my campaign," Mr. Williams, 51, said after the board denied him access to the Sept. 10 Democratic primary ballot.
The mayor has vowed to become more vigilant in his campaign, if not his administration, which has had to deal with overbilling of traffic tickets and long lines in the Department of Motor Vehicles, incompetence in the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, and malfeasance in vetting candidates for city jobs.
As mayor, Mr. Williams has had numerous staff changes including four fire chiefs, two financial directors and five chiefs of staff in addition to three ethics scandals that have tainted his squeaky clean image.
Still, he enjoys strong support and appears to be a shoo-in for re-election even as a write-in candidate on the Democratic primary ballot.
"Tony has a lot of good will and has done a number of good things," says Ann Hume Loikow, vice president of the Federation of Citizens' Associations. "I think he just has a blind spot on ethics and the political process."
Among Mr. Williams' successes is balancing of the city's budget for four consecutive years, which brought about the dissolution of the congressionally appointed financial control board last year.
As the District's chief financial officer, Mr. Williams set the city on a course for fiscal recovery, turning a $700 million budget deficit in 1995 into a $185 million budget surplus by 1997. In his first year as mayor, he helped clear the District of its junk-bond rating for the first time in more than a decade. Revenues are up, as are property values.
Two chronic problems in the Department of Public Works snow removal and trash collection have been addressed and corrected. After a slow start, the Williams administration has managed to fill potholes and street cuts in a timely manner while allowing businesses to install fiber-optic cable for high-speed communications.
Many miles of city streets and alleys have been repaved, and main thoroughfares such as 16th Street NW are being revamped to accommodate more traffic.
City agencies such as the Department of Child and Family Services and the Department of Mental Health Services have emerged from federal receivership during Mr. Williams' tenure.
Residents in every ward have applauded his Neighborhood Action Summits, town-hall-style meetings that have allowed them to talk directly with city leaders about problems in their neighborhoods.
"D.C. is clean and getting better all the time," said D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat.
Yet in delegating authority, Mr. Williams has stumbled several times on the road to success, leaving some to wonder who is minding the administration.
He said he wasn't paying attention to his re-election campaign, which submitted more than 10,000 nominating petition signatures to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics on June 3. The board found thousands of forgeries among the signatures, and the mayor's petition circulators refused to testify about their authenticity for fear of incriminating themselves.
After reviewing the signatures, Registrar of Voters Kathryn Fairley determined on July 26 that 2,235 of them were "presumably valid," but the board rejected her recommendation and denied the mayor access to the Sept. 10 Democratic primary ballot.
Mr. Williams took the matter to court, saying he had enough valid petitions to be on the primary ballot. But the D.C. Court of Appeals last week upheld the elections board's ruling, saying the rampant forgeries were sufficient to keep his name off the ballot and forcing the mayor to run a write-in campaign for the Democratic primary.
"The mayor is behaving as if the rules of law don't apply to him," said Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Lawrence T. Guyot Jr. "Where is the ethical standard in defending fraudulent petitions?"
The mayor's situation has forced him to run a write-in primary campaign and encouraged competition from the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, the prominent Baptist pastor who attracted support for former Mayor Marion S. Barry and Mr. Williams, and Johnny Barnes, chief of the District's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The petitions fiasco followed an inspector general's report in March that the mayor's office had engaged in unethical and possibly illegal activities in raising $1.5 million for parties and special events during the administration's first two years.
Mr. Williams, who had campaigned as the ethical alternative to Mr. Barry's scandal-plagued administration, said he was not aware that his staffers raised funds by setting up a fake charity chartered to take underprivileged children to Washington Wizards games, then funneling the donations to other projects.
"Yes, I had some cursory knowledge that money was being raised, but I was unaware of the particulars," Mr. Williams said when he testified before the D.C. Council.
But D.C. Inspector General Charles C. Maddox said in a 528-page report that it is hard to believe Mr. Williams had no knowledge of the fund raising, noting that it took place through a succession of mayoral staffers over a two-year period.
"Mayor Williams is accountable and responsible for the conduct of employees under his immediate supervision," Mr. Maddox said in the report, which did not directly implicate the mayor in illegal or unethical fund raising.
Meanwhile, Mr. Williams is being sued for $50 million by Mark A. Jones, the mayor's former deputy chief financial officer who has been accused of spearheading the funneling of donations.
"In retrospect, we have to provide needed oversight and verification of activity so that employees are meeting the highest standards of probity and no conflict of interest and everything else," Mr. Williams said.
When the mayor set up his performance "scorecard" for city agencies on the D.C. government's Web site (www.dc.gov), the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) emerged as one of the best-run agencies in the District. Service improved and lines grew shorter.
In May, DMV Director Sherryl Hobbs Newman reported that her agency had overbilled thousands of parking tickets, totaling about $860,000, since she had taken office in July 1999. What's more, DMV had wrongly collected nearly $18 million from overbilled tickets from 1981 to 1997, according to an inspector general's report.
As DMV officials scrambled for a way to reimburse overbilled drivers, Mr. Williams said his first priority was to fix the problem of overbilling, not repay motorists.
"What the citizens of the city expect me to do first and foremost is get the system working forward before I go back trying to spend millions of dollars to get them fixed going backward," the mayor told a reporter from The Times.
Shortly afterward, the DMV began experiencing computer problems that caused long lines and short tempers. Half-mile lines of cars can be seen at the city's only reinspection station every day, and miscommunications about the city's new registration stickers have caused some residents to get erroneous tickets.
"I'm a lifelong District resident, and since they've put in this new [computer] system, the problems at DMV are getting worse," said D.C. resident Marshall Lewis, 43.
The Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department faced severe problems before Mr. Williams took office in 1999, and those problems have worsened during his administration.
The Times has reported about the department's $5.3 million emergency radio system that fails in many areas around the city, its automated dispatch system that sometimes directs emergency vehicles to wrong addresses and its inadequate training that has left some of its workers afraid to deal with hazardous material situations.
Abrupt changes in department leadership did not resolve the problems and sank morale. Interim Chief Adrian Thompson currently leads the department while city officials search for their sixth fire chief in 3 years. Chief Thompson's predecessors include:
Chief Donald Edwards, who was forced to resign in November 1999 because he had failed to buy needed equipment and hire firefighters.
Interim Chief Thomas N. Tippet, who resigned in May 2000 because Mr. Williams denied his request for funding for a fifth man on ladder trucks and battalion chief aides.
Battalion Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe, who served as an interim chief.
Fire Chief Ronnie Few, who resigned July 31 amid controversy over his resume and those of his top aides.
"A cursory review would have made it clear [Chief Few] was not qualified," said community activist Dorothy Brizill.
The inspector general agreed with Mrs. Brizill, saying in a report last month that the Williams administration failed to follow normal hiring practices and to adequately check Chief Few's credentials before he was hired two years ago.
A high turnover rate in personnel has marked the Williams administration from its inception.
Reba Pittman-Evans the mayor's first chief of staff quit four months after taking the job. She had been criticized for her handling of a minor crisis involving David Howard, the former chief public advocate who resigned under pressure because some black staffers took offense to his use of the word "niggardly" in a conversation.
Mr. Howard, who is white, said he "felt betrayed" by the mayor.
Abduslem Omer the mayor's third chief of staff resigned over his handling of the fund-raising scandal.
In addition, phony resumes and "lackluster" (the mayor's word) vetting of candidates for city jobs has led to the downfall of several city officials.
Robert Newman, former director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, resigned October 2000 after it was reported that his resume contained numerous errors. Mr. Newman's inflated job titles included one identifying him as a deputy commissioner when he was an assistant commissioner and another identifying him as an administrator when he was a program director.
Sammir Kaiser, a former counsel to Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, disappeared after it was reported that, contrary to his resume, he was not a lawyer and did not have a degree from Oxford University. Kaiser made off with more than $250,000 while in the city's employ, and pleaded guilty to fraud last month.
In March, The Times reported that three of Chief Few's top appointees Assistant Chief Gary L. Garland, Assistant Chief Marcus R. Anderson and Deputy Chief Bruce A. Cowan inflated their professional and educational credentials on their resumes and employment applications.
Chiefs Garland and Anderson have since resigned as has Chief Few, whose own resume erroneously stated that he had received a degree from Morris Brown College in Atlanta and a 1998 Fire Chief of the Year award from the International Association of Fire Fighters, according to an April report in The Washington Post.
"We definitely have to do a better job on our vetting procedures," Mr. Williams said.
Soon after taking over the $125,000-a-year mayoral post in 1999, Mr. Williams was fined $1,000 by the Office of Campaign Finance for not disclosing that he had earned $40,000 as a consultant for city contractors while he was a mayoral candidate.
In 2000, the Office of Campaign Finance reprimanded the mayor for allowing staffers in his office, during business hours, to illegally campaign for his referendum to revamp the city's elected school board into a hybrid of elected and appointed members. Mr. Williams won the battle but it further blemished his reputation.
"The only other lesson like [the petition scandal] was the fund raising," Mr. Williams said, "and one lesson I took from this was to have a strict separation between campaign and government organization."
But Mrs. Brizill said anyone who thinks "Mayor Williams has learned some lessons from the controversy" should think again.
"I am drawing a line on ethics," said Mr. Guyot. "If we allow this to stand, then we shouldn't bother holding any more elections."
Adrienne Washington and Guy Taylor contributed to this report.

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