- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday said he supports the council’s commuter-tax bill to bring more money into the city, while maintaining he has no intention of suspending the credit-card procurement program that has cost the city millions of dollars in excessive spending.

The D.C. Council held a round-table discussion yesterday on bill — 15-212, “District Government Nonresident Employees Tax Act of 2003” — in part to help develop a lawsuit against the federal government.

“I will support our elected officials in joining this suit, and I do support this commuter tax as a way to alleviate the structural imbalance,” Mr. Williams said yesterday at his weekly press briefing.

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat, said she and several other members of the council would sign onto the lawsuit being brought by several District residents at the end of the month.

Mr. Williams said the lawsuit would seek to blend several elements showing that District residents “have rights that are being denied in terms of uniformed taxation.”

The council could vote on the measure, which would impose a 2 percent tax on commuters from Maryland, Virginia and elsewhere, before it recesses Tuesday.

While the mayor is supporting the council’s position on the lawsuit and the commuter-tax bill, he disagrees that the city is wasting money on its credit-card program.

The Washington Times first reported in June that an audit of the D.C. public school system’s credit-card program revealed more than $1.6 million in employee-issued credit-card charges for which school officials couldn’t account.

Some of the charges included improper purchases for hotel services, food, gifts and “items prone to mysterious disappearance,” said city auditor Deborah K. Nicholls.

News of the school system’s credit-card turmoil only amplified reports in The Washington Post that $5.5 million in improper purchases had been made by city employees in 1,200 separate incidents.

City employees were found to have evaded the $2,500 credit limit on the cards by making numerous purchases at the same business on the same day.

The city spent more than $40 million in credit-card purchases in the past two years with a total of 790 credit cards issued to employees. The school system calculated that 275 employees had been issued credit cards.

Council members passed legislation to suspend the credit-card program for the next 225 days or until Oct. 1, the end of the fiscal year. The legislation allows credit cards to be used after the mayor codifies a system of checks and balances on their use.

“We always want to have accountability measures, and I will be happy to present those to the council. But that does not mean we need to scrap the program,” Mr. Williams said.

He said the credit cards have not been as widely misused as the council and news outlets have reported. The program saves the city “a huge amount of transaction time and costs,” he said.

Council members Vincent B. Orange, Ward 5 Democrat, and Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, introduced the bill Tuesday.

Both council members said they were dissatisfied with the answers they received from Deputy Mayor for Operations Herbert R. Tillery in a hearing on the matter last week.

The Times reported that Mr. Orange said he was troubled by the fact that the city did not use numerous credit purchase review options at its disposal to monitor the cards.

Mr. Tillery told Mr. Orange that he, like many other senior managers, was unaware of the tools provided by U.S. Bank, the company providing the cards.

He said yesterday that the city will engage all of the up-to-the-minute credit review systems after several meetings with U.S. Bank officials.

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