- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2007

D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz will hold a hearing today on whether any laws were violated when senior city officials were given more than $500,000 in questionable cash bonuses last year.

“Better sooner rather than later,” said Mrs. Schwartz, at-large Republican and chairman of the council’s Committee on Workforce Development and Government Operations. “If the law has been broken, we need to find that out.”

Mrs. Schwartz’s committee hearing stems from a report released late Friday by D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols that showed nearly 30 senior city officials were inappropriately given $525,846 in cash bonuses during the final days of Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ administration.

The council member said she planned to hold a committee hearing to look into the report soon. But publicity surrounding the auditor’s analysis and the possible ramifications of its findings contributed to her scheduling the hearing today.

“We want an opportunity to have a public discussion,” Mrs. Schwartz said. “If [employees and officials] were unjustly impugned, then also the sooner the better.”

Brender L. Gregory, director of the D.C. Department of Human Resources, and Deputy Auditor Lawrence Perry are expected to testify. Mrs. Schwartz said she also invited officials from the Office of the Chief Financial Officer to testify at the hearing.

The report prompted some on the council to suggest seeking restitution from those who received the bonuses if laws were broken.

Kwame R. Brown, at-large Democrat, said yesterday he asked Attorney General Linda Singer to take action to reclaim the bonuses.

“Doling out hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses without justification to top executives is simply abhorrent,” said Mr. Brown, who is on Mrs. Schwartz’s committee. “These bogus bonuses should be returned to the government without delay.”

The hearing announcement preceded the full council’s second legislative session since returning from summer recess.

During the session, members voted to rescind a land deal that paved the way for the District to sell a library and a fire station in Northwest to a specific private developer.

The council in July voted 12-1 in favor of an emergency measure that allowed the administration of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to negotiate with EastBanc Inc. for the sale and redevelopment of the West End Neighborhood Library, a fire station and nearby land.

But council members said they received misinformation about the deal. In light of a community outcry over the process by which the agreement was reached, members yesterday voted unanimously in favor of a motion to reconsider the measure.

City officials said they plan to open a competitive process to develop the site.

The council also approved, by unanimous vote, an emergency agreement proposed by David A. Catania, at-large independent, to facilitate the sale of the District’s only hospital east of the Anacostia River.

The bill allows Mr. Fenty to invest up to $79 million in Greater Southeast Community Hospital to allow Specialty Hospital of Washington to purchase the facility, which has languished under owner Envision Hospital.

“The time has come, enough is enough,” said Mr. Catania, chairman of the council’s Committee on Health. “We have to turn a corner.”

A funding agreement already put forward by Mr. Fenty includes a $20 million loan to help pay for day-to-day costs of the hospital, which Specialty will be required to repay to the District over a 10-year period.

The District will recoup another $29 million used to pay off the hospital’s existing debts through taxes on the site, and $30 million of the investment will pay for equipment and renovations at the hospital.

Some council members expressed persisting concerns over the deal, but said they felt they had no choice but to vote for the emergency package and ensure problems with the agreement are resolved later.

“We have a gun at our head, too,” said Marion Barry, the Ward 8 Democrat who proposed two friendly amendments to the bill, including one that clarified tax exemptions granted to the hospital. “But just because we have a gun at our head does not mean we should knowingly pull the trigger.”

The council also approved Mr. Fenty’s nomination of Victor Reinoso as deputy mayor for education. Yvette Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, cast the lone dissenting vote.

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