- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Two days after the District’s campaign-finance investigators “exonerated” D.C. Council chairman and mayoral candidate Vincent C. Gray for allowing a city developer to improve his home, D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles blasted a pair of city agencies for failing to enforce the law on a pattern of building-code violations by Mr. Gray.

“Something doesn’t sound right,” Mr. Nickles said Friday as the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) for the third time in a month threatened to fine Mr. Gray $300 each day he continues to skirt the law. “What concerns me is whether city agencies are fearful they will be treated badly when they have matters before the city council.”

Last week in interviews with The Washington Times, Mr. Nickles was reacting to a more than three-month delay by Mr. Gray to file a public-space permit application for a 6-foot-high aluminum fence he built in 2008 around his $667,000 house, which sits on a corner lot in the Hillcrest section of Southeast Washington.

On Monday, Mr. Nickles said the fines would begin on Tuesday.

Officials at DDOT and the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), which also must sign off on the permit, declined to comment.

Questions concerning the fence surfaced in December after The Times reported that Mr. Gray allowed W. Christopher Smith Jr., a major developer, personal friend, campaign donor and president of a company on whose projects Mr. Gray has voted, to oversee a home-renovation plan and other repairs also completed without permits.

On Wednesday, the Office of Campaign Finance concluded that there was “no evidence to suggest that [Mr. Gray’s] official actions or judgment or votes would be influenced by [Mr. Smith] in exchange for the work performed at his home” because the developer’s construction company had charged market rates for the work.

That investigation was limited to suspected campaign violations and did not address the issue of Mr. Gray’s failure to file the permits.

On Friday, Mr. Nickles said he was “mystified” that Mr. Gray had yet to file a completed permit application for the fence and a stone retaining wall installed two years ago. Because the improvements are in public space and because Mr. Gray’s fence exceeds normal height restrictions, he also must get approval from a special committee.

“Why does The Washington Times, two years after the fact, have to alert us that such a large project was done without permits?” Mr. Nickles said. “Then, once we know, why doesn’t the city deal with it immediately? That’s what an ordinary citizen would expect.”

In a press release last week, Mr. Gray’s office declared him “exonerated” in the campaign-finance matter and insisted that his attorney, former D.C. Attorney General Robert J. Spagnoletti, was “working expeditiously to correct any unresolved issues.” It also said Mr. Gray had never “tried to skirt any regulations or laws.”

On Monday, Mr. Gray’s spokeswoman, Doxie McCoy, denied that the attorney general’s office or any other agency had reason to think they should not carry out their responsibilities or enforce the law.

“There has never been any indication that they would be treated unfairly or subject to any kind of bad treatment by the council, and it is unfortunate, if in fact they really feel that way,” she said. “There is absolutely no basis for any reported hesitance or concern.”

Since 2008, DDOT has granted 23 permits for “over-height fences in public space,” said John Lisle, a spokesman for the department. He could not say whether any of those approvals were granted two years after a fence was built.

D.C. officials have been asking Mr. Gray to resolve a series of permit issues since December. Although he retroactively obtained permits for electrical wiring installed at his home by Mr. Smith’s subcontractors, Mr. Gray still needs approval from DDOT’s Public Space Committee before DDOT and DCRA can sign off on it.

Recently, in a letter to DDOT from his attorney, Mr. Gray said he had submitted all the necessary paperwork and considered the issue “resolved.”

“This is not true,” said Lamont Regester, chief inspector at DDOT, adding that an application may have been filed erroneously with DCRA.

But Michael Rupert, a spokesman for DCRA, said his agency does not have a completed application either.

DDOT wrote letters on March 4, March 26 and April 9 threatening to fine Mr. Gray, but it has not acted.

“This is a courtesy reminder that you must submit a complete public-space permit application no later than Monday, April 12,” Karina Ricks, associate DDOT director, wrote to Mr. Gray on Friday. “Failure [to do so] will require DDOT to commence enforcement via fines on Tuesday, April 13.”

Mr. Nickles said he was “troubled” by the inconsistent enforcement efforts by DDOT and DCRA.

“I’m no permits expert, but I do understand plain English,” he said. “The letters clearly state that fines will be issued.

“It’s bizarre,” he added. “I’m unhappy with the performance of our agencies.”

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