THE BARRAS REPORT

Sep 30th, 2013 | By | Category: Quick Takes

THE MAIN EVENT—6Things DC’s New Finance Chief Should Do

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray nominated last week Jeffrey DeWitt as the city’s new chief financial officer. Much still remains unknown about the nominee, including the true depth of his experiences. He currently is chief financial officer for Phoenix, Arizona, a city of more than one million residents but with a local budget of $3.2 million—considerably smaller than the District’s. Naturally, rave reviews of DeWitt were offered by all present, including former control board chairwoman Alice Rivlin, who, with former Mayor Anthony A. Williams, led the search committee for the new CFO.

DeWitt’s confirmation hearing before the D.C. Council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue is scheduled for Oct. 23. If confirmed by the committee and the full council, he would assume control of the $120 million Office of the Chief Financial Officer, which in  recent years has been the scene of various forms of waste, fraud and abuse, including major employee thefts and embezzlements, procurement violations, and questionable tax collection policies.

In the interest of being helpful, TBR decided to offer DeWitt a “To Do” list. (Readers should feel free to submit their own suggestions.)

 

  • DON’T TOUCH IT. Just as your council confirmation hearing begins, the District will be in the throes of its end-of-the-year closed down. Don’t get in the middle of annual audit madness. To add to the craziness, the city’s long-time comptroller Anthony Pompa was fired earlier this year. It might be best if you demand that your soon-to-be predecessor Natwar Gandhi oversee the audit process. There likely will be dozens of reprogrammings—moving money from one agency to another or from one line item to another; this has been a feature used repeatedly by Gandhi to balance the books and cover up the incompetence of agency finance officers. And if past is prologue, the management letter to accompany the city’s annual audit will announce what most of us already know: the Office of the CFO has been severely mismanaged.
  • FLUSH THE PLACE CLEAN. Before you change the furniture or name a new chief of staff, hire an independent consultant to conduct a detailed forensic audit of the OCFO, focusing on key management and activity centers, particularly the Office of Tax and Revenue.  An independent audit would also provide a benchmark for your administration, much as those mid-1990 photographs of tax returns in boxes in closets and other places were for Williams—the city’s first CFO who later became mayor.
  • POWER UP TO 4.0 management systems. Gandhi has talked of a computerized integrated tax system for years. The initial effort proved insufficient. The city has lost time and money attempting to set up a new and complete system. In fact, twice there were attempts to procure a new system and twice those procurements were cancelled. Despite his comments to the contrary, Gandhi has seemed committed to retaining a contract with Accenture.  So, conduct an objective and independent assessment of the technology needs of the OCFO, including a review of the efficiency of existing systems. At the heart of OTR problems has been this absence of an ITS, along with employees fully trained to manage its implementation and operation.
  • HOLD A CREW CALL. Meet the entire team, establishing for them the standard of operation and expectations. Then, conduct a systematic evaluation of each   employee, beginning with the central administration; a few folks there should be shown the door, including general counsel David Tseng. Don’t stop at the John A. Wilson Building. The network of finance officers, who report to you but are located in every agency, is equally important. Check out each person, reviewing the financial management of the agency for which that individual is accountable and any reports about the agency including those provided by the city’s inspector general.
  • FREE ERIC PAYNE. District law prohibits retaliation against whistleblowers—those employees who alert the public to waste, fraud or abuse. Yet, the former procurement director has been the victim of unprecedented retaliation by CFO Gandhi. At one point, the city issued a subpoena to former President Bill Clinton; Payne had previously worked in the White House. Lawyers in the Office of the Attorney General attempted to depose Payne’s wife, knowing she had just had a miscarriage. That’s a sampling of the kind of persecution to which he was subjected. Gandhi and his minions also have helped blackballed him, making it nearly impossible for him to find employment suitable for his skills, talents and record for excellence. Tell AG Irvin Nathan to settle that lawsuit. Such action would signal to OCFO workers that you intend to run an ethical agency, following all local laws.
  • LET THE LIGHT SHINE IN. Your predecessor enjoyed operating behind closed doors. Major audits and reports prepared by the CFO’s internal ethics units were kept hidden from the public by keeping the word “draft” posted on their covers. That practice, when it became known, prompted a Securities and Exchange Commission review of the OCFO. The public not only has a right to know, it’s paying the bills, including your new $250,000 salary, which seems a tad high given the fact you haven’t managed a budget the size of D.C.’s (But that’s another issue for another day.) When Williams was CFO, he regularly met with residents. That decision helped the public better understand the city’s fiscal issues and health. So commit to full transparency and launch your own community outreach program. It didn’t hurt Williams; unwittingly he created the foundation for a draft mayoral movement.

SIDESHOWS AND SOUVENIRS

Interestingly, during the recent debate surrounding the censure of Council member Marion Barry, at-large legislator Vincent Orange had accused his colleagues David Grosso and Anita Bonds of wanting the Ward 8 lawmaker’s chairmanship, as if Workforce Development and Community Affairs is a plum assignment.  But it seems Orange may be a recipient of the spoils of the censure. TBR is waiting to see if he complains or refuses the assignment.

Chairman Phil Mendelson is expected to divide Barry’s committee responsibilities among five council members. Orange will get workforce development added to his Business and Consumer Affairs; Community Affairs will be added to the Committee on Government Operations, currently chaired by Kenyan McDuffie.

Aging issues will be sent to the Committee of Health, now headed by Yvette Alexander. Mary Cheh will weave parks and recreation into her Committee on Transportation and the Environment. Human Rights will find a new home in Tommy Well’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary.

Mendelson’s refusal to give David Grosso a committee chairmanship, although he was elected to a four-year term, remains baffling. What’s that about?

 Mayoral contender Tommy Wells knew introducing legislation to decriminalize marijuana could get him attention from residents east of the Anacostia River, some of whom claim their previous drug offenses have kept them unemployed. But if he wants to capture and hold those people as possible voters in the April 1 primary, he has to get up close and far more personal.

Wells has made multiple visits to the area some folks call Barryland. Later this month, on October 23, the mayoral wannabe drills down even deeper. As chairman of the  Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, he will convene a public hearing on Bill 20-409, the “Simple Possession of Marijuana Decriminalization Act of 2013” beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Anacostia Neighborhood Library, located at 1800 Good Hope Road, S.E.

Give Wells the “Chutzpah of the Year” award. His decision to convene the hearing in Ward 8 comes after he voted with eight other council members to censure Barry. Wells likely is betting there will be more citizen support for his bill than criticism about the council’s decision to discipline Barry.

He’s probably right. But why take the risk, especially since there are already 10 co-sponsors for the decriminalization bill, guaranteeing its passage?

Call Oct 23 Wells’ “Smoke the Vote Campaign.” His mayoral campaign staffers will be out in full force, collecting names and telephone numbers for later use.

Speaking of ganja, Paul Zukerberg, the man who made legalization of marijuana a key plank in his previous council campaign platform has turned his attention to the Office of Attorney General. He announced Monday that he filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court against the Board of Election and the D.C. Council to “secure the rights of [District] voters to elect an attorney general in 2014.”

TBR readers may recall earlier this year, the council, approved (8 to 5) a proposal offered by mayoral candidate and Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans that would delay the election of the AG. That move ran counter to the overwhelming support in Nov. 2010 of District voters for the charter amendment that created an elected attorney general.

“If the Council can cancel the election for Attorney General, they can cancel the election for mayor, or their own election, and we will be left with nothing but tyranny,” Zukerberg said. ““This suit is about respecting the will of the people, and the right of District voters to choose their own elected officials.”

A lawyer with an office in Adams Morgan, Zukerberg said his suit also about D.C. voting rights. “We are at a crucial phase in our long battle to secure representation in Congress for 640,000 D.C. citizens, ” he continued. “If our elected officials do not respect our right to vote, they have no credibility in demanding from Congress and the President full and equal voting rights for District residents.”
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

GOP: LOSING ITS WAY IN DUST STORMS

By Richard Hébert

I’d intended to postpone posting again until the dust settled because it’s hard to see clearly in a dust storm. But these days one swirling mass of dust is barely beginning to subside when another is churned up in Washington. It feels like the political equivalent of the storms that ravaged the heartland Dust Bowl in the 1930s.

We had the threatened cruise missile strike against Syria. Then came the great government shut-down show-down, complete with its own kind of Cruz missile strike — albeit a mere dull-thud missile in the end. Now a return of the debt ceiling crisis is upon us along with yet another threat of U.S. default hurling the nation and the world into economic chaos. It makes you wonder what’s next. READ MORE

 

The Barras Report: Local Edition is published weekly—except during the months of July and August. All rights are reserved. Written permission must be sought and provided to reprint any item from The Barras Report. For more information, contact jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  1. [...] Jonetta Rose Barras has some suggestions for the CFO nominee (jrbarras.com) [...]

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