To illustrate a point about the tenure of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, please allow LL to present a classic IQ stumper: To what question is any of the following an answer?
3) Shady travel
Yeah, that’s a pretty easy one: What are correctable problems that could keep Fenty from being re-elected?
Now for the not-so-easily correctable thing that could keep Fenty from being re-elected: a recession-fueled fiscal crisis that’s now moving to the District after rocking state upon state. Two years of smug “we’re-still-doing-better-than-Virginia-and-Maryland” comments from Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi and Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans have ceased to offer any succor. And, lucky Fenty, the crisis comes in an election year.
How deep does the pain go? For the current budget year, which ends Sept. 30, Gandhi’s already projecting a $200 million-plus deficit—or enough to run the Department of Mental Health.
Then there’s next year. With the budget cycle just beginning, the expected deficit is already $556 million—an amount that could nearly build you a new ballpark. “We’re in the most difficult fiscal situation since the ’96–’97 time period,” says fiscal guru Evans. You know, the heady days of the control board.
Fenty isn’t the only one up for election this year, of course. But he’s the public official who’ll bear the bulk of the blame for the budgetary blues. Because there’s no way out of a $556 million deficit without cuts—big ones, to things important to voters.
Hizzoner’s budgetary record includes a large chapter on gimmickry. Fenty’s budget submission last year actually shrank the city fisc for the first time since the control board, but the shrinkage was done in part by using one-time fund transfers, raiding reserve accounts, and embarking on overoptimistic projections—as evidenced by the current overspending woes.
And when Gandhi, after the budget passed last June, weighed in with a downward revenue forecast, it was mainly left to the council to do the balancing, which members hammered out in a late July closed-door session that ended being a political win for Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, who got to claim that he was the adult in the room making the tough decisions.
Evans, as staunch a mayoral ally as the council has, doesn’t dispute that it was left to the council last summer to make the hard calls—raising some taxes; cutting police and schools—that Fenty wouldn’t. But he says he’s giving Fenty the benefit of the doubt this time.
“They haven’t given me their details, but they certainly don’t argue with me that it’s crunch time,” Evans says. In a conversation with City Administrator Neil O. Albert, Evans recalls saying, “‘This city will respect you a lot more if you make the hard decisions. If you try and fudge, it’s not going to bode well for you in the short or long term.’”
Thus far, Albert’s saying all the right things. “Everything is on the line,” he told the council last Friday, at a hearing called to examine the current year’s overspending. But “everything,” it turns out, might not be “everything.” Because Albert left off the table one way to help solve the problem: raising taxes.
That, of course, would go against a 2006 Fenty campaign pledge, which he intends to keep. But most of the council has no such qualms. To wit: “I think any type of pledge about no new taxes brings you the kind of government in America that we saw with George Bush,” says Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells. “I’m not willing to dismantle our government.”
That, of course, implies that Fenty is willing. But what to dismantle? Some 80 percent of the city budget is spent in four areas—health/human services, education, public safety, and debt service. Just about all of the savings that can be wrung from debt service has already been wrung in recent years. Fenty is unlikely to make drastic cuts to the schools or cops—his pet issues. That leaves health and human services—the expensive city services delivered to the District’s neediest.
“Should we be expanding particular programs that communities have come to love?” Albert asked rhetorically on Friday. “Should there be waiting lists for some of our quasi-entitlement programs?”
Already, according to Wells, entire programs could be on the table. An early victim, already chopped due to overspending, is Interim Disability Assistance. The District pays disabled District residents during the months or years they wait for their federal disability payments to be approved. The program was capped last year, and it could be eliminated entirely for 2011.
What will all this cutting mean for the candidates? Sharp cuts to human services might not have much electoral impact, at least not for Fenty—with poll after poll showing his weakness in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, where the cuts would be felt, he isn’t likely to lose votes that he hasn’t already lost. The situation is trickier for potential mayoral candidate Gray, who won kudos from political chatterers last summer for his fiscal dealings, but if he plays the same adult-in-the-room role again, he might end up having to explain cuts to cops and teachers on the campaign trail.
But someone’s gotta do it.
Evans says that he plans to “put forth the ideas about where we need to make the structural cuts in the budget, as painful as they may be.” Translation: Cuts to health and human services programs without much impact on Evans’ Ward 2 constituency, but a lot more dear to citizens in other parts of the city.
“I am prepared to be the control board in this situation,” Evans says.
Albert on Friday also indulged in the analogy: “We are our own control board. We are going to have to make those decisions…and they’re going to be tough ones,” he said. “Tough decisions that, particularly in election years…politicians don’t want to make.”
Why Is Marion Barry’s Car Registered to His Crony?
Anyone who carries on personal and political dealings with Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry lives under something of a cloud: Sooner or later, you’re going to be interrogated or investigated by authorities. Ex-girlfriend Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, key aide Brenda Richardson, other staffers—they all come in for some prime-time analysis in the report issued last week by attorney Bob Bennett.
The light of scrutiny shines hard on the Rev. Anthony Motley, one of Barry’s closest confidants and a 2010 independent candidate for an at-large D.C. Council seat.
Motley’s name surfaces in Bennett’s report in connection with those various Ward 8 “councils,” shorthand for the nonprofits that Barry helped create and to which he steered city funds. Motley told investigators that he launched the groups in order to be Barry’s “eyes and ears and legs on the ground.”
Besides eyes and ears and legs, Motley’s also had a key role regarding Barry’s wheels.
Unlike most other councilmembers, Barry’s ride doesn’t sport special council plates but rather a plain-old District tag, CU-5768. Marion Barry without vanity tags is a puzzling thing, because if there’s one thing the career pol loves, it’s the perks of public office.
And if the councilmember drove a car registered in his own name, it’s a good bet that he’d have ward 8 councilmember emblazoned on those red-white-and-blue tags. But his ride, a 1997 Mercedes E320, isn’t registered to the councilmember. It’s registered to Motley, according to public records available through Lexis-Nexis.
The car has been in Motley’s name since May 2007, and Barry has been driving the car at least since June 2008, when it was found inconsiderately parked on Washington City Paper’s parking deck. It’s regularly parked in front of the John A. Wilson Building.
So why would Barry drive a car not registered in his name?
Actually, a better question: Why not?
Like tardiness and nasty quips to the press, Barry has trademarked the art of tying his fortune to that of his cronies. To wit, the Bennett report finds that Barry ordered Donna Watts-Brighthaupt to give him cash paid to her via a city contract he awarded.
The report doesn’t discuss the councilmember’s odd automobile arrangement, but it does outline what Motley has received through his association with Barry: He “personally received at least $54,000 from [fiscal 2009] earmark grant recipients”—earmarks all requested by Barry.
Motley’s ties to Barry go deep. He played a key role in Barry’s 2008 council campaign. Last year, he married a member of Barry’s council staff. He waited outside a U.S. Park Police lockup late into the night of July 4, 2009, waiting for Barry to be released after his stalking arrest. And according to the Bennett Report, Motley’s been Barry’s “medical attorney in fact” since February 2009—meaning Motley’s empowered to make medical decisions for Barry in case he’s incapable of making them himself.
However, there’s another reason Barry might not want to have a shiny Mercedes registered in his name. Under the terms of a settlement agreement with federal prosecutors in his long-running federal tax-fraud case, Barry has to fully report his income and spending to authorities on a monthly basis in order to determine how much of his income is seized in order to pay back taxes. If Barry were to include payments on a luxury vehicle, they could demand an adjustment to Barry’s repayment schedule.
If prosecutors determine that Barry has been shrouding income—say by driving a car registered in someone else’s name—it could lead them to seek yet another contempt finding against Barry.
Motley did not return numerous calls for comment.
LL reached Barry recently and asked why his car is registered to Motley. His reply: “Goodbye.” Dial tone. His attorney, Fred Cooke, was not aware of the arrangement when asked about it Tuesday.
The automobile question isn’t the only one about Motley’s fitness for public office. The Bennett Report is rife with instances of bad behavior involving Motley.
When the Ward 8 “councils” were first incorporated, it was Motley who paid for the corporate registration process—by withdrawing money from the Marion Barry Scholarship Fund, money meant for needy kids. Motley told investigators he did so of his own volition, but a Barry aide, according to the report, said it was done under Barry’s orders—raising the prospect that Motley was covering for Barry.
As noted above, Barry-directed earmarks were a key source of income for Motley.
Of the $54,000 that Motley received from the “councils,” $39,000 reimbursed the Barry associate for serving as executive director of nonprofits named Inner Thoughts and Jobs Coalition.
Motley got another $14,500 through another earmark recipient, a group called the National Association of Former Foster Care Children of America (NAFFCCA). Motley had no direct connection to the group, but because the NAFFCCA didn’t meet the council’s minimal rules for receiving earmarked funds, it needed a “fiscal agent”—a third-party group to oversee the group’s spending. That group was Inner Thoughts—and the money that the NAFFCCA paid as fees for serving as a fiscal agent went directly into Motley’s personal bank account.
Here’s what Bennett got by way of explanation: “Rev. Motley said the fee went towards his administrative efforts, and he estimated he spent between four and six hours each month on matters related to NAFFCCA.” That works out to at least $202 per hour—not a bad rate.
Investigators also “identified numerous irregularities with regard to the earmark grantees with which Rev. Motley was associated.” For one, there’s “substantial evidence that Rev. Motley treated earmark funds from all three grantees, including those of the bankrupt NAFFCCA, as one pool of money.” That means, for instance, that NAFFCCA earmark checks went into the Inner Thoughts bank account. The funds were then used to pay NAFFCCA expenses to both Jobs Coalition and Inner Thoughts—$48,000 worth. Some of those expenses were paid without the approval of the NAFFCCA board.
The report calls this an “apparent breach of fiduciary duty and self-dealing.”
Motley explained to investigators that he thought “Inner Thoughts was entitled to retain grant funds awarded to NAFFCCA so long as Inner Thoughts performed work that was related to the purpose of the NAFFCCA grant.”
And here’s another gem: “Motley admitted that he manufactured supporting documentation for certain grantee expenses—in some instances, after receiving [the Bennett team’s] document subpoena”—including backdated employee timecards and a lease with a fictitious landlord.
In an interview aired last Wednesday, Motley told WJLA-TV’s Sam Ford, “These are legitimate entities that were established to provide services to the citizens of Ward 8.
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