After a year in office, D.C. Inspector General Angela Avant should have figured out that political favoritism in awarding municipal contracts has drained the city treasury and saddled residents with lousy services. Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. has handed out enough lucrative contracts to unqualified political allies to fill all the recycling bins in the IG’s office.
But when Avant set up a system for reviewing contracts two weeks ago, she failed to include procedures for determining whether contracts were awarded on the basis of merit or cronyism. In this city, that’s like investigating a bank holdup and never requesting a description of the robber. The oversight was typical of the substandard investigative work Avant has produced since taking office last Jan. 16.
And it’s just the sort of work that will likely earn Avant a spot in the growing line of jettisoned D.C. government workers.
The significance of her first anniversary is no secret to Avant. The control board, which has cast a skeptical eye on Avant’s investigative capabilities, pledged last fall to complete a thorough IG performance evaluation in late January. The subtext was written in bold: Avant had a couple of months to save her job with some hard-hitting exposés of wrongdoing and waste in the D.C. government.
The IG responded by riding herd on her staffers to produce reports and even canceled all holiday leave for IG employees. But corrupt and negligent D.C. government employees have little to fear from the IG’s recent conversion to workaholism: Over the past month, the IG’s office has produced only two reportsa limp investigation of spending by the D.C. School of Law and a probe of the public schools’ maintenance contract.
Barry, who seems to like Avant’s passive style, may be the only one lamenting her imminent removal. But Barry is powerless to save her job. Although the mayor hired Avant, subject to control board confirmation, the control board holds exclusive power to get rid of her.
“I don’t think the board will keep her,” said a control board staffer. “I don’t think she’s been a good inspector general. She’s been nonresponsive for a year.”
Avant’s own assessment sounds like the happy talk of a drunken New Year’s reveler. “I think it’s been a wonderful year,” says Avant. “Challenging, to say the least, but given the circumstances of the office I took over, we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress.” She says the office has mushroomed from six employees to 35 auditors, investigators, and technical staff in her short tenure. Avant also claims that an unpublished investigation has resulted in charges against D.C. treasury employees for wrongdoing, but she declines to provide details.
When the control board confirmed Barry’s selection of Avant in December 1995, board members practically pleaded with her to be “a junkyard dog” in chasing after waste, fraud, and abuse in city government. But Avant told board members she was offended by that characterization and intended to focus her management skills and experience on helping to bring better management to the badly run D.C. government.
In an unusual move, the control board outlined in Avant’s confirmation resolution exactly what she needed to do in the inspector general’s job to win converts among the five dubious board members. The board will now place that resolution alongside Avant’s list of achievements as IG.
Avant’s main weakness, according to sources familiar with her office, is that she doesn’t have the nose of an investigator and doesn’t seek the advice of experienced sleuths on her staff. The resulting breach has fostered mistrust between some of Avant’s investigators and their boss, according to one source.
Still, mistrust around the IG’s office doesn’t run as deep as it did a year ago, when the FBI and other agencies were reluctant to cooperate with Avant’s office for fear she would pass information to Barry, control board officials say.
In documenting their case against Avant, control board officials might refer to her just-completed investigation of unpaid bills at the D.C. School of Law. The IG’s report, released last week, examined nearly $634,000 in unpaid bills resulting from last year’s merger of the law school with the University of the District of Columbia (UDC). Avant’s office found no evidence that the law school or UDC had actually received goods and services represented by some $312,000 in invoices. However, the IG never determined whether school officials intentionally misspent the moneyan infraction that would make them eligible for prosecution under the federal anti-deficiency act.
That was the main thing the control board wanted to know and the one thing Avant didn’t provide. “I didn’t fail to determine that,” Avant insists. “To look at violations of the anti-deficiency act is a very different charge.”
Whatever the case, the board has sent Avant back to redo her investigation. But while she’s working on revisions, she just might want to update her résumé.
WHO’S ON FIRST
IN WARD 6?
A D.C. political event without John Capozzi is like a District street without potholes. But the ever-present Capozzi was noticeably absent from Monday’s inaugural events. Instead, Capozzi was knocking on doors near Lincoln Park seeking votes in the April 29 special election to fill the unexpired term of former Ward 6 Councilmember Harold Brazil.
Buoyed by a favorable poll of 204 frequent Ward 6 voters conducted Jan. 13-14, Capozzi is campaigning nonstop, even on last Monday’s combined Inauguration/Martin Luther King Jr. Day. That poll, according to Capozzi, shows that among the possible contenders, only he and Imani Temple Archbishop George Stallings possess widespread name recognition among voters across the ward.
And Stallings’ unfavorable rating is 70 percent, Capozzi said, while 51 percent of the voters polled viewed Capozzi favorably.
That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, since Capozzi’s campaign conducted the poll.
“Everyone else is in single digits. I think it’s going to be between the two of us,” Capozzi said confidently.
But at least 10 other contenders, including highly regarded former council staffer Sharon Ambrose, scoff at Capozzi’s contention that the Ward 6 special election has already narrowed to a two-man race. “Name recognition doesn’t tell you whether people are going to vote for you,” says Ambrose. “In some quarters, Capozzi’s name recognition elicits giggles. He’s rapidly getting the reputation of being the Harold Stassen of District politics.” The office opened up when Brazil moved from his Ward 6 seat to an at-large council seat in the November elections.
Neither snow nor arctic cold prevented Ambrose from announcing her candidacy for the Ward 6 council seat Jan. 11outdoors in Lincoln Park. Despite the frigid temperatures, some 40 supporters turned out to hear Ambrose give the first issues-oriented speech of the campaign.
Ambrose last worked as legislative director for former At-Large Councilmember John Ray until Ray stepped down Jan. 2. He did show up for the announcement, but not before Ambrose had finished speaking.
In announcing her candidacy, Ambrose pledged to work for safer streets, a cleaner environment, and “zero tolerance” for city agencies that fail to enforce zoning ordinances, business regulations, and liquor laws. She opposes the Barney Circle Freeway and the Children’s Island amusement park on the Anacostia River.
Members of the Capitol Hill Area Merchants and Professionals association (CHAMPS) and the Capitol Hill Restoration Society made up the bulk of the crowd at Ambrose’s announcement. Real estate businesswoman Nicky Cymrot is chairing Ambrose’s campaign. Vickey Wilcher, who ran the get-out-the-vote operation for newly elected Ward 8 Councilmember Sandy Allen last year, is the campaign manager.
Meanwhile, Stallings, founder of the Imani Temple African-American Catholic Church, has been actively campaigning wherever Ward 6 voters cluster. Judging from the reaction he received recently at Eastern Market, where voters minded their shopping and ignored his campaigning, Stallings may have to pull off a miracle equivalent to Moses parting the Red Sea to make the move from pulpit to elected political office.
Rob Robinson, former top aide to Brazil, has been felled by the flu in recent weeks but plans to announce his candidacy this Saturday, Jan. 25. UDC urban studies professor Howard Croft will throw his hat into the ring the following Saturday, Feb. 1.
Aide to former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly Gigi Ransom, AIDS activist Steve Michael, newcomer Yehanna Malone, Anacostia resident Charles Day, former Stanton Park Civic Association president Tom Hamilton, Anacostia High School tutor Chidiadi Akoma, and Ernest Postell Sr., a staunch ally of the ward’s first elected councilmember, Nadine Winter, have taken out petitions to run for the vacancy as well.
The filing deadline is Feb. 18, just in case anyone else out there wants to jump into the pool. With characters like these in a field of seasoned politicos struggling for the allegiance of a racially diverse ward, the Ward 6 election will stir up the sort of high political drama the city hasn’t seen since Barry’s 1994 comeback.
When an inaugural parade watcher suggested to Mayor Barry last Monday that he hold his next inauguration in front of the District Building, Hizzoner responded, “That’s a great idea.” But when the same suggestion was put to Cora Masters Lady MacBarry, she snapped back, “Who said he was a candidate?”
Everyone seems to know Barry is already running hard for re-electionexcept the District’s first lady.
Although Barry prefers his new digs at 441 4th St. NW, and members of the D.C. Council are eager to exit the dilapidated District Building next month, the drafty old building, perfectly situated on the presidential inaugural parade route, was a popular spot Monday.
Some council staffers speculated that this could have been the last time D.C. officials get to use the 95-year-old building to watch a newly sworn-in president parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Once the building’s renovation is completed, the federal government will control most of the space in the city’s former city hall.
Barry, with a heated tent strung up on the building’s north steps to serve as “the mayor’s box,” controlled the prime viewing post for the parade. But even that, coupled with the free box lunches and hot chocolate given away, wasn’t enticing enough to draw a crowd.
Four years ago, then-Mayor Kelly and councilmembers fought bitterly over parade-watching space in front of the District Building. But Barry’s 130-seat box was never more than half-filled Monday as Bill and Hillary passed by. The biggest excitement of the day came when parade watchers in the box spotted ABC-TV personality Barbara Walters in a limousine next to U.S. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.).
Noticeably absent from the box were the usual political establishment figures who once couldn’t seem to get close enough to Barry. Perhaps top D.C. government officials realize that power now rests with the new team of Chief Financial Officer Anthony Williams and City Administrator Michael Rogers, who were also nowhere to be seen Inaugural Day.
Neither was D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
But no one could miss boxing promoter Rock Newman, who appeared to be enjoying the festivities immensely.
Interest in Clinton’s second inauguration among D.C. residents was so low that Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous and At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil didn’t even throw parties for their constituents.
Newly elected At-Large Republican Councilmember Carol Schwartz was the only one who looked like a committed Democrat. A mob of Republicans crammed into her office to watch a Democratic president pass by on his way to a second term and to celebrate Schwartz’s 53rd birthday. Barry even left his box to lead Schwartz’s crowd in a robust rendition of Happy Birthday. But the singers had a tough time following Barry’s lead, since he was trying to do his best imitation of Stevie Wonder, and not succeeding.
Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis, who has been in charge of the council while council Chairman Dave Clarke remains hospitalized, stuck so close to Barry on Monday that she appeared to be taking over for former security detailee Ulysses Walltower.
Jarvis waved broadly at those in the parade, and some even waved back.
Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson also hosted a party for parade watchers. But Patterson, Barry’s favorite whipping girl, was never spotted in the mayor’s box.
President Clinton may not have mentioned D.C. in his inaugural address as many had hoped, but then, how many D.C. officials would have been around to hear it?CP
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