D.C. to Study, Enforce Vehicle Leasing Laws

There are plenty of laws to limit excessive leasing of vehicles by the city, and D.C. officials will get up to speed on those laws and enforce them.

The D.C. Council held a hearing Thursday to address Navigator-gate. The District's vehicle leasing practices are under scrutiny since Council Chairman Kwame Brown requested two "fully loaded" Lincoln Navigator SUVs at a cost of about $1,900 per month apiece. The first was ordered the day after Brown was elected in November. The second was ordered because Brown didn't like the color of the interior of the first one.

The SUVs have since been returned, and Brown has since been seen tooling around in an old mail jeep, but the first SUV is still costing the city at least $17,000 because the leasing company is resisting returning any money.

Public Works Director Bill Howland spent weeks struggling to find an SUV acceptible for Brown, incurring monthly costs of $4,000. The city has turned in the cars but may still wind up paying $25,000 or more for the short-term use.

Mayor Vincent Gray had a leased Chevy Tahoe when he was council chairman. That lease could have been extended for Brown for about $600 per month, though no one made such a suggestion.

A preliminary report by the office of Councilman Tommy Wells found that city officials broke the law by providing the SUVs to Brown. District law prohibits leasing or purchasing a staff vehicle that gets less than 22 miles per gallon, unless it’s for security purposes. Wells said it appears the law is routinely violated and he’s called for further investigation.

Councilman Jack Evans, who has proposed a bill that would require the mayor to account annually for all city vehicle leases, said no one needs a car except the mayor, and he "wouldn't be caught dead" with a city-leased car and driver.

Another city statute says only the mayor is allowed to have a driver on the city's payroll.

"Let's face it: we've had a difficult few months at City Hall and I have learned some tough lessons," read an e-mail from Brown. "DC deserves better; you deserve better. I promise you that I plan to operate differently moving forward - to get past any distractions, focus on the people's business and work even harder to ensure that our thriving city takes its rightful place as an unparalleled world capital."

City Administrator Allen Lew said he's still reviewing all city leases and will ensure that all city officials follow the law from now on.

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