Kwame Brown's SUV: Report finds city's car fleet breaks laws

A damning early version of a D.C. Council investigation has found that both Council Chairman Kwame Brown and Mayor Vince Gray violated the law when Brown was given a city-leased Lincoln Navigator. (Actually, there were two of them.)

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Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, who requested the investigation last week, released preliminary findings Monday morning. It is against District law to lease vehicles that have fuel mileage of below 22 MPG. (Exceptions can be made for security or safety reasons.) Wells' office determined that Brown "inappropriately requested [a Navigator], and [Gray] appears to have violated DC law by providing it."

Report on Preliminary Findings, 2011-02-28, FINAL

And this wasn't a one-time incident. The report's main takeaway:

It appears that the laws and regulations of the District have not been followed as it relates to SUVs, fuel efficiency, authorized use, authorized drivers, and overall fleet management. In light of this preliminary review, the Committee on Public Works and Transportation will hold a special oversight hearing to focus on the procurement and use of DC official vehicles.

The investigation found that city's fleet includes 42 SUVs, although some were purchased before the fuel mileage law went into effect in 2004.

Sekou Biddle, the interim at-large councilmember who won his seat in no small part due to Brown's backing, is joining with Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans to introduce legislation that would require the mayor and council to approve all vehicle leases. The bill will also require the mayor to provide an annual accounting of every vehicle in the District's fleet to the council.

""We are determined to phase out all District leased vehicles that are not essential for daily work-related activities," Evans said in a statement. "This legislation will require a clear justification for the use of any and all vehicles leased by the city."

Brown responded in a statement released by his office:

I commend Councilmember Wells for his leadership of the Committee on Public Works and Transportation. I agree that the procurement process requires a top to bottom review, and trust that the committee will make the necessary recommendations for changes when the final report is issued.

City Administrator Allen Lew got a little prickly in his response, which was released late Monday.

I am reviewing the preliminary report issued today by Councilmember Tommy Wells. While the preliminary report was done quickly and may be missing key information the Administration will appear before the Public Works & Transportation Committee as requested to address the issues raised as well as some of the findings from last year's DC Auditor's report. ...

I will not make arbitrary snap decisions without reviewing all of the facts. While much of the activity in question pre-dates the 55-day-old Gray Administration, I am committed to making sure that the issues are resolved and that going forward, District staff is properly trained on the laws and regulations.

Lew's response also emphasized that Gray played no role in selecting his vehicle, and that at least former mayors Adrian Fenty and Anthony Williams used similar autos to get around.

A report in Monday's Washington Examiner found the District's top officials spend more on their rides than leaders in the region's other jurisdictions.

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