Council members Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) have launched an official investigation into the saga over how and why a District fire truck and ambulance was donated, and subsequently returned, to a small town in the Dominican Republic.
In a statement, the two members described the Fenty administration's decision to give away the emergency equipment as an "evolving scandal" that now requires its third investigation in less than a month.
"The bizarre circumstances surrounding these events and the peculiar lack of candor on the part of the Executive demand close scrutiny," Cheh said. "We are compelled to take this step."
The investigation, which will be conducted by the Government Operations and the Environment and Public Safety and Judiciary committees, will enable the council to subpoena testimony from key actors in the decision to transfer the equipment.
The investigation follows an effort earlier this week by Cheh, the chairwoman of the operations committee, and Mendelson, chair of the public safety committee, to extract answers from the Office of Contracting Procurement.
Council members believe Wilbur Giles, the chief of staff at the contracting office, authorized an emergency rule change to facilitate the transfer of the equipment to the nonprofit group Peaceoholics, which then sent the fire truck and ambulance on its way to the Dominican Republic.
But Giles, acting under advice from the Attorney General Peter J. Nickles, refused to testify, citing an ongoing Inspector Generals Office probe into the matter.
In the resolution authorizing the Council's probe, the council noted that Fire chief Denis Rubin had previously testified that the fire truck had about 197,000 miles on it when it when it was donated. But Mendelson went to look at the truck after it was returned to the city and found, he claims, it had only 55,000 miles on it.
Last week, Mendelson and Cheh pressed for an Inspector General's investigation after they were unsatisfied with a report issued by Nickles that found no wrongdoing.
Mendelson said today he thought it was appropriate for the Council to also investigate the matter because
"this is not a criminal matter."
"There is nothing we can interfere with by asking questions," Mendelson said.