Which D.C. Council member tried to get his tickets fixed?

November 21, 2012

A legislator had his top aide personally petition the DMV director to have 10 tickets dismissed. (Amanda Voisard — The Washington Post)

A recent Inspector General report contains an interesting detail: A D.C. Council member last year tried to get 10 tickets dismissed, and managed to get one of them canceled even after a Department of Motor Vehicles hearing examiner held the member was liable for it.

That tidbit is contained in a Nov. 15 report on how the DMV processes traffic and parking tickets, which among other things criticizes city officials for repeatedly extending a $52 million ticket processing contract without seeking competitive bids. It also raises questions about lax oversight of voided tickets, a high number of tickets voided due to administrative issues ($4.1 million in 2010 alone), and the odd situation seen in the mystery council member’s tickets.

According to the report, the chief of staff for a “then-D.C. Councilmember” e-mailed DMV Director Lucinda Babers on Jan. 25, 2011, asking that 10 tickets be dismissed under a law exempting council members from parking regulations while on official business. The request was forwarded to a DMV hearing examiner, who dismissed six of the 10 tickets, but sustained four others. Those, according to the report, “included two speeding tickets, one red light violation, and one failure to report for inspection.”

Then in May, the Department of Public Works, which does most parking enforcement in the city, included the “failure to report for inspection” citation on a list of tickets to be voided sent to the DMV. The ticket was duly voided.

“Although we did not find evidence of a pervasive control weakness with regard to post-adjudication ticket voidance requests, there is a risk that the process could be abused by individuals requesting ticket voidance after DMV adjudication,” the report concludes. The DMV said in a response that it is required to void tickets at the request of agency writing the tickets, regardless of a hearing examiner’s ruling.

The practice described in the report raises a number of concerns. While many elected officials use their status to legally flout parking laws, why was a council member trying to be excused from moving violations? Why did the council member go directly to the DMV director rather than through the same appeals process the rest of us have to use? And why did DPW void that inspection ticket five months later — the DMV, after all, runs the inspection station?

And, of course, who is the mystery council member? The report repeatedly refers to the person being a “then-councilmember,” implying that said member is no longer on the council. There are three members who were serving on Jan. 25 of last year who are not serving now. You can rule out Sekou Biddle (D-At Large), who had been sworn in barely two weeks prior and would have been highly unlikely to rack up 10 tickets in that time; that leaves Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), who now resides in an Alabama prison after resigning and pleading guilty to federal theft charges, and Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D), who resigned in June before pleading guilty to a federal bank fraud charge.

I’ve e-mailed Fred Cooke, who represents both Thomas and Brown, and I’ve asked the DMV for more information on the member in question. I’ll update this post if I get any responses.

Update, 1:15 p.m.: Cooke replies: “I do not have any reason to believe that either Mr. Thomas or Mr. Brown are at issue here.”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · November 21, 2012