CFO nominee clears panel vote, set for confirmation next week

October 30, 2013
DeWitt, right, has served since 2009 as the chief financial officer for Phoenix, Ariz. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
DeWitt, right, has served since 2009 as the chief financial officer for Phoenix, Ariz. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

The District’s presumptive next chief financial officer, Jeffrey S. DeWitt, edged closer to confirmation Wednesday, unanimously clearing a D.C. Council committee vote.

The discussion of the Finance and Revenue Committee was, for the most part, brief and glowing. Panel chairman Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said DeWitt, now serving as CFO for the city of Phoenix, “comes very highly recommended” and “comported himself quite well” in a confirmation hearing last week. David Grosso (I-At Large) said he “enthusiastically” supported DeWitt, reserving particular praise for his pledge to modernize the finance agency’s technology. And David A. Catania (I-At Large) called him “extraordinarily forthcoming and knowledgeable.”

“I look forward to a new era,” said Catania, a critic of outgoing CFO Natwar M. Gandhi.

Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) offered longer-winded comments, touching on his time as mayor and offering his usual defense of his performance during the city’s early-’90s financial collapse. But they ended in praise for DeWitt — “I have done a lot of checking with people in Arizona, in Phoenix; I’m getting nothing but high marks for him” — and a pledge that he will be watching the commitment to diversity exhibited by the city’s first white CFO.

Barry noted his impression that fewer African Americans were working in the top echelon of the CFO’s office in recent years: “We’ll be working with Mr. DeWitt so that, as he goes forward, he’s sensitive, as I know he is, to the composition of the city.”

Those four members, plus Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), voted to send the nomination to the full council for a confirmation vote likely to come Tuesday. DeWitt is expected to start after the confirmation is transmitted to Congress for 30 calendar days of passive review.

In other business Wednesday, the committee, with minimal discussion, unanimously approved a bill that would allow Pepco to claim a $16 million tax refund. With considerably more debate, a split panel voted to send a bill handing a well-known Georgetown nightclub a tax break worth up to $200,000 a year.

The “Historic Music Cultural Institutions Expansion Tax Abatement Act of 2013″ is squarely aimed at benefiting Blues Alley, Evans said in the course of the meeting, giving the for-profit business an abatement on property and deed taxes involved in a possible move or expansion. The property-tax abatement, which was detailed by the Washington Business Journal back in April, could stretch over 10 years, costing taxpayers up to $2 million.

Thorn Pozen, a lawyer for the club, told the committee that efforts at securing new space are ongoing and that the club’s unique contribution to city musical culture makes it worthy of assistance. But several members of the panel were wary of supporting the bill, with Catania saying he was concerned about setting the precedent of granting a tax break for a real-estate deal that hasn’t even happened yet.

“This makes me very nervous,” said Grosso, who opted with Catania to vote “present” on the measure.

But Evans and Barry voted in favor, which with an abstention from Bowser, was sufficient to move the bill to the full council.

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 · October 30, 2013