D.C. chief financial officer should release details about top tax appraiser

September 13, 2012

THE DISTRICT’S chief financial officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, is right to prize the independence of his office as integral to the city’s financial health. But that doesn’t give him a pass on being accountable to questions about its operations. The high-handed refusal to provide basic information about the hiring of the city’s chief property tax appraiser is a troubling decision that Mr. Gandhi would do well to reverse if he hopes to retain the public’s confidence.

At issue is the hiring of Tony L. George, whose involvement in settlements lowering property assessments — often against the recommendations of staff appraisers — of 500 commercial properties has come under question. According to The Post’s Debbie Cenziper and Nikita Stewart, the office’s practices are being looked at by the FBI and internal auditors.

The Post recently disclosed that Mr. George’s termination from his previous job in Fulton County, Ga., in 2010 was prompted in part by concerns about his lowering of property assessments. Georgia officials recounted how Mr. George made “unilateral decisions” to change values; Mr. George did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Gandhi and his staff have defended the settlements as a way to save costs on tax appeal litigation but have been unwilling to say if they were aware of the reasons for Mr. George’s termination when they hired him. They also have refused to provide the most basic information, such as Mr. George’s résumé and job application, saying their practice is not to make personnel information public. Perhaps that rationale would be okay if Mr. Gandhi and Mr. George worked for a private company, but they work for the District of Columbia and are paid with public dollars. The Post, under provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, has appealed the denial to the mayor’s office, which, judging by its own practice of releasing résumés of those in top positions, should have the good sense to recognize the public’s interest in knowing the qualifications of people hired by its government and how they came to be hired.

D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who chairs the finance committee with oversight over Mr. Gandhi’s office, told us he will hold a hearing Oct. 10 to air concerns that have been raised about the tax office. It’s a welcome move that should be used by Mr. Gandhi to show his office has nothing to hide.

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