Siren Song (Cont'd)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

THE EFFORT to donate surplus fire equipment to a small community in the Dominican Republic was, in the words of the D.C. attorney general, a "humanitarian gesture." Assuming he's right, why does no one want to claim credit for this good deed? Why are Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and members of his administration obscuring basic facts of this transaction?

It's been more than three weeks since disclosure of the unusual deal in which the city government used a local nonprofit to send a firetruck and an ambulance to the city of SosĂșa. Attorney General Peter Nickles said that he conducted a thorough review and found nothing improper; in fact, he said that the disposition served "important and legitimate public purposes."

Yet there has been unwillingness to answer basic questions about the equipment's worth, how it was declared excess and, foremost, who suggested it be donated. A procession of Fenty administration officials appeared at two hearings of the D.C. Council to profess ignorance on matters under their purview. Mr. Fenty told Channel 4's Tom Sherwood he didn't know anything about the transaction until the day before the Washington Examiner broke the story, even as it was revealed that two members of his inner circle asked the contracting officer how to undertake the donation.

The final indignity was the administration's refusal to allow the one official said to know about the transaction to testify before the council. Mr. Nickles barred the testimony, citing an investigation to be conducted by the city's inspector general. It's quite likely that this gift was perfectly appropriate; after all, in 2007 the council formally thanked the mayor of SosĂșa for his kindness in working with District youth visiting there as part of an exchange program. But the circumstances of the transaction have taken on a life of their own, and the mayor shouldn't have to wait for a formal inquiry -- or subpoenas from the council -- to level with the public about the actions of his government.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company