Fenty Puts Friend Behind City-Owned Wheel, Breaks Rule
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has allowed a friend to chauffeur him in a city-owned Lincoln Navigator, in apparent violation of laws that permit only city employees and officials to drive government vehicles.
Fenty (D), who shortly after taking office scaled back his security detail and began driving himself around town, has been spotted on occasion in the passenger's seat of the black sport-utility vehicle driven by Keith Lomax, 46, a businessman who was once the mayor's high school substitute teacher. Lomax has received almost $11 million in contracts since Fenty took office and has contributed to the mayor's reelection campaign.
The pair were spotted riding along New York Avenue NE on May 13. When a reporter asked whether someone who is not a city employee was allowed to serve as his driver, Fenty responded, "He is if I let him."
All regulations regarding the operation of city-owned vehicles refer only to "officers and employees" of the District. There are no provisions that allow civilians to be behind the wheel.
Attorney General Peter Nickles said in an e-mailed statement that "the Mayor's use of the vehicle was within the scope of his official duties and privileges, and therefore usage was neither wasteful nor illegal."
City Auditor Deborah K. Nichols offered a different interpretation: "It is not my understanding that there is a provision in the law or regulation in the law that allows civilians to drive city-owned vehicles," she said.
In addition, Nichols said that allowing non-employees to drive city vehicles poses legal hazards for the District in the event of an accident. "The city being a self-insurer, it would have an impact on our revenue if this driver was at fault," she said. "The city would be liable to pay for any damages."
Some people who work in City Hall say they have seen Lomax driving Fenty but declined to speak publicly for fear of running afoul of the mayor.
In summer 2007, Fenty began abandoning his security detail, which included a plainclothes police officer who drove the SUV, and driving himself in the Navigator. Last year, he largely gave up the Navigator and started driving a fuel-efficient Smart Car. He generally drives the black two-seater convertible on official business while special assistant Veronica Washington sits in the passenger seat. Fenty said he usually drives the Navigator home after work and back to the John A. Wilson Building in the morning, where he switches to the Smart Car.
The mayor said he and Lomax were on their way to a Washington Capitals game May 13. He described Lomax as an "old friend" he met at Mackin Catholic High School, which is now part of Archbishop Carroll High School. Lomax, Fenty said, was his substitute teacher.
Lomax did not return e-mails last week. Reached last week by phone, his wife, Rene Peace Lomax, said she would relay a request for comment to her husband. He had not responded as of yesterday.
Lomax, who lives in Prince George's County, was a basketball standout at St. Anthony Catholic School and later at Providence College. St. Anthony, through mergers, also became part of Archbishop Carroll.
Business records show that Lomax owned a jewelry business before he went into landscaping under a company called RBK Landscaping and Construction. Just before Fenty took office in 2007, RBK began landing contracts to provide maintenance at various city buildings. The contracts, awarded by the administration of former mayor Anthony A. Williams, totaled about $1.2 million.
Starting in 2007, RBK became more involved in capital projects, particularly in school modernization. One contract, worth $4 million, is for "general miscellaneous repairs" at schools. Others are more specific, with renovations made at Barnard Elementary and School Without Walls. Since 2007, RBK has received about $10.9 million in city work, according to purchase orders and other documents.
In December, Lomax, his wife, his business partner Brian Waller and RBK as a company each contributed $2,000 to Fenty's 2010 reelection campaign.
In all city documents, RBK's address is listed on Minnesota Avenue NE, near the Deanwood Metro Station. The office is a townhouse that has no signage identifying it as a landscaping/development business.