Correction to This Article
An article about luxury vehicles leased by the city for use by top officials referred to a new Lincoln Town Car ordered by Mayor Vincent Gray's office for "staff use." The Town Car was in fact ordered by the D.C. police for use by Gray's security.
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'Fully loaded' SUV puts D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown on the spot

A Lincoln Navigator believed to have been leased for D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown. The request was for a "fully loaded" Navigator with an all-black interior. A Navigator with a gray interior was rejected, but the SUV that Brown wound up with has tan seats.
A Lincoln Navigator believed to have been leased for D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown. The request was for a "fully loaded" Navigator with an all-black interior. A Navigator with a gray interior was rejected, but the SUV that Brown wound up with has tan seats. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

William Howland, the District's director of public works under three mayors, said in an interview that he was not aware of any previous council chairman-elect requesting personal use of a city vehicle. But he procured Brown's vehicles, he said, after Brown's transition team cited a law passed in September that allows elected officials to use city vehicles during the transition period.

Brown was initially given a Chevrolet Tahoe SUV - similar to the vehicle that Gray had used as council chairman - as DPW officials went to work securing a Lincoln Navigator L.

The L model, fully loaded, includes 20-inch polished aluminum wheels, the power moonroof, touch-screen navigation, a DVD entertainment system in the back with an eight-inch screen, a rearview camera system and a premium 600-watt sound system.

Asked where the specifications originated, Howland said: "We provide them the vehicle that they want."

On Dec. 9, a leasing agent e-mailed District officials that she had found "the only Navigator L in inventory within a 6 state area" - for $1,769 a month. But it didn't have the rear entertainment system that the city had requested and the interior was "stone," or gray, not black.

A DPW official wrote back the next day to accept the vehicle, noting that "we would like the vehicle to be delivered as close to Dec 20th as possible." Howland e-mailed Brown on Dec. 20, telling him the SUV would be ready the next day. But the exchange of vehicles did not go smoothly. Brown rejected the vehicle, he said in an interview, because of the gray interior.

The next afternoon, Nyasha Smith - a D.C. Council staff member who was the incoming council secretary, its chief administrative officer - e-mailed Howland: "We requested from Department of Public Works in October a black Navigator, black-on-black interior, GPS, power moon [roof], rear entertainment system and aluminum wheels. Notwithstanding our timely request, we were not apprised of the difficulty in procuring the requested vehicle within the time frame and only yesterday, upon the vehicle's delivery, realized that we did not get what was requested, I am trying to get what is requested."

Smith sent a copy of the e-mail to Allen Y. Lew, the incoming city administrator, "so we all can come to a timely resolution together."

Howland called her back within a half-hour and then explained in an e-mail that a vehicle with an all-black interior had been found in Kansas City but would have taken two weeks to deliver - too late for Brown's inauguration.

"Given that we were trying to deliver the vehicle as soon as possible we compromised on the color of the interior," Howland wrote. "I take full responsibility on that issue."

Three choices

He gave Smith three choices: Keep the Navigator L with the gray interior, order the Kansas City vehicle or order another model, such as the more common standard-length Navigator, with an all-black interior. He did not mention that, in any case, the city would have to pay for the rejected SUV.

Smith responded 15 minutes later: "Chair-Elect Brown would like to go forward with the vehicle from the midwest," she wrote. "In the meantime we will keep the vehicle that was delivered yesterday. Just to make sure, we want black-on-black, rear entertainment system, gps, moon roof, aluminum wheels." Howland told Lew that he would look into speeding up delivery.

Howland and Brown met that evening. Brown said Howland assured him that there would be no additional cost for replacing the SUV. Howland said in an interview that price had generally not been discussed with Brown or his staff throughout the process of procuring the SUVs. But he said he did not recall details of that particular conversation.

Meanwhile, a DPW administrator worked to find a Navigator L that met Brown's specifications and that could be delivered on time. A Lincoln dealer in Mississippi found one in Coldwater, Mich. - at $1,963 a month, about $200 more a month than the first vehicle.

The next morning, Smith e-mailed Howland, with copies sent to Lew and City Administrator Neil O. Albert: "I understand that we will have the vehicle by Wednesday" - six days later. "This is great news! Thanks again for your attention and personal involvement in getting this resolved immediately." Howland explained in another e-mail later in the day that someone would drive the SUV from Michigan to the District.

Two-tone interior

The SUV arrived late on Dec. 29. But there was a problem: The Navigator had a two-tone interior that was "charcoal black" with tan seats. This sent DPW officials into a panic.

About 9:30 a.m., Howland called Albert and Lew to tell them the SUV had tan seats. Neither picked up the phone. "I am going to call Kwame and see what he wants to do," Howland wrote in an e-mail.

Brown decided to take the SUV, tan seats and all.

At 5:04 p.m., Howland e-mailed Albert and Lew: "Kwame's car was delivered to him about 15 minutes ago. Happy New Year, Bill."

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