The District's public health commissioner, Dr. Andrew D. McBride, said yesterday he will repay the city government for more than $5,000 in long-distance car-phone calls, most to an old college friend in Minnesota who McBride had hired as a consultant, and more than $900 for six personal trips in his government car to Spencertown, N.Y.
The consultant, Charles E. Dickerson, may be asked to repay part of the $38,788 in fees the commission paid him for seven months of work, if a further evaluation shows that is warranted, McBride said at a press conference yesterday.
Dickerson will be asked to produce a "more acceptable" final report than the documents he has submitted so far to the health commission, within the next 30 days and at no extra cost to the city, and then the city will determine if any "adjustments" need to be made. If Dickerson should balk at any repayment the District deems appropriate, the city would be willing to take legal action to get it back, the commissioner said.
"I apologize for the embarrassment to the District and for my errors in judgment, and in the future I will exercise more diligent oversight in discharging my responsibilities as commissioner of public health," McBride said in a prepared statement.
The Washington Post reported earlier this week that McBride had hired Dickerson as a $245-a-day full-time consultant and that the city was billed for 40-hour work weeks, even though Dickerson continued to live in Minnesota, maintaining a full-time job at Carleton College.
McBride said yesterday that the full-time billings were intended to take care of travel costs and other expenses but that that was "not in keeping with proper procedure" under District regulations.
McBride said that early this year he took six weekend trips to Spencertown to see his sons and drove his District-owned car so he could keep in contact with the commission staff in case of crises.
"The place I visited was in a remote area of upstate New York, and the car was the only practical means of transportation to get back at a reasonable time," he said. "I felt the need to maintain contact with staff and if need be turn around."
But since he did not have prior approval to use the car out of state and since the car was used "in part" for personal reasons, McBride said he would reimburse the city government at a rate of 22 cents per mile.
Spencertown, which is south of Albany, is 375 miles from Washington, D.C., without any detours, according to the American Automobile Association, and at that distance the repayment for the six trips would work out to $990. A Department of Human Services (DHS) spokesman said it has not yet been worked out exactly how the milage will be determined.
The long-distance calls identified on the commissioner's car phone so far total $5,400, the spokesman said. There were a total of 341 long-distance calls, of which 221 were to Dickerson, he said.
"I was first made aware on Aug. 29, 1985, of the prohibition of the use of the car telephone for long-distance calls due to the high cost to the District," McBride said.
"In consideration of the cost involved and the fact that some of these calls may be interpreted as personal and my error, I will reimburse the District for all long-distance calls on my official car upon the determination of the exact cost."
DHS Director David Rivers, McBride's immediate superior, participated in the press conference, saying he accepted McBride's statement and "I consider this matter closed."
Dickerson, who has a PhD in history and is Carleton's director of the Office of Third World Affairs, had submitted a four-page document, dated March 10 and labeled "final consultative report" by the health commission. In it, he told McBride not to work so hard and included 21 general recommendations, including the "possible phasing out of selected programs" without suggesting which ones.
He also submitted a five-page outline on a summer youth jobs program, a five-page evaluation of a drug institute proposal and an informal proposal to Kuwait on investing in economic development here, which was not acted on.
Dickerson, reached at his office at Carleton College yesterday, said he could not respond to the officials' announcement until he had confirmed the information and thought it over. He said he had not seen the earlier reports in The Post, in which he was quoted. "I never said I was a genius. You just have to learn from your experiences," he said yesterday.
McBride, who became commissioner 14 months ago, said Dickerson's reports did not reflect all of the work he did for the commission in advising McBride.
"He dealt with sensitive personnel matters that really wouldn't be appropriate to be put in writing," McBride said.
D.C. City Administrator Thomas Downs, who was involved in discussions with Rivers and McBride about the contract and the use of the car, said yesterday he was "pleased that the doctor McBride has been as frank and open about this series of problems that has been raised, and I think this is a professional way to address them."
Downs said the Dickerson contract "points out a potential problem we need to address" in establishing and enforcing regulations and guidelines on personal services contracts. In part the problem lies with inadequate briefing of new officials on proper contracting procedures, he said.