A D.C. Council committee voted unanimously yesterday to urge Mayor Marion Barry to cancel a $17,000 Potomac River cruise planned for tonight and use the money to open half a dozen public swimming pools sooner than scheduled.
Barry, who appeared briefly at the meeting, vowed to go ahead with the cruise to entertain former workers of the now-defunct Riverfest and other supporters.
Meanwhile, D.C. Auditor Otis Troupe said in a letter to the committee that he had inquired on several occasions about special funds such as the $100,000 account used to pay for the cruise, but at no time did the Barry administration provide any information "about the existence of the fund in question."
"Further, the executive has on several occasions specifically denied the existence of such funds," Troupe said.
Troupe characterized the cruise as a "perquisite" available exclusively to senior level officials. "In my view, this form of fringe benefit goes beyond what I believe is reasonable compensation and benefits for senior level employees," Troupe said.
Council member Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward 1), who called the emergency meeting of the Committee on Public Service, has criticized the mayor for paying for the cruise by dipping into the government account composed of private donations and vendor fees from past Riverfests.
Smith vowed yesterday to investigate the previously unknown fund, which has a balance of $109,600, and to determine whether the D.C. Department of Recreation has set up other unaudited funds.
"It's posturing," Barry said of the committee's 4 to 0 vote. "Members of the committee knew about the fund. I don't know why they pretended they didn't know about it. As far as I am concerned, the cruise will continue."
Three weeks ago, Barry canceled the $400,000 annual Riverfest celebration, which was scheduled for June 2 and 3, because of what he said were budgetary constraints and community concerns about the size of the crowds it has drawn to waterfront locations in Southwest Washington and Georgetown.
Smith and other council members angrily responded after learning this week that the Barry administration decided to go ahead with the cruise, which in past years has been held in tandem with Riverfest, despite the festival's cancellation.
More than 300 people have been invited to this year's cruise on the Cherry Blossom, which was rented in April for $8,000, according to Recreation Department officials, who said the city also spent $4,000 on food services for the cruise and additional $5,000 for equipment and entertainment.
In testimony before the committee yesterday, Paul Woodard, director of the Recreation Department, contradicted earlier administration assertions that it was too late to cancel the cruise because of contractual obligations.
Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At large) cited a city law this week stipulating that all District contracts are subject to cancellation.
Woodard told the committee that he recommended the cruise to thank Riverfest workers and generate more volunteer help and donations.
Council member William P. Lightfoot (I-At large) questioned whether some of those on the invitation list should have been included, noting that they were not Riverfest volunteers.
The committee also was told that the administrator who signed the cruise contract was not authorized to do so because her office had been abolished.
The council voted March 21 to abolish the City-Wide Productions Administration, which helped organize Riverfest. The office administrator, Rose Ballard, signed the contract a month later.
The committee urged that the $100,000 be used to open several swimming pools in the District beginning this weekend.