Those picnics that Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) had each of his ward coordinators hold to reward his supporters wound up within the $400-a-ward budget set for the gatherings.
Some ward coordinators complained when Williams aides asked them to hold the picnics without contributing more money. Coordinators who were having trouble getting private donations for the picnics said they couldn't hold much of an event on what Williams was giving them from his constituent services fund.
Their concerns led Williams to send some picnic organizers more than the planned $400, while groups in Wards 2 and 7 were able to raise enough money and did not accept contributions from the mayor.
According to a report the mayor's office filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance--which did not reflect Williams's contribution to the Ward 6 picnic--the events cost about $2,700, well below the $3,200 the mayor's office planned.
The report also provided a window into how Williams is using his constituent services fund, which was built largely with leftover campaign contributions. The mayor has $133,168.68 in the fund, which is generally used to help residents with emergency assistance, offset costs for community events and finance other goodwill gestures, such as flowers for deceased supporters.
In July, Williams filed a financial statement showing that he had nearly $150,000 in three certificates of deposit at Independence Federal Savings Bank, which earned $1,010.82 in interest. Williams's wife, Diane Simmons Williams, is the account's treasurer, and both their signatures are required on checks.
Before the July report, the mayor had spent $2,490. He is allowed to raise and spend $40,000 a year from this account.
The October report shows that the mayor hadn't raised more money but had spent $15,601 since the July filing.
When former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Sr. died this summer, Williams donated $450 from the account to print programs for the funeral and $144 to rent tables and chairs for the memorial service.
Williams spent almost $5,500 on rental assistance for residents and $2,000 more to provide help with utility bills. Burial and funeral assistance added up to $1,900.
The mayor also gave $600 toward the tuition of a student at the University of the District of Columbia; $200 apiece to two block club parties; $250 to the Barry Farm Youth Step Team; and $150 to Us Helping Us, at 811 L St. SE. He contributed $400 to AidsWalk Washington; $125 to the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force; and $50 to the Gay & Lesbian Activist Alliance.
The $400 contributions pledged to the picnics during the summer drew the most attention because the mayor requested the parties, then asked ward coordinators to raise money from neighborhood merchants to help with the costs.
Picnic coordinators in Ward 8 were the first to complain; Glenda Neamo, an advisory neighborhood commissioner, said that for the $400 Williams was contributing, "you can't give a [soda] and a bag of chips."
Philip Pannell, one of Williams's political coordinators in Ward 8, had feared that children would show up and there wouldn't be enough food, so he started asking for contributions from throughout the city. His efforts led to the ward raising a few thousand dollars and putting on a picnic with all the trimmings, including a moon bounce for children.
The attention to Ward 8's plight apparently paid off for several wards. The report shows that Ward 1, which held one of the last picnics to be sponsored, received $769--the lion's share of money spent on the festivities from the mayor's fund. Organizers in Ward 4 received $550, compared with Ward 3 with $534, Ward 5 with $463 and Ward 4 with $400.
Bud Lane, a Ward 2 picnic organizer, said that instead of getting a contribution from the mayor, he turned to the downtown business community, which is in his ward.
"We didn't find it necessary to tap into the mayor's fund," Lane said. "We have lots of merchants, so we did it without [the $400] contribution."
Still Time to Spout Off
The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority recently sent a letter to customers announcing a public hearing on a proposed multi-year rate increase, to be held Sept. 30.
Problem is, some customers did not get the letter until after the hearing, which had a relatively low turnout of about two dozen people.
Whoops. According to authority spokeswoman Libby Lawson, the mailing went out late to about 7,000 customers (of 130,000 total) because of a "late delivery from the printer."
"We certainly apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused," she said.
It's not too late to let the water authority know what you think in writing. The public comment period runs until Oct. 30. Mail comments to: WASA, Office of Public Affairs, 5000 Overlook Ave. SW, Washington, D.C. 20032. Comments also may be faxed to 202-645-0663, or e-mailed to email@example.com.
A Lesson in Ethics
Cecily E. Collier-Montgomery, the director of the Office of Campaign Finance who fined Williams $1,000 for failing to properly disclose his finances during the 1998 mayoral campaign, did so at a time when she was up for reappointment by . . . the mayor.
Williams said recently that Collier-Montgomery has nothing to worry about, and that he will renew her appointment as head of the campaign finance office for four more years.
"I support her reinstatement in the job," the mayor said recently. "I thought the way she handled my thing was professionally done. I'd be a fool not to use my own personal experience of how she handles her job. I thought it was professionally done. And I've looked at how she's handled other cases and I think the same thing applies."
Collier-Montgomery was appointed in August 1996 by then-Mayor Marion Barry to fill the unexpired term of Melvin Doxie. Her term expired at the end of June, just about the time she ruled that Williams had violated a D.C. campaign finance code by not reporting earnings on his financial disclosure statement last year.
During the month-long investigation of Williams's work on two consulting contracts, which earned him $40,000 while he was campaigning for mayor, it seemed to be a no-win situation for Collier-Montgomery: Either she fined Williams and risked her job, or didn't fine him and risk appearing as though she was giving him a pass.
Collier-Montgomery went by the book. She fined Williams $1,000--the maximum amount allowed by law for the two violations.
When she issued her decision, the mayor recognized the diligence of the Office of Campaign Finance in investigating his personal financial disclosure statements.
"I'd like to thank the Office of Campaign Finance for its prompt and thorough examination of my financial disclosure statements," Williams said at the time.
Since then, Collier-Montgomery has been working without an official appointment and has declined to comment on her job status. Sources close to Collier-Montgomery said she has not been officially informed whether she will remain as the agency's director.
Collier-Montgomery, who is paid about $100,000 annually, is a native Washingtonian who worked for the deputy register of wills for the probate division of the D.C. Superior Court for seven years before she came to the campaign finance office.
She also has worked in the corporation counsel's office and for the general counsel for the Board of Elections and Ethics.