On Wednesday morning, members of the DC City Council’s finance committee and a few other legislators lambasted DC chief financial officer Natwar Gandhi and his staff, in absentia, for alleged lapses in accounting and auditing.
“We pay them grown-up salaries,” said council member David Catania. “We expect grown-up jobs.”
Angered Ward 4 council member Muriel Bowser called alleged mistakes in tax collection and assessment “outrageous” and said, “I hope we get serious about fixing the system and holding people accountable.”
Mary Cheh, who represents Ward 3 but does not sit on the committee, arrived to explain that money was “flying out the door.”
The morning session heard public witnesses who came to assess the tax office. Except for one, they tried to punch holes in the city’s tax collecting process. The star witness was William DiVello, who had just resigned from his post as chief of the CFO’s internal investigations and auditing branch.
DiVello criticized the Office of the Chief Financial Officer for holding onto his audits in draft form, perhaps to avoid making them public. But even DiVello, who could have been Gandhi’s most damaging critic, testified, “Dr. Gandhi wants problems identified and fixed.”
The daylong oversight hearing adjourned for the afternoon home playoff game between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals, and when the committee reassembled, the demeanor had changed. Whether from the humbling home team’s loss or the presence of Gandhi at the witness table, the rancor from the dais had dissipated.
Gandhi testified for more than three hours. He and his top aides refuted or rebutted many of the morning’s allegations. They often produced documents to support their positions.
David Catania, Gandhi’s principal tormentor, engaged in a reasoned dialogue with the CFO. Rather than Catania chastising Gandhi, the two discussed how to tighten up the audit chain.
The bottom line, as they say in the accounting business, is that there is no sentiment either on the city council or in the mayor’s office to suggest that Gandhi step down. On the contrary, Gandhi emerged with a stamp of approval.
“Through this oversight hearing, I am satisfied that there was no wrongdoing in the commercial real estate appraisal process,” finance chairman Jack Evans tells The Washingtonian. “The audit reports should be made public.”
Evans and Catania are preparing emergency legislation to require the CFO to make public internal audit reports. Gandhi is planning to beat them to the punch. He and his lawyers are reviewing all unpublicized audits this weekend, and plan to start putting them up on the website as early as Monday, according to sources in City Hall.
Nat Gandhi’s job seems to be secure.