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Opinion

Examiner Local Editorial: Not so fast, Mr. Gandhi

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Opinion,DC,Local Editorial

Natwar Gandhi, the District's chief financial officer since 2000, announced Friday that he will resign as of June 1, just days after he presented city officials with a $417 million budget surplus. CFO spokesman David Umansky claims his boss is leaving for "purely personal reasons." But a growing list of scandals in the CFO's Office has badly tarnished the meticulously cultivated reputation of the man at times referred to as the "embodiment of fiscal rectitude."

Citing "a highly placed government source" in the John A. Wilson Building, Examiner columnist Jonetta Rose Barras accurately predicted Gandhi's departure a week before his announcement, which suggests there is more to this than meets the eye. The CFO is appointed by the mayor and cannot be fired except for cause, so Gandhi's supposedly voluntary departure will spare Mayor Vincent Gray the embarrassment of forcing somebody out less than six months after reappointing him to a third five-year term.

But that should not be the end of the matter.

Gandhi deserves much of the credit for securing the highest bond ratings in the city's history. But the CFO wields enormous power, directly overseeing $7 billion in annual operating and capital funds. The $48 million embezzlement of city funds happened in the Office of Tax and Revenue under Gandhi's watch. Last year, the OTR was in the news again for reducing the assessments of 532 commercial properties owned by some of the wealthiest developers in D.C. by $2.6 billion -- costing taxpayers $48 million in lost revenue.

Even more damning, the CFO's own internal watchdog found that a small number of OTR supervisors were altering property values without leaving an electronic record on OTR's computer system. William DiVello resigned after his highly critical audit sat "quarantined" in draft form on Gandhi's desk for months.

This prompted council members, in a rare act of oversight, to pass emergency legislation requiring the immediate release of all future audits online. It also prompted an investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over whether D.C. was withholding potentially damaging information from investors.

Eric Payne, Gandhi's former procurement director, also accuses him of improperly interfering with the $38 million lottery contract. Four years later, Gandhi still refuses to answer any questions about the matter. Nor has he ever explained why there are two substantially different audit reports authored by Robert Andary, his former director of Integrity and Oversight, with the same date.

Gandhi's impending resignation should not be used as an excuse to sweep these serious allegations under the rug once again.

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