Loose Lips

CFO Declares Jihad Against the Post

Fight! Fight ! Fight!

D.C.'s Office of the Chief Financial Officer is throwing punches at the Washington Post over—of all things—its efforts to pay less in property taxes.

You may have read the Post's big investigative story on the CFO's Office of Tax and Revenue settling commercial property tax assessments at a much high rate than in year's past. A bit of a snoozer, but the CFO still pushed back hard trying to debunk the story after it came out earlier this month.

When the Post editorial board called the CFO's office a "pushover," then things got personal. Sayeth the Post:

For years the office stood its ground, fighting to defend the values it assigns for tax purposes to office complexes and apartment buildings — and, by extension, defending the city’s revenue base, which depends heavily on property taxes. Outgunned by high-priced lawyers, sometimes it lost, though in recent years it fared better. But it fought.

Then something changed. As The Post reported last week, District tax officials suddenly decided that fighting to maintain the city’s revenue base was too costly or too much trouble — or something. So instead of sticking to their guns, and to their initial assessments of the worth of some large buildings, the city started caving.

But CFO spokesman David Umansky recently sent a letter to reporters calling their attention to the fact that the Post has fought its property tax assessments (using high-priced lawyers) on a semi-regular basis. "Why is it wrong for some property owners’ assessments to be lowered, but not the Post’s?" says Umansky, who helpfully attached a spreadsheet of the Post's property taxes over the last few years and a court filing in one of its current tax cases.

To be fair to the paper of record, the Post isn't criticizing commercial property taxpayers for appealing their taxes, but the the city for settling some of these cases too easily. (The city has valued the Post's downtown headquarters at $77. 8 million for tax year 2013, by the way, down from $92.6 million three years ago.)

But Umansky says his other point is that the Post should have disclosed to its readers that it's one of the big commercial real estate owners who routinely challenge their property tax assessments that the paper is writing about. ""Why wouldn't they disclose this," says Umansky. "All they have to do is disclose this and it's not an issue." A fair argument? Meh. LL can see both, unexciting arguments for and against the paper including that kind of info. (Representatives of the Post did not immediately return emails seeking comment.)

Speaking of boring, the Post ran a follow-up story today about an internal audit from the CFO's office that found that a handful of managers had the power to alter someone's tax bill without leaving a record of that change. "The audit cites no examples of wrongdoing by the tax office’s staff members," reported the paper.

The Post's motivation for running the story? Revenge, says Umansky.

"The second story came about because we criticized the first story."

That's almost certainly not true, but it's worth noting that's how city officials think sometimes.

r
2013
2012 

2010

2009
2008
2007

Proposed
First Level
$72,863,800
Withdrawn *
$89,006,450
$72,863,800

$92,686,976

$92,685,980
$74,149,080
$77,105,830

$89,006,450

$92,685,980
Withdrawn *
$77,105,830

BRPAA
N/A
N/A

$89,006,450 Ongoing Case.
Negotiations **
$92,685,980 $86,500,720 *** $6,185,260
N/A
N/A
$0
N/A
N/A
$0

Superior Ct.
N/A
N/A

Decrease
% Change
$0
0
$16,142,650 -
18.14%
TBD
TBD

-6.67%
0
0

Tax Change
$0
- $298,639

TBD

- $114,427
$0
$0

  • tony

    I hope mr. gandhi got his helmet on.lol ....bawsee!!

  • wait …

    Is there really something called the Office of the Chief Financial Officer Office of Tax and Revenue?

  • Sally

    Gandhi is a useless asshat.

    But the Post stories have been utter failures at gotcha-style journalism.

    Score this one for the beancounter of bullshit.

  • Green Eyeshade

    Jealous much?

  • DC Voter

    Poor David Umansky. Just another self important blowhard who lives on Capitol Hill behind the Marine Barracks. Its time for the CFO and that Fenty leftover Umansky to hit the road. Only in DC.

  • incredulous

    Jihad, Suderman?

    Is this story supposed to be so subtle in language and insinuation that the a Muslim word for "mission and concerted program" is associated with the CFO, who is not mentioned by name in the article?

    My oh my, a second clever dimension of cognitive dissonance, his name being Natwar Gandhi.

    Or is this in a third dimension of reference to the massive but hidden investigation of the Feds (and NYC) of financial transactions of suspected Muslims, a jihad of its own kind?

  • Just Curious

    @ Suderman - Will you call on the OCFO to release the same confidential/private information for all entities cited in the Washington Post articles as having received stipulations (over 500) this year? Isn't that only fair?

    Can you post the letter and chart supplied by the OCFO to LL?

    I'm just curious...

  • Mike Madden

    @ Just Curious:

    I doubt that's actually confidential information. It's a document from a court case and a listing of property tax assessments, all of which are public.

  • drez

    ...it's worth noting that's how city officials think sometimes.
    Yes, that is interesting.

  • Just Curious

    @ Mike Madden - Thank you for your comment and response.

    I'm not sure that the information is not confidential, which I understand the OCFO is telling reporters. Based on the documents I've received, which the CFO sent (unsolicited) to local reporters, there are 3 relevant documents: 2009 CVT 9678; Washington Post Chart; and Washington Post Co. V. District of Columbia.

    The first appears to be a 2009 case and there is a date stamp of 8/13/12 on the court document (2009 CVT 9678). It is a Order for stipulations on 4 Washington Post lots (#858, 859, 7001 and 7002) for Tax Year 2009 only.

    The second - Washington Post Chart - contains the private, confidential tax payer information for the 4 aforementioned lots for tax years 2007 - 2013. IT IS NOT PART OF THE COURT RECORD. What is the basis for the OCFO, other than an attempt at embarrassment and intimidation, to release these records for the Post unsolicited? This document is a word document and shows it was printed (for dissemination?) on Monday, 8/20/12 at 12:22 pm by Robert M., who I believe is a lawyer in OTR. What makes this titillating is the fact that the document was ostensibly created and printed PRIOR to the second OTR story... Hmmm.... Why? The Document contrains BRPAA and Superior Court information and is far more detailed than the 2009 court document.

    The last (Washington Post v. D.C.) is a 1991 case report only.

    It might be helpful to post these documents for your readers to see for themselves. Why won't the OCFO or the City Paper publish these documents? Shouldn't the city paper further investigate the questionable stipulations highlighted by the Post reporting? Shouldn't the City Paper demand that the OCFO release the names, legal representation, tax history and reduction information for the over 500 persons identified by the Post, particularly if the OCFO is alleging that court and non-court information is available to the public.

    I'm just curious...

...