- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2000

When your sink is clogged, you know to call a plumber, and if an overgrown tree is threatening your new roof, you call a tree expert. If you are a D.C. resident, though, and your trash hasn't been picked up in two weeks you know who not to call. "Wouldn't it be nice," Mayor Anthony Williams said the other day, "if you didn't have to call 17 people every time something didn't work?" It certainly would be, Mr. Mayor.

By this time next year, the mayor said, D.C. residents will know who to call for such complaints as late trash pickups, snowy and icy streets, broken street lights, potholes, rotting trees, busted water pipes and the like. To accomplish these and other chores, the mayor plans to decentralize city government by creating what he calls neighborhood service centers. The centers will be run by what are aptly called neighborhood service managers, whose job it will be to address and solve problems in neighborhoods around the city.

This really is a new policy, and one that could have occurred years ago if elected officials had been more focused on pleasing taxpayers rather than labor unions. For years the main services provided away from downtown were for the indigent and the unemployed, or office space for such agencies as the D.C. Lottery and the Taxicab Commission in Anacostia. Remember, this is a city whose bloated bureaucracy was so inept at the top and so heavy around the middle that carrying out such mundane tasks as car registrations became an all-day maze of paperwork and visits to multiple sites.

Some of that red tape is already being cut and other changes are in the making. For example, the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will move its neighborhood center from its dingy digs on H Street N.E. to the more spacious Hechinger Mall on Maryland Avenue, where free parking is plentiful. Already, DMV is providing some services on the Internet. DMV Director Sherryl Hobbs Newman recently told this page the move to Hechinger Mall, and other changes planned by the Williams administration, are part and parcel of efforts to "take government to the people."

Mr. Williams announced his new plans at the second citizen summit Saturday, where he and 1,500 residents followed up on proposals they first discussed this fall. He promised a few other initiatives as well, including more after-school programs, two new supermarkets in Far Northeast/Southeast and the renovation of 1,000 homes. All of that is good going in a city that has heretofore failed to revitalize anything outside of downtown Washington.

So very soon, when there's something strange in your neighborhood, like abandoned cars, you will know who to call. More interesting, however, is another potential plus accountability. And that, as you well know, is what really and truly has been lacking in D.C. government.

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