- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 12, 2000

District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams played the role of motivational speaker yesterday afternoon when officially inaugurating a system of accountability within city government.

The mayor explained his administration's newest management-reform effort to managers who enrolled in the Management Supervisory Service (MSS) established through 1998 legislation.

Mr. Williams addressed several hundred middle managers at the Lincoln Theater in Northwest, during a seminar featuring setting visions and reaching goals. D.C. native and Olympic silver-medal-winning gymnast Jair Lynch opened the program with an inspirational speech about meeting challenges and reaching the top.

Mr. Williams compared the event to great moments in Washington history like the formation of Georgetown in 1751 and the first meeting of Congress in 1800.

"Another such an event occurs today, as we move out of the valley of broken government and to the crest of the mountain of reform," Mr. Williams said.

By moving to MSS, city supervisors receive higher pay and incentives in exchange for producing better results from their staffs. But managers who fail to provide tangible improvements in service can be fired without cause.

MSS employees are expected to establish clear goals to be implemented during a 12-month evaluation period. Training and development is another tool being used to improve management, and the Office of Personnel handed out a course catalog for classes.

Mr. Williams pledged that his administration would provide managers with support, procurement and tools so supervisors can bring better basic services to residents.

"Now with MSS, we have the toolbox to bring these tools together," Mr. Williams said.

"We're going to create an environment of success."

The legislation was passed by the council during former Mayor Marion Barry's administration in 1998, but the program is just beginning due to budget constraints. Next year's budget includes $13 million to fully fund the MSS pay increases.

"It's been a little bit slower than we've hoped to implement,[but] I think it's a real innovation," said council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 1 Democrat and chairwoman of the government operations committee.

In early August, letters were sent to more than 1,100 employees in positions that were converted from civil service to MSS. Employees had the choice of following their positions into MSS, being transferred to other jobs, being terminated, or retiring, if eligible.

The plan was met with a mixture of skepticism and praise by managers, new and old to city government. However, most were hesitant to step to the microphone during the question-and-answer period.

"In this government, there is a lot of favoritism," said one Department of Human Services manager, a 30-year city employee who did not want to be identified.

"My concern is fairness … the performance standard is not in place for these positions," the DHS manager said.

Michael D. Johnson came forward and said he was proud to join MSS, after one year as a zoning administrator, but was concerned about how managers sometimes have their hands tied by union staffers.

"Managers are afraid that they could be fired without any cause," said E. Savannah Little, a manager in the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

"It creates a lot of anxiety," Ms. Little said. "It's a reasonable anxiety. This is a political city."

Ultimately, agency directors will make termination decisions, personnel officials said. More than 1,000 of the 1,139 eligible managers signed on to the Management Supervisory Service.

Mr. Williams cautioned managers that decisions would be neutral and objective, adding that the ultimate success of the program did not lie with him.

"Your best protection is doing a good job," Mr. Williams said. "The decision can't be made by me. The decision is made by you."

Some managers agreed with the mayor and were happy to be on board with the program.

"What we're being asked to do is not extraordinary," said Ben Igwe of the the D.C. Public Library.

"I think it is worthwhile… . I believe in the program."

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