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SIMMONS: Pre-New Year’s resolutions show Brown priorities

- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown promised to get a comprehensive ethics-reform bill passed before the new year rolls in, and if things go as scheduled, he and his colleagues will place their imprimatur on a measure Tuesday.

The council gave its initial blessing Dec. 6. Yet lawmakers are still wrangling over the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability Establishment and the Comprehensive Ethics Reform Amendment Act, which would, among other things, spread a little sunshine on slush funds and create an independent ethics board.

In an interview Friday, Mr. Brown said that passing ethics-reform legislation and a measure honoring native Washingtonian and NFL Hall of Famer Willie Wood, who turns 75 on Friday, highlight his priorities as lawmakers officially wrap up their legislative calendar before the Christmas break.

"I am fully committed to making sure we get a comprehensive ethics-reform bill passed, [while] we may wait until January for emergency legislation to work out any issues," said Mr. Brown, a Democrat.

While the council already is united on putting its permanent stamp of approval on the Willie Wood Way Designation Act (an honor often bestowed upon notable D.C. natives only after the Lord has called them home), it's unclear whether Mr. Brown's No. 1 promise to residents and voters — fiscal responsibility — will be torn asunder if the ethics measure is passed Tuesday.

Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi alerted lawmakers nearly two weeks ago that there simply is no money in the budget or the financial plan to create an ethics board, whose costs would increase from $311,000 this year to nearly $2.9 million in 2015.

"Funds are not sufficient in the FY 2012 through FY 2015 budget and financial plan to implement the provisions of the proposed legislation," Mr. Gandhi said in his fiscal-impact statement to Mr. Brown on Dec. 6, the same day the council preliminarily approved the ethics bill.

In other words, stakeholders, the council will either look into robbing Peter to pay Paul (i.e., reprogramming funds) or buy into Mr. Brown's promise that the city will live within its means and rethink its big-government liberalism.

Mr. Brown's words: "Safeguarding our economy and our finances is the single most important action the council can take to ensure that the District has the continued ability to serve its residents and businesses."

My translation: The D.C. government should live within its means.

To be sure, $2.9 million for a new ethics board can be found in the city's coffers over the course of the next few years. As Mr. Brown said, it's up to the council to ensure that the public gets "full accountability and oversight" of city expenditures.

But therein lies the No. 1 rub.

The council wants stakeholder buy-in on three components of good-government policy — quality, value and convenience — when its ethics-reform package hinges only on convenience (and political convenience and expediency at that).

New beginnings

Mr. Brown also said a Costco coming to the District "is just the first of many exciting" economic development projects.

"Getting the ball across the finish line was overdue," said Mr. Brown, who became chairman of the council's Committee on Economic Development after then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Council member Vincent B. Orange began trying to lure businesses and big-box retailers to the District.

Back in those days, the District was pound-foolish and hardly considered a business-friendly climate — wicked, liberal ways that led to frighteningly high unemployment and poverty rates.

City officials and developers announced last week that an agreement finally had been reached to build a Costco at the Shops at Dakota Crossing in Fort Lincoln, the mostly residential community at South Dakota Avenue and Bladensburg Road Northeast. Although a date for the groundbreaking will be announced any day, Mr. Brown said the council and the administration of Mayor Vincent C. Gray worked closely as dealmakers. It also helped that Clint Jackson, who used to be on Mr. Gray's team, is now working for Mr. Brown.

While the council-executive marriage appears to be a match made in City Hall when it comes to economic development, the city's employment and poverty prospects remain gloomy.

Council member Michael A. Brown, an independent, needs to answer some tough questions, such as "Is the city getting the best bang for its buck on job-training programs, which are sneaking their hands into the till but failing to deliver surefire results?"

As chairman of the Committee on Housing and Workforce Development, Mr. Brown will have his feet held to the fire.

After all, income-tax revenues are a driving force when it comes to "safeguarding" the city's finances, as Mr. Brown put it.

c Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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