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D.C. Council Chair Brown rearranges committees

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 12, 2011

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown on Tuesday shuffled the leadership of key council committees, leaving one member "baffled" and raising questions about political payback.

The resolution, which passed the council 12-1, strips council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, of his position as chairman of the Committee on Public Works and Transportation, which oversees the Metro system and other public transit programs.

Mr. Wells said, Mr. Brown, Democrat, called him into his office at 9 p.m. Monday to inform him he would now lead the Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation, with "Planning" added to its title.

"No reason was given," said Mr. Wells, who cast the lone dissenting vote on the changes. "I'm baffled by it. ... It's not a good precedent for the city."

Mr. Brown said he rearranged and renamed some committees to fit council members' strengths and properly align topics, such as grouping environment and public transit because they share concerns over air pollution.

The move raised suspicions that Mr. Wells was punished for investigating the lease of luxury Lincoln Navigators for Mr. Brown's use and spoiling an effort to use additional revenues to roll back a new tax on out-of-state municipal bonds.

Mr. Brown said he was following through on a commitment to reshuffle committee assignments between budget negotiations and the summer recess, which begins at the end of the week.

"No, it was not political payback," he said, adding Mr. Wells did a "phenomenal job" on the SUV report.

Mr. Wells declined to comment on speculation of political punishment but said he is committed to ethics and never backs down from his oversight duties.

Mr. Brown's resolution keeps D.C. Public Schools and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education under his own Committee of the Whole. It also oversees the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

Mr. Brown also refuted suggestions he was consolidating his own power and that he should not be making serious decisions while the U.S. attorney investigates campaign finance irregularities in reports filed by his committee for re-election in 2008.

"As chairman, you have to make tough decisions," he said.

Council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, will take over Mr. Wells' committee. She leaves the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment. However, the environmental duties will be consolidated into her new assignment.

Ms. Cheh said she thought about the opportunity and "got excited about it," especially the prospect of combing her environmental know-how with transportation issues.

She said Mr. Wells will oversee planning, one of his strengths, on his new committee and remain a member of her transportation committee.

"In due course, we should just be partners in this," Ms. Cheh said.

Council member Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, will take over the government operations committee vacated by Ms. Cheh.

Ms. Bowser leaves the parks and recreations committee, which Mr. Wells will now control under the resolution.

Mr. Brown said Ms. Bowser, not Ms. Cheh, will serve on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's board.

The first sign of a shake-up in committee assignments occurred in June when council member Harry Thomas Jr. stepped aside from his chairmanship of the Committee on Economic Development while facing a city lawsuit alleging he bilked funds earmarked for youth baseball.

The resolution also creates a Committee on Small and Local Business Development, whose chairman will be council member Vincent Orange, at-large Democrat.

Mr. Orange, who joined the council through a special election in April, had openly lobbied for economic development duties when Mr. Thomas stepped aside. Mr. Orange appeared satisfied with his new committee and its title. "It's not a bad description," he said.

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