To voters who are wedded to government reform, the stormy relations between Mayor Williams and the D.C. Council are in a more perilous state than a rubber duckie tossed about by a raging Potomac River. Some would say that there are plusses and minuses to the relationship that has evolved, and that this is a marked improvement of the rubber stamps that council used to wield. They also say it is too bad the mayor characterizes the council’s doing its job as a personal affront. Still, while hard-nosed oversight is critical, too much of a good thing can prove counterproductive.
The “new” mayor and the “new” council, it seems, have been at odds at every major policy juncture finances and revenue, human services, personnel and management, public works and the environment, confirmation for appointees, informational public hearings. This spring the mayor refused to yield to the council’s unprecedented tax-cutting proposal, calling the measure “grotesque” and “fiscally irresponsible.” He and the control board subsequently had compromise with the forward-thinking council, mostly because the tax proposal was veto proof and received a favorable response on Capitol Hill.
Then came summer and time for the council to hold confirmation hearings on key appointments. In one instance, the confirmation of Valerie Holt as Mr. Williams’ permanent successor as chief financial officer, critics called her part of the problem. That is, as a budgeteer before and during the city’s financial decline, she should have done more to ward off insolvency. Funny thing is, some of those very same council members hurling the criticism were on the council at the time city finances went down the drain.
More recently, the Williams administration has been blasted, and quite publicly, for his picks for public works, human services, motor vehicles and procurement. But the process allows the council and the public to have their say.
Yet, there have been at least two instances in recent weeks in which the council legitimately attacked the administration. In these, Mayor Williams is fair game because, as CFO, it was his job to force lawmakers to think twice about spending taxpayer money.
The issues that have been the most contentious are bonuses for about 5,800 workers and the proposal to development a parcel of land at 14th and Park Road NW in Columbia Heights. Council members said they “support” the bonuses in principle but had to block the funding source (the tobacco settlement). The mayor shot back that the council was grandstanding, allowing personal issues” with him to interfere with the people’s business. In the case of Columbia Heights, some lawmakers are unhappy with the developer and have approved legislation to impose their will on residents.
The timing of the latest council moves is interesting. This very month D.C. leaders take their respective places at the 2001 budget table for earnest negotiations. Undoubtedly, politicians will be verbose again fueling a frenzy of news coverage. In all this noise, the interests of District residents must not get lost.