- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2003

The exhausted members of the D.C. Council have decided to call it a workday until the fall, which qualifies as good timing in a city with a careless attitude about the people’s money.

The explosion of $100,000-a-year employees in the city is one revelation. The high number of public school minions with a shop-until-they-drop attitude with a government-issued credit card is another.

The council members are entitled to slump their shoulders and rub the glaze from their eyes.

The news that the president of the University of the District of Columbia bypassed the school’s board of trustees to hire an unqualified friend to a $137,000-a-year post is emblematic of a persistent philosophy.

The city does not employ 32,000 workers out of necessity, only out of a need to preserve the status quo. All too many are friends of a friend, their qualifications unimportant, their duties uncertain.

The urge to clean house has been eclipsed by a call to pass along the costs to innocent commuters from the suburbs. There is a certain logic to this. City residents have been hit hard enough, their tax bills as onerous as tax bills go. The city would impose a tax on those who traverse by sidewalk if no one objected to toll collectors stationed on each street corner. The ticket-writing racket goes only so far.

As amusing as it is, raising money remains the principal pastime of city leaders. They are like the one relative in every family who can’t seem to manage money, who always hates to ask for a loan, but asks anyway and then soon forgets the debt.

The latest revenue-generating pleas of city leaders come with no guarantees, only a silent prayer in a system that has a history of mismanagement. This is the thread that connects each new disclosure of bureaucratic sloth. Who is guarding the city coffers? It beats everyone in charge.

Here’s a novel plan: Fix the system. No? Impossible? Then gut it and start anew.

Until then, the D.C.-inspired manner of unaccountability inevitably trumps the best revenue projections. There is always some new bungling that stresses the city’s budget.

Someone with the D.C. public school system needs a new television set, courtesy of the taxpayer. Another needs a laptop computer. Worse, as city auditors discovered, these “items are prone to mysterious disappearance.”

What can you do?

You can report the “mysterious disappearance” of a television set to the Metropolitan Police Department, which can lead to the problem of overtime pay.

D.C. police already have enough unsolved murders on their books. They hardly covet the additional burden of inanimate objects with an air of mystery about them.

Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who does his best work around mealy-mouthed protesters, apparently has some of the nation’s hardest-working detectives in his midst. These sleuths rack up a considerable amount of overtime pay, some more impressive than others. There is the one overtime-aided detective who, with a base salary of $69,200, earned $207,107 last year.

No one questions the essential role of police in the community. They have an awfully difficult job, often thankless, especially in the post-September 11 climate. They rarely bring good news to the doorstep. They also ask tough questions. The best ones resist the cynicism that goes with the job and find a connection to the community they serve.

But $207,107 for one detective? That is an unthinkable workload. The poor detective is laboring in some serious workaholic territory. You hate to wonder, but does this fellow have a life beyond crime scenes, paperwork and courtroom appearances?

Say this for the detective: He must have one heck of a savings plan, because he certainly does not have much time to spend his money. All he needs each day is a two-hour nap, a cold shower and a dispatcher’s call.

At least one council member calls this form of municipal goings-on “overtime abuse,” which sounds almost clinical, like an addiction. It seems there are social users of overtime in the city. Then, with certain agencies, there are abusers of overtime, their exact number unknown. There is this: The number of city workers who boosted their salaries to six figures with overtime last year was 344, which complements the 469 already pulling down annual salaries in six digits.

The glut of $100,000-a-year employees in a city of 572,000 residents defies all civic comparisons and even the best spin doctors in the administration of Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

The solution is bound to fatigue the hard-thinking council members.

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