- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2003

City officials are scrambling to solve an elementary-math problem, which is a signal to the masses to hide their billfolds and object to speed cameras being installed in their bedrooms.

City officials have not been good in math since Marion Barry built a political machine with the bureaucracy. The machine is still in place, as 34,000 city employees in a city of 572,000 can attest.

The city has too many employees in general, plus 575 earning $100,000-plus salaries. The head-spinning count is baffling to those often reduced to pleading poverty to members of Congress on Capitol Hill.

D.C. Fire Chief Adrian Thompson is one of the potential beneficiaries of a pay system that defies comparison with other cities. The fire chief is slated to earn $158,000 a year under a law that puts him in line with other agency heads in the city. This is $28,000 more than his predecessor, Ronnie Few, which apparently is the bump for an accurate resume.

This is not to minimize the quality-of-life needs of the fire chief. God knows, we all have bills to pay. We have an increasing number of parking tickets to pay, too.

The burden of appearances is not Chief Thompson’s. He has a pay raise coming his way, and he would be silly not to accept it.

This is sort of how it usually works in the city. The city has an almost pathological need to shower its higher-ups with hefty pay raises, and like it or not, the higher-ups feel obliged to accept the goodwill.

One of the mayor’s minions expresses not to be concerned about the salaries other big-city fire chiefs command in relation to Chief Thompson.

This is probably just as well. The comparison comes across as an indictment.

Chief Thompson leads fewer than 2,000 firefighters in the city. Yet he earns $30,000 more than his counterpart in Philadelphia, who oversees 25,000 firefighters.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who has done the incriminating math, has decided that the District is not really a city, but a kind of virtual-reality state. So, conveniently enough, you can’t really compare the District’s bureaucratic goings-on with other cities.

Keeping score is just not fair to anyone. It is not fair to the residents standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles or to the tour-bus operators driving around in circles because of the ticket-writing bogeymen.

It is certainly not fair to Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who is looking to collect a $25,000 pay raise that would increase his annual salary to $175,000.

You throw out an inappropriate comparison and people are liable to come down with upset tummies.

Tough as it is, the city’s free-spending manner comes in the post-September 11 climate of a shaky economy and a jittery tourism industry. Washington has taken a hit to its self-esteem and way of business. The pay raises and glut of $100,000 workers do not complement the fiscally restrained times.

City Administrator John A. Koskinen no doubt will reach a detailed finding one of these decades after completing his exhaustive review of three city agencies. He is doing the math right now.

Let’s see: Baltimore, just up the parkway, has a population of 651,000 residents, 79,000 more than the District.

Yet hard as it is to fathom, Baltimore is able to conduct its business with 15,000 city workers, as opposed to the District’s 34,000.

What does this say to the mayor’s office? What does this mean?

Are the District’s workers friendlier than Baltimore’s? Are the District’s workers more helpful, courteous and competent than Baltimore’s?

Oops. Sorry. Forgot again. Baltimore is another invalid comparison.

No locale is comparable with the District.

It seems the city functions in mysterious ways, if function is the proper word.

People have to eat, and some eat awfully well if they hold the right jobs in the city.

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