- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2003

D.C. Council members said yesterday they will oppose an emergency resolution giving Mayor Anthony A. Williams the power to give big raises to top staffers without further approval from the council.

Mr. Williams said yesterday that the resolution he is pushing is designed solely to give Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey a pay increase. But the mayor acknowledged that it does give him “flexibility” to raise the salaries of other top managers in the city government.

“There is no plan to raise anybody’s salaries,” Mr. Williams told The Washington Times yesterday. “Down the road, it gives us some flexibility, but this bill is about Chief Ramsey.”

Mr. Williams, who made his comments after testifying on the city’s budget before the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District of Columbia, said the city will need to raise salaries “perhaps two or a few years” from now to attract highly qualified job candidates.

However, some council members said the legislation is “dead on arrival.”

“There is no way I’m going to vote for this,” said council member Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat. “Have we lost touch with reality? $175,000 for a city government employee — it is completely unjustifiable.”

Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, agreed: “If the legislation does indeed enable the cap to go over $141,000, then we either change it, or we send it back.”

The Times reported yesterday that Mr. Williams, who is weathering criticism for the city’s high number of $100,000-plus salaries, is pushing emergency legislation through the council that would allow him to pay his agency directors and Cabinet members as much as $34,000 more a year.

The measure is attached to legislation that would grant Chief Ramsey a pay increase, from $150,000 to $175,000 year. The legislation also would add the position of police chief to the highest level of the D.C. government’s executive-service pay schedule and raise the salary cap for that level to $175,000. Executive-service employee salaries are now capped at $141,000 a year.

D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp said she knew about the specifics of the resolution even though some council members said they didn’t know it would give the mayor authority to raise the salary caps of top managers.

“There is a component that allows the mayor to raise the executive-level salary caps,” she said. At the mayor’s request, Mrs. Cropp introduced the legislation May 9.

When asked if her colleagues would support the bill given the consequences, Mrs. Cropp said she didn’t know. “We’ve been talking for a long time about being and staying competitive. Now that doesn’t mean you need 100 new people making $100,000, but when we are talking about our directors, that is the case,” she said.

Four other council members reached by The Times yesterday said they would not support the resolution as it is currently written. They are Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat; Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat; Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat; and Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat.

Mrs. Ambrose, who supports giving Chief Ramsey a raise, said she couldn’t support Mr. Williams’ resolution.

“Whether Chief Ramsey deserves a raise or not is where this discussion has been,” Mrs. Ambrose said. She said she is “not prepared to vote for a resolution as broadly written as the one that was sent.”

Asked about the mayor’s assertions that the resolution was written exclusively for Chief Ramsey, Mr. Mendelson said: “That may be their intent, but that’s not what they sent.

“We have received requests in the past to pay above the pay scale, and they’ve been simple resolutions targeted solely at the intended beneficiary,” he said.

Council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat who also supports a pay increase for Chief Ramsey, said he wants to see the opinion of the council’s general counsel on the resolution.

Council member David Catania, at-large Republican, said he has not reviewed the resolution thoroughly enough to draw any conclusions. But he said the dispute has broader implications.

“I think the larger issue is just the level of distrust that exists between the legislature and the executive,” Mr. Catania said. He said the relationship between the two government branches has deteriorated to the point that the council is “not as quick to look the other way on items such as this.”

Mr. Fenty said he thought Mr. Williams was betting that Chief Ramsey’s clout with the council would be enough to get the resolution passed without council members fully discussing the proposal to raise other salaries.

“There’s no question in my mind this was an attempt to slip it through,” he said. “They drafted the language in a way that people wouldn’t catch it.”

Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, said he had “serious concerns” about the legislation but said he needed to review it further before he could decide how he will vote.

“It’s one thing to have a raise for Chief Ramsey,” Mr. Graham said, “but it’s quite another thing to raise the salaries for D.C. government employees in general.”

Council members Vincent Orange, Ward 5 Democrat; Sandy Allen, Ward 8 Democrat; and Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.

Meanwhile, members of the House Appropriations panel said it would be wrong for Congress to get involved in what they said was a “local matter.”

“Maybe this is something the [Office of Management and Budget] or [Congressional Budget Office] should look into, that might be beneficial,” said Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, California Republican. “But Congress does not look into that. Congress doesn’t do that in San Diego.”

Mr. Cunningham said he would be concerned only if $100,000-salary positions were filled with “just political appointees” who don’t have the necessary skills to do the job. “But if they are qualified, and if you don’t have attractive salaries, [the District] can’t bring them in to work and can’t attract them,” he said.

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, New Jersey Republican and subcommittee chairman, said, “I think there are quite a few questions there, and I understand a few reports have been requested from other members of Congress.

“I think we are likely to ask [about this] in some of the follow-up questions we will pose when we submit our additional questions to today’s witnesses,” he said.

Those witnesses included Mr. Williams, Mrs. Cropp and D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi.

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