- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2003

I know I'm going to get grief from this, but here goes: We might need Congress to rescue the District from itself. The nation's capital is stuck between a rock and an incredibly hard place, and if it doesn't soon wriggle its way out, there could be considerable consequences.
As reported in yesterday's Metro section by Brian DeBose, Inspector General Charles Maddox and the D.C. Council are on a serious collision course. The council has no confidence in the IG, and so has unanimously approved legislation that, beginning June 1, mandates job requirements for a new IG. I say new IG because the current IG meets not one of those requirements and could not possibly do so by June 1. Also yesterday, Mr. DeBose reported in a front-page story that "[m]ore than 500 fees and fines in nine city agencies have increased to help offset a projected $323 million deficit. Also, policymakers are pondering increasing property taxes and other taxes. (As if they've forgotten that the high cost of living in the District led families to pack and head for the suburbs.)
There are other serious problems as well. Mayor Tony Williams has vacancies on key boards and commissions, including the school board and the Board of Elections and Ethics. The D.C. Democratic Party is in turmoil. The city administrator is leaving. The D.C. Council, meanwhile, continues to ignore critical oversight responsibilities while granting itself perks and whining because it doesn't have the prerogatives that the mayor does.
That and much, much more is going on. But, you get the picture?
Ever since the control board dissolved in 2001, the city has been in a tailspin.
Out of one side of their mouths, the mayor and lawmakers boast about a surplus, then as soon as the ink is dry on the ledgers they gather for another dog-and-pony show to complain about a looming deficit. It's a horrendous state of affairs that will surely worsen if the mayor and Council Chairman Linda Cropp don't step up and assume their respective leadership roles.
Actions speak louder than the words spoken at their inaugural addresses. Somebody needs to sit them both down and explain perhaps again, perhaps for the first time the role of the mayor vs. the role of the council.
Nobody expects legislatures and chief executives to get along all or even most of the time. But the council is trying (and sometimes succeeding) to trash the considerable plans laid by the control board Andrew Brimmer's control board, that is. The Brimmer board was precisely what this city needed. It accomplished three key issues: It restored fiscal integrity; it laid a roadmap for reforming schools; and it rid the city of much of the red tape that discouraged businesses large and small. The Brimmer board put the successor board, led by Alice Rivlin, out of business.
That is precisely when the council began laying its ground work for the collision course. First, it overturned term limits. Then, it set about undoing everything of consequence that the Brimmer board had accomplished. As more new residents and tax dollars became available, the mayor and the council indulged their liberal hearts and spent more. When the mayor dared suggest that perhaps, just perhaps, school reform might move quickly if he were in charge, the council created a hybrid school board of elected and appointed members. So, while school parents know how to work the system continue to reap more money for their children's schools, the hybrid board has done absolutely nothing to raise student achievement or enhance school choice for the other children. And, as I mentioned earlier, add to the growing list of the discontented the latest attempt to undermine federal law and the independence of the inspector general the city's chief watchdog. If there's no dog watching, the council and the mayor can do as they please and accountability is nowhere to be found (just ask the school board, who wouldn't trade its independence for anything).
Now is the time for the mayor to take a cold and hard look at his to-do list as that list relates to both his staff and his policy priorities for the next four years. At this writing, even the administration's budget-cutting proposal close a dozen public swimming pools? makes no sense.
Like most D.C. taxpayers, I prefer that business be conducted properly and efficiently by City Hall. For a while, it was. We shouldn't hesitate, though, to call on Capitol Hill, if need be. The last time there was measurable discontent we waited too long.

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