- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2003

   In response to the staggering number of six-figure bureaucrats lurking in his midst, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams suggested this week that his stretch of asphalt is a city/county/state all rolled into one.
   That is an interesting geopolitical point of view.
   While he was at it, Mr. Williams might as well have conferred nation status on the city.
   The city/county/state justification possibly explains how Dexter Lockamy earned a $400,000 consultant’s fee to produce a payroll budget last year. This is where wisdom collided in the city, a painful lack of wisdom in either case.
   “I think we’re getting our money’s worth,” Mr. Williams said this week.
   Check his eyes. Break out the smelling salts. Let’s hope he snaps out of it.
   The good mayor apparently is a victim of too many fiscal hits.
   One of the signs is being tone-deaf to the complaints of constituents.
   Mr. Williams is a mayor, not a governor or president, although one of his predecessors, Marion Barry, treated the city like a fiefdom. Many of Lord Barry’s former serfs make up a good number of the city’s 34,000 employees, one of the intractable legacies of local politics.
   Baltimore, our slightly larger neighbor up the parkway, manages its business with 15,593 workers, which comes out to 54.1 percent fewer employees if you are keeping score at home. The latter function depends on where you attended school, no doubt. It also depends on the vague accuracy of the 34,000 figure.
   The city is sometimes out to lunch with its payroll. It has a history of paying the dead, the unnecessary, the incompetent and those who fall asleep and can’t seem to wake up.
   The masses are conditioned to join the slumber party at the Department of Motor Vehicles in the city with a sleeping bag, pillow and snacks. Nothing warms the heart of a person seeking to renew a driver’s license like roasting marshmallows late at night in the parking lot of a DMV branch.
   The fire in the metal barrel is provided by the city, one definition of “money’s worth.”
   Some residents disappear into the bureaucratic maze, only to surface weeks later, with eyes rolled in the backs of their heads, hair standing on end, speaking in unintelligible tongues.
   The city is threatening to pick up the phone one of these months, though only after you have pushed a series of magical buttons, been disconnected a couple of times and held several lengthy conversations with a frightening disembodied voice.
   Your vehicle has been towed and you don’t know where it is? Press 4 for gypsy tow-truck operator.
   Give the city this: Anyone with a pulse is liable to earn $100,000 a year. That is no small change in a city where the median household income was $40,127 in the 2000 Census. It pays incredibly well to be a selfless public servant in the nation’s capital.
   If you are wondering where you can sign up to be part of the six-figure action, go to the front door of any city agency. The agency heads will accept any background, even a fictitious one, and figure it out later. If not, they will hire a consultant to figure it out for them.
   None of this would merit a collective shake of the head if the city were not dancing with a $323 million budget shortfall and if it demonstrated a hint of efficiency beyond the writing of parking tickets.
   It seems the city has too many employees, too many bills and too many weak knees to slash and burn.
   It is easier to make the pilgrimage to Capitol Hill with a tin cup, write another parking ticket and hire consultants to resolve whatever is not working.
   The city’s nonvoting representative to Congress would not want anyone on Capitol Hill to become overly immersed in local affairs, even if the city is doomed to business as usual.
   It is not as bad as it looks. They are just so many numbers, and it is not fair to compare the District to other cities.
   The District is not merely a city anyway. It is a county, a state, if not a state of mind. It is almost the eighth continent, a unique land mass that defies conventional thinking.
   You say Baltimore and Boston. The mayor says forget it.
   What’s the problem?
   You are getting your money’s worth.
   You have the word of Mr. Williams on it.

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