- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday defended the city’s decision to give employees cash incentive awards after a nine-month freeze on the practice, while two D.C. Council members expressed concerns that bonuses paid to senior government executives and political appointees are too large.

The elected officials were responding to a report in The Washington Times yesterday that the District has handed out more than $3.9 million in incentive awards since 2001, including more than $740,000 this summer.

The District was distributing hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses even as city officials renewed calls for more federal funding and congressional approval for a proposed tax on commuters.

Human resources officials in comparably sized Baltimore and in the nation’s top-five most populated cities said this week that they do not award city executives large bonuses. In Philadelphia, however, officials say employees can earn up to $2,000 for suggestions or innovations that result in savings.

Mayor Williams said yesterday, during his weekly press briefing, that doing without cash awards for D.C. employees “is like saying we shouldn’t have lights or water.”

The mayor said he disagreed with those who suggest that the economy is not performing well enough to support the program, which city officials say is modeled after similar practices in federal government and private industry.

D.C. officials who monitor the incentive program say cash awards require supporting documentation to ensure that employees deserve the extra money. Before 2001, there was little oversight, city officials said. Monetary incentives reward good employees, officials say, and may keep them from leaving for more lucrative jobs in the federal government and private industry.

However, one council member who attended the press briefing later questioned how city officials distribute the awards. “I’m concerned that not enough bonuses are going to the midlevel employees, and that too much money is going to the people on top,” said Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican.

“Several midlevel employees have told me over the past few years that they asked for bonuses but were told there weren’t any available because of financial hardships,” the council member said. “Well, if there’s a financial hardship for them, why isn’t there a financial hardship for the higher-salaried employees?”

D.C. government froze the incentive program from last September to this June. Since the program’s reinstatement, the District has paid out more than 450 such awards.

The average amount for the 2,404 employees who received awards from 2001 to 2003 was $1,662.98, according to the D.C. Office of Personnel. The average incentive for executive service performance was $6,246 during the same period. However, several D.C. executives have received bonuses that were higher.

D.C. police Chief Charles H. Ramsey received two bonuses in 2001 and 2002 totaling $21,000. The chief was one of only four members of the police department to receive a monetary bonus since 2001.

Former Assistant Police Chief Terrance Gainer received bonuses totaling $25,000 in 2001 and 2002 before retiring last year to become chief of the Capitol police.

“If we have to give bonuses, then I’d rather see that money going to sergeants, lieutenants and people who are on the front lines,” said council member Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat.

Mr. Fenty said he did not object in general to the practice of giving employees bonuses, but he did take issue with the large payments to agency directors and other political appointees.

“I think we should take a closer look at how much those people are receiving,” Mr. Fenty said.

Other recipients of large bonuses include former Department of Health Director Ivan Walks, who got $19,800 in 2001 and $13,800 last year, and Director of Labor Relations Mary Leary, who received $6,997 this year and $13,900 in 2001.

“We’ve already increased the salaries of our upper-level management to attract people to these positions,” Mrs. Schwartz said. “This just enriches them even more.”

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