- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 8, 2004

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday defended the parking-ticket exemptions the D.C. Council voted for itself two years ago, as revenue from parking fines and fees continues to climb.

“The council, they’re out there all the time. They work very, very hard, and giving them a break on their parking, I think, ought to be seen as just part of their pay and benefits package,” Mr. Williams told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

“I think the real issue is, I think, if we don’t want to do the parking fees, are we willing to make the necessary adjustments elsewhere in the budget? And if we are, I am. And if we’re not, then this is what we have.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Mr. Williams, City Administrator Robert C. Bobb and Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi also discussed the mayor’s proposed $6.2 billion budget for fiscal 2005, as well as education and health care in the District.

The Times reported yesterday that the city had issued $64 million worth of parking tickets last year, up from $55 million in 2002. According to the mayor’s budget, projected revenue for parking violations is expected to increase next year, thanks to additional officers and enhanced enforcement.

Mr. Williams trumpeted Wednesday’s decision by Moody’s Investor Service to upgrade the District’s bond rating from Baa1 to A2, or “stable,” the city’s highest rating in the firm’s 20-year history. In the 1990s, the city’s municipal bonds were graded as “junk” status.

The mayor said “revenue enhancements” — such as higher fines and fees — are needed “to prevent much larger tax increases in other areas.”

Parking fines and fees have been an issue, in part, because council members exempted themselves from some parking regulations in July 2002. The measure, coming after a year in which traffic-enforcement officers had cracked down on illegally parked council members’ cars, was sponsored by council member Carol Schwartz and supported by fellow members Kevin P. Chavous, Jack Evans, Sandra Allen, Adrian M. Fenty, David A. Catania, Jim Graham, Harold Brazil, Vincent Orange and Linda W. Cropp.

Council members Phil Mendelson, Kathy Patterson and Sharon Ambrose voted against it.

The exemption extends to council members the same parking privileges enjoyed by members of Congress — including the freedom to park in bus zones, in restricted spaces near intersections, at building entrances and on restricted residential streets. It also frees council members from having to feed parking meters.

At the time the parking exemption was approved, Mr. Williams criticized the way council members secured its passage — tucking it into a 34-page list of technical amendments submitted just before the council left for recess.

“Clearly, public review was called for, not a final-hour revision,” Mr. Williams said at the time.

Yesterday, the mayor also discussed his plan that would give him control of city’s troubled school system, saying he would fire incompetent school workers.

“I think going into the schools, we have got to basically start from first principles. We need to look at basic work rules … basic organization. And no one ought to be spared accountability,” he said.

“That’s the tone I would set with the schools. I would say, ‘If we don’t achieve these things in this organization, I will not stay. And when I go, all of you are going with me.’ And believe me, that will set a tone of increased urgency.”

Mr. Williams has previously said he would resign if he does not succeed in improving public schools. The D.C. Council is reviewing his takeover plan, which would make the schools superintendent a Cabinet-level position that reports to the mayor.

Mr. Bobb said the superintendent, under the mayor’s plan, would have the authority and the support to “go in and reorganize and surgically make changes.” He also said his biggest disappointment is the lack of outrage in the community about school performance.

Last year, the National Assessment of Educational Progress reported that D.C. schoolchildren rank as the worst readers in the country and only slightly better in some grades than non-English-speaking children in the territories of Guam, the Virgin Islands and American Samoa.

Yet the city’s $9,650 per-pupil expenditure and average teacher salary of $48,651 topped all but a few states, according to the education report.

“We shouldn’t be sitting around having this big conversation about governance when we should say, ‘Let’s fix the governance.’ Give the mayor the authority, and let’s get behind him and change the community,” Mr. Bobb said.

While reiterating his threat to resign if he can’t improve school performance, Mr. Williams was less clear about whether he would run for a third term. “What I’ve said is we’re exploring the possibility,” he said. “That’s where we are.”

On health care, Mr. Bobb said the city would not return oversight of the D.C. Healthcare Alliance to Greater Southeast Community Hospital since the facility emerged from bankruptcy last week.

“Absolutely not, in terms of bringing back the Alliance contract to Greater Southeast,” Mr. Bobb said. “We’ve been down that road, and that’s not a road we want to travel again.”

Greater Southeast — the District’s primary hospital for the poor — has received more than $30 million from the D.C. government since 2001 but filed for bankruptcy in November 2002 amid staffing shortages and failed inspections.

Executives for Arizona-based Doctors Community Healthcare Corp., which owns the facility, were among Mr. Williams’ strongest supporters from 2000 to 2002.

“We’ve been working to reform the whole Healthcare Alliance,” Mr. Bobb said of the city’s $93 million plan to provide health care to low-income residents. “The Healthcare Alliance is really on its way to becoming a much healthier organization than it has been in the past.”

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