- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Mayor Tony Williams and the D.C. Council appear to be heading in the right direction as they try to eliminate a projected $80 million deficit and develop a balanced budget for fiscal 2005. Necessarily holding their discussions on the proposed budget behind closed doors, they are trying to maintain the District’s fiscal integrity. Yet, instead of weighing in on what the city’s elected leaders are doing, The Washington Post is focusing its misplaced intentions on how our leaders are conducting business, accusing them of breaking the open meetings provision of the Home Rule Act. The universal judgment of practioners of government is to carry out negotiations behind closed doors, where there is less chance of grandstanding.

In an editorial yesterday headlined “Czarism Comes to D.C.,” The Post said, “What we now have in the District is policymaking straight out of the Russian government under the czars and in the former Soviet Union.”

What a mischaracterization. Like executive and legislative branches on all levels of government, the mayor and the council usually conduct the city’s business before putting pen to paper by holding frank off-the-record deliberations.

The meetings are practical negotiations on a preconsensus budget. For example, to trim the projected deficit, the Williams administration proposes raising fees on driver’s licenses and residential parking permits, policy changes objected to by Public Works Chairman Carol Schwartz. Similarly, the mayor wants to raise taxes on homeowners and businesses, and pass some utility costs onto consumers. We stand alongside Mrs. Schwartz in our objections.

The Post is aware that the mayor’s budget submission to the council is 1) tardy and 2) likely to trim spending in areas close to its liberal heart. But instead of parleys about taxes or spending, The Post is engaging in a fight about closed-door deliberations between the executive and legislative branches.

We are disappointed. At this juncture, as our leaders prepare the budget and position themselves for their annual visit to Wall Street, the proceedings are closed to the public out of necessity. No official action is being taken; no official action can be taken — until the mayor officially submits his budget proposal.

If we want the executive and legislative branches to resolve policy disputes, then they must be given the practical details beforehand. Otherwise, there would be gridlock.

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