- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2007

A proposal by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty this week that would allow him to give big boosts in pay to D.C. agency heads was similar to a scenario that took place at City Hall four years ago.

The one difference? Back then, Mr. Fenty was opposed to it.

On Tuesday night, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray introduced at Mr. Fenty’s request an emergency resolution that would have granted the mayor power to give significant raises to top staffers without further council approval — a move nearly identical to one that Mr. Fenty vehemently objected to as a council member in 2003.

Mr. Fenty”s resolution boosts the number of pay levels on the District”s Executive Schedule from five to seven and caps salaries at a maximum of $279,900, according to the bill.

Salaries had been capped at $179,096, and the council was required to grant the mayor a waiver if he wanted to pay an employee more than that amount.

In 2003, Mayor Anthony A. Williams attempted to push through the council an emergency measure that would have slotted the police chief”s position in the highest level of the executive schedule and then raised the cap from $141,000 to $175,000 to accommodate the salary that he wanted to pay Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey.

Mr. Williams, a Democrat, told The Washington Times in 2003 that his resolution was designed solely to give Chief Charles H. Ramsey a $25,000 pay increase. But he also acknowledged that the measure did give him “flexibility” to raise the salaries of other top managers in the city government.

Mr. Fenty, a Democrat who represented Ward 4 on the council, said at the time: “There is no way I’m going to vote for this.”

“Have we lost touch with reality?” Mr. Fenty said. “$175,000 for a city government employee — it is completely unjustifiable.”

Fenty spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said the mayor’s current legislation was needed to accommodate salaries already agreed upon with agency heads like schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, who earns $275,000, and Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, who negotiated a raise to $279,000 earlier this year.

Mr. Fenty also wrote in a letter to Mr. Gray, a Democrat, that the schedule change “would provide for much needed flexibility in determining the range of compensation” for Cabinet-level employees.

Under the D.C. Code, the mayor has tremendous leeway in assigning salaries within the pay scale without seeking the council’s approval, and the criteria for assigning executive salaries within the pay tiers is not clear.

According to D.C. personnel regulations, the assignments are based on an agency’s budget characteristics, its work-force characteristics, the complexity of its mission and functions, and the desired qualifications for — or the impact of the person on — the position. Such criteria can be difficult to quantify.

Mr. Williams’ measure was never brought before the full council for a vote.

After being questioned on Tuesday by The Times about Mr. Fenty’s measure, Mr. Gray confirmed with staff members that the resolution as written contained no restrictions on how many agency heads could be hired at the new, higher pay levels.

Members later passed an amendment to the measure — introduced by Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican — that would allow specific agency heads, including the schools chancellor and chief financial officer, to be compensated based on the new pay schedule. But additional hires at the new salary levels would be subject to council approval.

“I felt it was incumbent on the council to make sure that … that kind of blank check, on an emergency basis, was not allowed to be written,” Mrs. Schwartz said.

There also was concern among council members regarding the salaries of employees who may not be included on the executive schedule but are slated to earn high salaries.

For example, eight of 11 employees listed as part of Mrs. Rhee’s transition team are projected to earn annual salaries of more than $100,000, while two will earn $200,000.

Mrs. Schwartz, chairman of the council’s Committee on Workforce Development and Government Operations, said she intends to hold a hearing on the pay schedule and government salaries when the council returns from its summer recess.

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