- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A D.C. Council committee Tuesday chided Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s administration for failing to submit regulations that govern some of his critical public-safety initiatives.

The council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary issued a report on the mayor’s public-safety budget that criticized the administration for not submitting rules for expanding a program that allows inmates to earn time off of their sentences. The report also said officials have declined to develop regulations for a year-old initiative consolidating thousands of surveillance cameras in the city.

“A year later, and the rules that the council required to be adopted for the use of the surveillance cameras have yet to be developed, much less implemented,” the five-member Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary said. “There is no excuse for not advancing the … rule-making within the last year, or for attempting to circumvent the councils review by simply ‘adopting’ the [existing] policies.”

The criticism comes as the council begins its markups of Mr. Fenty’s $5.4 billion budget for fiscal 2010.

The full council will consider the spending plan for preliminary approval May 12. The public safety committee, chaired by Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, approved its report and revisions to the mayor’s proposal Tuesday afternoon.

Among the recommended changes were scrapping Mr. Fenty’s proposal to increase the 911 charge from 76 cents to $1.15 per month for the land lines and cell phones of D.C. residents and from 62 cents to $1.01 on land lines used by businesses.

But the council members also directed their efforts toward a project of Mr. Fenty’s last year, when city officials began consolidating 5,200 cameras belonging to different D.C. agencies into one network managed by the city’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA).

Mr. Fenty at the time said the initiative would enhance the District’s countersurveillance and crime-fighting capabilities, but the program was scrutinized because of privacy concerns.

In last year’s budget passed by the council, members approved language requiring the mayor to issue rules governing the program and that the regulations be subjected to council review.

But the public safety committee report says the Office of the Attorney General has instead stated that the network will operate under existing regulations governing the use of surveillance cameras by the Metropolitan Police Department - a stopgap the council authorized only until new rules could be drafted.

In a letter from Attorney General Peter J. Nickles to Mr. Mendelson last month, which is cited in the report, Mr. Nickles said HSEMA drafted rules and published them for comment, but then later opted to operate the program under police rules.

“No rule-making in this area is currently contemplated,” Mr. Nickles wrote.

The report says drafting rules specific to the HSEMA program “is not an option” and directs the agency to submit regulations to the committee by Oct. 1. The committee also proposed language to bar cameras used by police and the Department of Corrections (DOC), which Mr. Mendelson said are not currently part of the consolidation, from ever being included.

The council member said he is concerned that adding cameras from those agencies would make the program more inefficient. He said he is less concerned that the moves would infringe on civil liberties because the consolidation is not intended for crime-fighting purposes.

“The way that program was announced and the way it’s carried out are two different things,” Mr. Mendelson said. “They announced it as a major public safety initiative. Instead [it’s] like watching traffic cameras.”

The council members Tuesday also opted to accept Mr. Fenty’s plan to expand the eligibility of inmates seeking to reduce their sentences by participating in educational and vocational programs and earning good-time credits. The new proposal would allow both pretrial and sentenced inmates to earn time off by participating in the programs, even if the inmates do not finish.

However, council members still had not received regulations governing the expansion. The committee Tuesday directed the DOC to provide a draft copy of the regulations by Oct. 1. The rules “should demonstrate how DOC will monitor inmate participation and award proper credit of good time,” the report states.

In other budget maneuvers, council members said they will restore Emancipation Day as a legal public holiday in the city and do away with an annual fee on residents’ electric bills to fund streetlight maintenance.

“You don’t want to impose general fees on residents if you don’t have to, and the mayor would be the first to agree with me,” said Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Public Works and Transportation. “So there’s no necessity in imposing this fee. We have funds sufficient to avoid that.”

• Gary Emerling can be reached at gemerling@washingtontimes.com.

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