- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A D.C. Council member on Wednesday cried foul over a four-member city agency slated for a budget increase that would cover the salary of the daughter of a close confidante of Mayor Vincent C. Gray.

Council member David A. Catania singled out the 22.4 percent increase in funding to the D.C. Office of Motion Picture and Television Development during a hearing Wednesday on Mr. Gray’s proposed $9.6 billion 2012 spending plan.

Mr. Catania, at-large independent, noted that the funding increase would offset the salary of Leslie Green — the daughter of Lorraine A. Green, who served as Mr. Gray’s campaign and transition team director.

“I don’t believe that was a critical fill,” Mr. Catania said of Leslie Green’s hiring. “There was not an interview, she simply had a position.”

Leslie Green began working for the agency, which promotes the District as a site for motion picture and television production, on Jan. 3 as a senior communications manager at a salary of $85,000, according to city personnel records.

City documents show the agency’s proposed $726,000 fiscal 2012 budget calls for an additional full-time employee, $78,000 in additional local funds and $55,000 in “other funds” for a total increase of $133,000.

“That was enough to bring on one person — one person who is the daughter of the mayor’s confidante,” Mr. Catania said.

Mr. Gray, whose administration is the subject of multiple and ongoing local and federal investigations into his personnel practices, said Mr. Catania’s accusations were inappropriate.

“I find it very objectionable,” he said. “I thought it was out of bounds.”

He said Leslie Green’s position was shifted from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. He also defended Leslie Green as one of the administration’s most qualified public information officers.

He noted that Lorraine Green is not a government employee, although her name has been mentioned among Cabinet members whose children were hired by the Gray administration.

Mr. Catania has been relentless in his scrutiny of the controversial hires during recent D.C. Council hearings.

Another hearing probing the political appointments is scheduled for Thursday, and among the witnesses expected to testify are Leslie Green and Mr. Gray’s former chief of staff, Gerri Mason Hall. Ms. Hall was fired in the wake of the controversy over hiring practices. Lorraine Green is scheduled to testify on Monday.

Mr. Catania also objected in general on Wednesday to the mayor’s budget plan, which increases spending by 3.1 percent, or $322 million, compared to last year and calls for increased taxes on the wealthy and cuts to human services.

“To suggest there is a world of pain put on people is absolutely a joke,” he said.

Mr. Catania pointed out that the increase to the motion picture office budget came even as some programs were cut from the Health Department, an agency he oversees as chairman of the council’s Committee on Health.

Mr. Gray’s proposal calls for $187 million in spending cuts, much of it in human services, and $127.2 million in tax and fee increases and $7.9 in additional revenue to close a $322 million budget gap.

“Our financial situation called for a reality check,” Mr. Gray said in defending his spending plan. “This budget squarely meets and addresses the reality we face.”

Council member Jack Evans was put off by the proposed tax increases.

Mr. Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said small businesses account for more than 4,000 of the 15,000 filers facing an increased income tax on those earning more than $200,000 in the District. He said the tax, no matter how rich the payer, is no drop in the bucket.

For some, “You’re asking them to pay an additional $18,000 taxes per year,” he told the mayor. “I want to dispel this notion it’s a cup of coffee.”

Mr. Gray said he would work with Mr. Evans on avoiding unanticipated impacts of the tax proposal.

Council member Marion Barry said budget cuts are not spread evenly among education, public safety and human services. Education funding was increased in the mayor’s budget, while the police and fire departments were funded at fiscal 2011 levels and asked to absorb inflation costs.

Mr. Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, said he would like to see innovative ways to save money in the police budget, rather than seeing human services “take a plunge.”

Council member Phil Mendelson said the budget strikes the right balance between spending cuts and increasing revenue.

“There has to be the mix,” Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat, told the mayor. “You recognize that, and I appreciate that.”

Council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, said prior budgets dipped into savings, used gimmicks and amounted to “time bombs to plague us into the future.”

“We wanted a mayor who would do things differently,” Ms. Cheh said. “We might not agree with all the pieces of it, but this is a straightforward, honest budget.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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