The District’s mayor wants the authority to task her staff attorneys to provide legal reviews of contracts, city laws and other matters.
But to the city’s first elected attorney general, who says the legal oversight should remain his prerogative, the mayor’s proposal amounts to a power grab.
Both sides are set to argue their positions Wednesday at a hearing before the D.C. Council.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser revealed her proposal to pull authority from the attorney general this month in a bill that would make a number of changes to city laws in order to facilitate her $12.9 billion budget plan. The plan would give the Mayor’s Office of Legal Council, overseen by one-time attorney general candidate Mark H. Tuohey, the authority to provide legal sufficiency reviews of legislation, regulations, and contracts at the request of the mayor.
The legislation would also define the relationship between the mayor and Attorney General Karl Racine as “client to attorney.”
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has introduced legislation on behalf of Mr. Racine that would stake far more sweeping authority for the attorney general’s office — including the ability to review and certify legislation, control legal settlements under $1.5 million and to issue formal opinions binding on all government entities.
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Many of the responsibilities were handled previously by attorneys general who were appointed by the city’s mayor. But that changed in 2010 when 76 percent of D.C. voters supported a referendum that made the position an elected office.
“Citizens in modern democracy appreciate and respect the concept of checks and balances,” Mr. Racine said in a Monday appearance on NewsChannel 8’s “NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt.” “It’s important for an independent attorney general to serve that role as check and balance on the executive, including in the District of Columbia.”
Both Mr. Racine and Ms. Bowser took office in January, and while they’ve been in step on issues like marijuana legalization, they’ve sparred on how to handle others such as a lawsuit regarding D.C. budget autonomy.
The D.C. Council’s Committee on the Judiciary will hear testimony Wednesday on both pieces of legislation.
Mr. Racine and Mr. Tuohey are both scheduled to testify as is Beverly Perry, Ms. Bowser’s special adviser. At least 12 others, including representatives from the Public Defenders Service and American Civil Liberties Union, are also on the hearing’s witness list.
• Andrea Noble can be reached at email@example.com.
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