CITY COUNCIL DESERVES PRAISE
[from August 2003 issue]

PRIOR EDITORIALS ARCHIVED HERE


Have citizens been watching Cable Channel 13 this summer? That’s the city council’s channel, for those who don’t know. And for those who have not tuned in (not only during regular working hours -- maybe when the boss has been out on vacation -- but often well into the evening; our legislators are not clock-watchers and they stay with the job until it’s done), you have been missing out on some really great political theater. But, it’s been darn serious theater –- often quite dramatic.

What we have been witnessing is 13 very dedicated men and women who have banded together with a single purpose of trying their absolute best to faithfully serve all of us. This doesn’t mean to say that every one of them is absolutely brilliantly prepared for knowledgeable, substantive discussion all the time, but most of them are most of the time.

And what terrific stuff we have been seeing and hearing! There are some amazing intellects indeed in that legislature of ours. In a long-ago prior career this commentator worked the halls of Congress and had extensive contact with legislators, both national and at the state level; there is no question from our experience that our legislators can hold their collective head high –- they are right up there with the very best that can be found anywhere.

Why are we gushing so? It’s because what we are finally seeing is a city council that is doing exactly what voters expect of a legislative body, which is much more than simply to enact laws: what we have now have is a vigorous and independent branch of government consistent with the underlying principles of our kind of democracy –- a true separation of powers, with the legislature exercising its legitimate power to ensure proper checks and balances on the power of the executive, meaning the mayor in our case.

Clearly the mayor doesn’t like this, but we know the voters do; they want this, they want our council members to delve and dig and ask the tough questions and expose the flaws and then fix things. Governors and Presidents understand this dynamic and seem to be able to function accordingly; after all, this is the American way. Unfortunately, however, our mayor has never been comfortable with this dynamic and has not learned how to adjust. This may explain, in part, why relations between him and his office and the city council are so on edge. But, we say, the mayor has to get over it and learn to go with the flow.

The city council members are doing their jobs. When they investigate and ferret out wrongdoing in the ranks, when they hold hearings and demand answers and evidence, when they vigorously challenge the mayor or his officers regarding not only matters of policy but operations -- even if what is revealed may be very bad stuff –- we say, “Thank you, thank you for your vigorous oversight!”

We are convinced that but for the thorough work of Jack Evans, who chairs the council’s finance committee, along with other colleagues like David Catania, the city would right now be once again a financial basket case. We have noted too many times in the few years since the mayor graduated from being chief financial officer where he was pushing us toward a very slippery slope, only to be stopped by a city council whose members know how to do their homework.

We reacted quite negatively to the mayor’s professed outrage over Kathy Patterson’s on-going and dead-on-right questioning of the operations of the police department and of how the chief views his role and priorities. The mayor would have us believe that she, in carrying out her responsibilities as chair of the council’s judiciary committee, is acting totally irresponsibly. We think the mayor is completely wrong on that score. Her questioning and digging and fussing has been an accurate reflection of citizen frustration with the police department’s management; she has not only our support, but that of every citizen who we have heard from about these matters. Just watching the debate in the council on the issue of the chief’s proposed compensation and benefits package should have convinced the mayor that he’s way out-of-touch on this.

Likewise with the mayor’s incredible hard-line opposition to the council’s effort to clean up the huge purchase credit card scandal. First the mayor and his people downplay the whole thing like it’s just a small operational/bookkeeping matter, then they pretend that there’s only “one bad apple,” then they try to say that we’ll all be in danger of being killed if they can’t use credit cards to buy fire engines, and so on and so on. If it had not been for the perseverance of Carol Schwartz and Jim Graham, especially, we would have never known of the millions of dollars that have been flowing down the drain thanks to this totally unsupervised and unmanaged program that had over 700 employees able to charge, without any back-up documentation, anything they pleased to DC government purchase credit cards. And worse, there were 50 or more employees who had authority to charge monthly sums exceeding the average citizen’s annual income four-fold –- also without audit. What was so amazing was the mayor’s attempt to blame the council for taking away the credit cards should an ambulance not get to a dying resident in time, as if the failure of the 911 system might now passed off as due to the lack of being able to use a credit card! Give us a break.

Bottom line? We think the city council is doing a bang-up job on our behalf. That’s our story and we’re sticking with it!