Greater Greater Washington

Three quick fixes to DC Council credibility

The DC Council has bruised its reputation with a pair of self-inflicted wounds: over-priced leased SUVs and Verizon Center ticket squabbles. It can take steps to regain credibility by repealing its members' parking ticket exemption, stop accepting free sports and entertainment tickets, and release data on official credit card purchases.


Photo by philentropist on Flickr.

The District deserves respect for generally good financial stewardship. Closing the $322 million budget deficit will create the 16th balanced budget in a row. DC continues to maintain a large reserve fund, an A A+ bond rating overall and a AAA rating on income tax-backed bonds.

Instead, the press and public are rightfully very focused on a pair of Lincoln Navigators and prime seats to watch Lady Gaga. Are these questionable distractions symbolic of a Council that doesn't "get it" during these tight times? Looking forward, what could the Council do to make some immediate progress towards repairing its credibility?

Council fix #1: Repeal the parking ticket exemption.

In 2002, the DC Council voted to exempt itself from many parking regulations while on official business. Part of the justification was the odd reasoning that if US Congressmen should not have to pay tickets, neither should members of the DC Council.

Nevertheless, Council members Kwame Brown, Marion Barry and Harry Thomas have all had their cars recently booted or towed.

This exemption sends an unfortunate message to residents and commuters. 13 members of the Council are too busy or important to deal with finding and, if necessary, paying for legal parking spaces. This double standard means that legislators who write laws to create and regulate parking really don't have the same experience with how those laws impact normal drivers.

Furthermore, free and nearly unrestricted parking removes nearly any incentive for Councilmembers to walk, bike, carpool, taxi or take transit.

Council fix #2: Stop accepting free tickets from sports and entertainment venues.

The DC government controversy regarding tickets to Verizon Center events and Washington Nationals games reared its ugly head during the previous Mayor's administration. It's back.

The problem is that now two Mayors in a row and the DC Council incorrectly concluded that residents cared about how the tickets were distributed between the Mayor and Council. The real issue is why Council members and staff are involved with these tickets at all.

Some Councilmembers justify their access to the tickets by donating most if not all of the tickets to schools and community organizations. Sure, these organizations benefit from tickets to be auctioned off as fundraisers.

The bottom line is that the Council (and Mayor) should not be receiving tickets as gifts from for-profit businesses that regularly have tax and regulatory matters under consideration by the DC government. Donating the tickets to community groups doesn't resolve the issue because it enables incumbent Councilmembers and the Mayor to leverage their office to do favors for selected constituents.

Let the Verizon Center and Washington Nationals distribute tickets to schools and community groups on their own.

Council fix #3: Release purchase or credit card transaction data for official and constituent services expenses.

There is a natural curiosity and suspicion about the use of government credit cards. While those purchases are no different than any other tax dollar spent, residents remain sensitive about those who have the privilege of carrying a DC government purchase card.

Since January 2009, DC Government executive branch agencies have released a list of all purchase card transactions in the Data Catalog. This transparency has given the taxpayer and media the information with which to scrutinize how these purchase cards are used.

The Council could copy the way DC government agencies already release this financial data to promote transparency of Council official and constituent services funds. This would enhance spending and procurement transparency by the Council.

Correction: A long-time Council staff person pointed out that the Councilmembers release all revenues and expenditures for constituent services funds on the Office of Campaign Finance site. The same transparency should exist for all official Council expenses.

None of these three suggestions will repair overnight any recent damage done to the reputation of the Council or the District as a whole. But implementing these three fixes quickly and in their entirety will show residents and the region that the Council wants to take measurable steps in the right direction.

Mitch Wander first arrived in Washington, DC over 25 years ago as a US House of Representatives page while in high school. An avid promoter of DC living, Mitch has lived in wards 1, 2, 3, and 6. He and his wife are proud DC Public School parents. He serves as an officer in the US Army Reserve. 

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I would add having an At-Large Councilmember in charge of the census evaluation and redistricting process to this list.

by William on Mar 2, 2011 2:46 pm • linkreport

Michael Brown is co-chairing and he is At-Large.

by Tedder on Mar 2, 2011 2:53 pm • linkreport

Call me old fashioned, but I don't equate "hemoraging money from your fund account" and "balanced budget" to mean the same thing.

We had 1.5 billion in our fund in 2007. We have 600 million in it now, 4 years later. Burning through ~900 million dollars in 4 years just to keep the lights on is a convenient factoid Ed Lazare simply forgot to mention.

The things you mention...cars, free tickets and more transparent credit card transactions are all fine and good, but complete fluff that adds up to what...a million, maybe two million a year in "savings" that allows some folks to feel better, but means nothing in real terms.

This year, thanks to a gift that keeps on giving from uncle sam, we "might" have reduced our 3rd half a billion dollar budget hole in as many years to ~300 million. All told, we've overspent our budget every year for the past 12. Budget surpluses covered our fiscal shenanigans for the first 8, we've been running true deficits for the past 4.

I am just as dissapointed in the city when crap like Navigator-gate comes out, but we really need to get to the marrow of the matter, the city programs and expenditures in the hundred-million to the billion a year range. Until we do that, we are just deluding ourselves.

by freely on Mar 2, 2011 3:08 pm • linkreport

Your council fixes #1 & #2 will not make any effective improvements. Council fix #3 has merit.

Robert Vinson Brannum
rbrannum@robertbrannum.com

by Robert Vinson Brannum on Mar 2, 2011 3:24 pm • linkreport

And DC wants to be a state.

Never.gonna.happen.

by TGEoA on Mar 2, 2011 3:37 pm • linkreport

I think the purpose of this article was to show that the Council needs to make good faith efforts. No one thinks or rather should think that making these changes to how the Council operates are the most important for improving the fiscal and financial state of the District. This is about conduct and how the Council views itself and portrays its image to the community and country at large. In general the Council needs to do it's job, and not take advantage of the people.

The parking thing is totally ridiculous. I have a car, and barely drive it, but I get so many damn tickets it is unreal. Leave the car in the meter 1 or 2 minutes after it expires, and you get a ticket. So absolutely do I think that the Council & mayor should have to deal with the same frustration and craziness that is parking in the city. I fully understand it is my choice to have a car that I use very little in the city, and that is what I have to deal with. They should too.

by Ryan on Mar 2, 2011 3:37 pm • linkreport

Electing adults to the Council rather than the current crop of clowns would also go a long way. Right now we've got maybe three adults on the Council. For whatever you think of his actual policy positions, I don't see Tommy Wells throwing a hissy fit about not getting free tickets to see Lady Gaga.

@freely, you need to get out more. Maybe take a look at every single other municipality in the country. Recession, etc, etc... DC is doing a bang-up job.

by oboe on Mar 2, 2011 3:38 pm • linkreport

Leave the car in the meter 1 or 2 minutes after it expires, and you get a ticket.

Park the car four or five feet past the "No Parking" sign, and you get a ticket. It's like the system is working, or something!

Heh.

by oboe on Mar 2, 2011 3:40 pm • linkreport

What they need to do is start ticketing for when people park terribly. If you take up two spots you should get a ticket!

@oboe

I think you live near 15th st. because you have talked about the cycletrack. Go up near 15th and V on Sunday morning near all the churches. Not one single ticket there when the people park where ever they want, while they go pray.

by Ryan on Mar 2, 2011 3:51 pm • linkreport

Does the DC Council need better credibility or the chair of the council. In contrast w/recent reporting, I don't think it's fair to indict the entire council for what one person did. I didn't pay enough attention to the Gaga thing so I can't speak to that.

But, not receiving free tickets won't make me like or respect the council any more. Neither will the parking thing. I will, however, bite on the credit card thing. That's much more important than the former two.

Maybe if politicians across the country didn't routinely receive these sorta benefits, I would have more of a problem with it. But these two?

Nah.

by HogWash on Mar 2, 2011 4:10 pm • linkreport

@Ryan-they're praying for no tickets. Wish granted!

by ah on Mar 2, 2011 4:11 pm • linkreport

The rules are not the problem. The problem is that apparently nobody in the DC government was aware of the fact that there was a law on the books forbidding SUVs being bought. Surely, a grand-ego new Council Chairman could forget that, fine. But that's why there are procurement people - that we all hate - to make sure everybody else knows the rules. They did not do their jobs.

So, before we make more rules that will not be followed, how 'bout we just start following and enforcing the existing rules and start punishing the people that break the rules. including Mr Council Chairman, and the procurement clowns. Mr Council Chairman needs to resign, and the procurement clowns need to get a poor performance note on their annual review.

by Jasper on Mar 2, 2011 4:12 pm • linkreport

Mitch, Right on with all 3 fixes.

OK sure they don't balance the budget, but 1 and 2 are examples of elected officials taking advantage of their position for personal gain and three is just a check on the officials. Goodness knows we need hat check.

It is embarrassing to live in a city with a Council that thinks this is OK. Embarrassing.

by mike on Mar 2, 2011 4:25 pm • linkreport

Jasper, why would the Council Chair resign over requesting a vehicle type that was approved by the procurement team?

IMO, what's more important is how did the DC gov't's agreement w/the dealer amount to $1900.

I'm all for holding people accountable but what you suggest here is bordering the ridiculous.

Resign because he requested an approved vehicle?

by HogWash on Mar 2, 2011 4:37 pm • linkreport

This petty childish behaviour is awful.

But the truth is if these arenas/stadia in many cities including DC had not taken prime real estate off the tax rolls and also required massive public subsidies, many cities would be better off financially. Whatever benefits to certain businesses, the benefit to the the tax base rarely develops to anything but a negative.

Civic pride in having a sports team causes many places to assume this financial negative. Clearly the last $50million dumped into the Verizon Center was motivated at least in part by the luxury skyboxes promised to the mayor and council. Ditto the $600+million dumped into Nats Stadium.

I'd feel more civic pride if we'd put that money into a streetcar system.

by Tom Coumaris on Mar 2, 2011 6:25 pm • linkreport

Ummm guys it's too late. You picked the wrong horses, and its going to be a shit show for the next 4 years. If you had lived here in the 80's and 90's you would understand what we are in for. We are so screwed you don't even know. The Feds think DC is a joke and you cant recover from that when you are DC. Screwed.

by Banana Hammock on Mar 2, 2011 11:57 pm • linkreport

Like the Fenty administration was any better? Who do you think spent down the $1.5 Billion in reserves?

by William on Mar 3, 2011 6:52 am • linkreport

I have changed two items in the article after the initial posting on Wednesday afternoon. (1) DC's general obligation bonds are rated A+ by S&P, not A. (2) A long-time Council staff person pointed out that the Councilmembers release all revenues and expenditures for constituent services funds on the Office of Campaign Finance site. I clarified that the same transparency should exist for all official Council expenses.

by Mitch Wander on Mar 3, 2011 7:09 am • linkreport

Am I the only one who really doesn't give a hoot about the parking ticket exemption?

Personally, I'd rather that our councilmembers spent their time actually attending meetings and doing work, than looking for parking or riding a bus or metro when driving would take less time. A big part of their job is being at lots of different events. I think that the "message" that everyone worrys so much about is a lot less important than the impracticality of using public transit to get between likely a half-dozen or more different places they go every day, or spending 20 minutes at every stop to find a legal space. That's just not going to happen.

Whatever your principled position on sending messages might be, the impact of fewer than ten people being allowed to park illegally is insignificant. It's a silly point on which to get worked up about compared to, say, 3,000 uniformed officers who break every traffic law on the book every day.

Besides, if you got rid of the exemption, you can be sure the result would just be that everyone gets chauffered around all the time instead. Or they would just park illegally anyway and have their assistant bury the cost in an expense report.

by Jamie on Mar 3, 2011 8:45 am • linkreport

I care about the exemption in part--I think that council members should still have to abide by parking laws such as not in front of hydrants, too close to a corner etc.

I would not be troubled if they were given a placard that exempted them from paying for metered spaces or otherwise complying with the time limits, so long as they are on official business and in a legal spot.

by ah on Mar 3, 2011 9:25 am • linkreport

For all of you who thought Fenty was the anti-christ and Gray the savior...well think again. It is Marion Berry all over again. I hope you are happy

by sick of 'em on Mar 3, 2011 10:59 am • linkreport

Freely: When is the city supposed to use its rainy day fund if not for the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression? It's unfair to blame DC for the fiscal effects of a national economic crisis. The city has acted responsibly in including the fund in its efforts to keep the budget balanced during these times.

by Arnold on Mar 3, 2011 11:10 am • linkreport

Arnold: Please get real. Even when the economy was good, DC always had a fiscal crisis...consider who/what runs this city. Until that changes, this city will never be solvent and never, certainly in my life time, see statehood.

by sick of 'em on Mar 3, 2011 11:13 am • linkreport

I'm with Jamie--I don't really give a hoot about parking enforcement exemptions. But if you're gonna fix that, please do go whole hog. NO more "free parking anywhere" passes for ANC commissioners. They represent their neighborhood--about 2000 people, roughly 16 square blocks. For that you need a free parking pass?

by Trulee Pist on Mar 3, 2011 11:29 am • linkreport

Dear Ms. Pist:
The issue is not ANC Commissioners and their free parking pass, the issue is Lincoln Navigators and the individual(s) who drive them.

by sick of 'em on Mar 3, 2011 11:42 am • linkreport

@sick of 'em, you mean the Lincoln Navigators that Fenty bought?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/28/AR2011022805956_2.html

"Former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) was known to drive around town in a Smart Car, but many of the city SUVs appear to have been purchased during his administration."

And Fenty, of course, didn't get rid of his own Navigator, he just gave it to Ron Moten to drive around. So how come nobody cared about it then, but now that it's Vincent Gray, it's back to the Barry days?

by Jamie on Mar 3, 2011 11:49 am • linkreport

@Jamie:

To reiterate a previous poster's point:

For all of you who thought Fenty was the anti-christ and Gray the savior...well think again. It is Marion Berry all over again. I hope you are happy

The supporters of "effective government" (i.e. Fenty supporters) pointed out over, and over, and over again to the many "good government" purists (i.e. a sub-set of Gray voters who weren't upset that the trough wasn't being filled quickly enough) that you can *always* find a scandal.

So while many well-intentioned folks allowed themselves to get worked up over various apocalyptic scandals like the "Fenty let a friend drive his car" scandal, and the "They sold an ancient fire-truck to Trinidad" scandal, most of us with any sense of perspective called that for what it is: local politics.

Since Gray's *entire* campaign seemed to hinge on his promise to return our city to virtue after being stained by the various depredations of the unclean Fenty gangsters, I would say we're entitled to point it out when Gray performs as badly (or worse) in this respect.

by oboe on Mar 3, 2011 12:09 pm • linkreport

@ Jamie: There is a difference...the Navigators bought by Fenty, were bought in "bunches" and as mandated by DC Policy had to be approved by Council (whether you or I agree with that is not the issue). The Brown Navigator was done as a single purchase, which is not Brown but Black because he did not like the color interior, thus by-passing the Council to give approval. You can say what you want to say, Fenty and his people may have been arrogant but they got results. Gray is a puppet of Marion Barry and this administration will be filled with useless individuals from Wards 7 and 8.

by sick of 'em on Mar 3, 2011 12:10 pm • linkreport

Shorter version: You don't fight to depose Saddam Hussein as a genocidal monster, then when elected, turn around and claim that "Sure we're gassing the Kurds, but I didn't hear anyone complaining when Saddam did it."

by oboe on Mar 3, 2011 12:11 pm • linkreport

thank you oboe!

by sick of 'em on Mar 3, 2011 12:16 pm • linkreport

sick of 'em: The rainy day fund was at $1.5B before the national economic crisis. How can you interpret that as DC being in a fiscal crisis when the economy was strong?

by Arnold on Mar 3, 2011 12:30 pm • linkreport

@Arnold,

If you would like to go back over previous city budgets, feel free. But those of us who were here witnessed the Council exceed their approved budgets every single year from 2000-2007, from anywhere between 50 and 175 million a year.

This is on top of yearly budget increases of 6-9%.

Yes, the biggest re boom of all time was producing an unexpected surplus, but free money doesn't excuse fiscal shenanigans, it just covers them up for awhile.

Had the city actually bothered to adhear to their bloated budgets those 7 years, DC would have had another half a billion or so in the fund.

by freely on Mar 3, 2011 1:02 pm • linkreport

@Oboe: That's fine. I'm not saying "don't point them out." Nor am I saying we should give Gray a pass. But pardon me for being confused when, as you say, "politics is politics," but when those same politics happened under Fenty, it was no big deal, but under Gray, it's a sign of things going to hell.

We seem to agree that those same sorts of things happened under Fenty. How come that didn't trigger the bicycle riding population of NW Washington to bemoan the return to the Barry days, as it seems to now?

As for @sick of 'ems confusing rationale, please, help me out here.

Fenty's navigators, all of which presumably violate the same 2004 law MPG restriction for any DC-purchased vehicle which Brown has been criticized about, are OK because he bought a whole bunch of them at once? Is the only thing you're up in arms about the fact that his navigator was "black and not brown," and not the general idea of the city buying lots of expensive gas guzzlers?

Why do you think that Brown bypassing council approval for buying a single SUV, reflects badly on the mayor, but the actual buying a whole bunch of them at once, by the administration itself and not a lone councilmember, does not reflect badly on that mayor?

What did Vincent Gray have to do with a councilmember doing something illegal, and why is this a sign of a return to the Barry days, whereas the actual Mayor buying a whole bunch of the same things that violate the law is OK?

It seems like everything that happens while Gray is mayor, even if he had nothing to do with it, is a sure sign that we're on the road to hell, while at the same time, nearly identical things that not only happened under the previous mayor's watch, but he himself actually did, are perfectly fine.

I am very confused.

by Jamie on Mar 3, 2011 1:29 pm • linkreport

By Robert McCartney
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 2, 2011; 10:32 PM

What a debut. In their first two months in office, the most memorable stories about District Mayor Vincent Gray and council Chairman Kwame Brown revealed that they spent taxpayers' money on apparently nepotistic hiring and luxury SUVs.

These are only mini-scandals, because relatively little money was involved. But the damage to the city's reputation is unavoidable.

The problem worsened Monday when questions arose about seemingly extravagant travel spending by Allen Sessoms, president of the publicly funded University of the District of Columbia.

Think of the impact on just one extremely relevant audience, the new House Republican majority. It's already hellbent on cutting federal spending, including for vulnerable Washington city services. It's harder now for the District to defend itself by saying it's perfectly capable of managing its own finances, thank you, so Congress should butt out.

Then there are the District voters who opposed Gray (D) and Brown (D) and are now thinking, "We told you so." Many were worried that the elections would lead to padded city payrolls and excessive perks for public officials.

What is to be done? Gray and Brown need to change the narrative - and quickly. To start, they should strongly push some ethics measures, such as investigating Sessoms's travel and creating a promised new ethics watchdog body for the D.C. Council.
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Perhaps more important, the mayor must recover the adroit political sense that helped him win a landslide victory last year but has deserted him since he took office.

Gray has ignored one of the most important rules in politics: Prevent vacuums. He hasn't used the now-vanished honeymoon period to promote big, bold initiatives on his signature issues of jobs and education. He seems to be content to manage the city rather than lead it. Now he's at risk of being defined by his missteps.

Brown is hampered by an even bigger embarrassment. First, his offense was more personal and more eye-catching, as it was so petty of him to have the city replace his taxpayer-funded Lincoln Navigator just because he didn't like the interior color. Also, he's likely to endure more bad publicity soon when the Office of Campaign Finance issues a report that he himself expects to describe inadequate record-keeping in his campaign operation.

Gray is still the man to watch, though, because the mayor's performance plays by far the biggest role in defining the District's identity.

Supporters and foes alike are amazed that Gray has turned so politically tone-deaf. Some think he's suffered because many of the campaign strategists who helped him win office - such as Mo Elleithee, Ron Lester and Adam Rubinson - didn't stay on to work in the administration.

According to these accounts, those now around Gray are mostly people who might be effective at running a bureaucracy but don't have the same political antennae - and it shows.

In particular, in his public statements, the mayor seems to be in denial about how the public would view revelations that city jobs had gone to children of his chief of staff, communications director and a close adviser. The hirings seemed especially hypocritical given that Gray unseated Adrian Fenty (D) as mayor partly by campaigning loudly against cronyism in his administration.

Gray denied there was a problem when I asked him at a regular news conference Tuesday what steps he'd taken to prevent such management issues from arising again. He said the young adults were qualified for their jobs.

"Should people be foreclosed from a chance to work in the government because they happen to be related to somebody? I don't think so," Gray said.

That might be true, but the mayor still needs to deal with the very reasonable suspicion that close relatives of high-ranking aides have an inside track in getting good city jobs.

Intriguingly, there's reason to believe that Gray is well aware of the negative perception but doesn't want to concede a mistake. A source close to Gray, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the mayor has described himself as being "furious" when he learned about the hirings after they took place.

Brown acknowledges that he needs to do better. He said he made mistakes over the SUV, which has been returned to the city, partly because, "I should just be paying more attention to what's going on in my personal office."

Speaking of the mayor's issues as well as his own, Brown also pointed to a learning curve. "Any time that you first get into office and you're making a transition, there'll always be some hiccups," he said.

Both Gray and Brown need to act forcefully to prevent such hiccups from becoming severe indigestion with symptoms that would afflict the entire city.
________________________________________________________
Please note the line"learning curve".. These are career politicians, what learning curve do they need?

by sick of 'em on Mar 3, 2011 1:29 pm • linkreport

@sick of 'em: This can be summed up very simply: "double standard." You summed it up with "Fenty and his people may have been arrogant but they got results"

It seems you believe that government should be run in Machievellian fashion, e.g. "the ends justify the means." Even if I accept that Fenty "got stuff done", then that seems an unfair basis on which to compare an ex-mayor with one who's been in office for barely two months.

Your rant is hilarious at best. Politically tone deaf? That is the long and short of why Fenty lost. That man stonewalled reporters as a matter of course. He refused to listen to his advisors when they told him that being a jerk was bad politics. Fenty was the epitome of "poltically tone deaf."

Yes, politics is politics. Fenty thought you could run a city like a dictator, without regard for process, rules, laws, or public opinion. Whether or not you think he "got stuff done," he was wrong, because he's no longer running the city.

by Jamie on Mar 3, 2011 1:43 pm • linkreport

@Jamie:

Most of us were quite happy with Fenty. It was the pro-Gray forces who relied on the argument that Fenty was somehow irredeemably corrupt. Gray got into office on what was essentially a campaign (at least to middle-class voters) of "I am Fenty, but without the corruption."

Now to unpack that a bit: Fenty supporters were not the ones getting their panties in a twist about these mini-scandals. Gray voters were.

Now in the first weeks of Gray's tenure, two things are becoming clear: he's likely to be every bit as "corrupt" and "scandal plagued" as Fenty was (for whatever that's worth), only he's turning out to be a bit less of the modern technocrat Gray, and a bit more of the feckless Sharon Pratt Kelly DHS appointee Gray.

Of course, we're going to make hay over this stuff. It was the prime argument against Fenty--since they certainly couldn't make it on the merits. We claimed the "scandals" of the Fenty-era were the usual give-and-take of local government--trivialities blown up into crises--and that we'd see as much or more of this under Gray. Now we see as much or more of this under Gray, and your argument is, what?, that we weren't exercised about these things when Fenty was in charge? Of course we weren't. That was the whole point. Gray needs to be held to *Gray's* standards. Not given the leeway he and his supporters refused to extend to Fenty.

by oboe on Mar 3, 2011 1:45 pm • linkreport

@ HogWash: why would the Council Chair resign over requesting a vehicle type that was approved by the procurement team?

Because he is the Council Chairman and he broke the law/asked his staff to break the law, as one of the first actions in office. He can not function anymore as a leader in DC, because he has shown not to know the rules, and apparently, not to care. Furthermore, it is distasteful to ask for a fully loaded expensive car at a time when there is a massive budget deficit. The cost of this lease is roughly equal to the pay of a low-end DC worker.

by Jasper on Mar 3, 2011 1:46 pm • linkreport

Just wanted to highlight the irony of this juxtaposition:

It seems you believe that government should be run in Machievellian fashion, e.g. "the ends justify the means." Even if I accept that Fenty "got stuff done", then that seems an unfair basis on which to compare an ex-mayor with one who's been in office for barely two months.

[...]

Yes, politics is politics. Fenty thought you could run a city like a dictator, without regard for process, rules, laws, or public opinion. Whether or not you think he "got stuff done," he was wrong, because he's no longer running the city.

So in other words, Fenty was utterly corrupt and Machiavellian for engaging in the same sort of behavior that Gray is off to a roaring start with. Oh, and of course, all that's fine because the only measure is whether you can manage to stay in office.

No parallels to the Barry years there; nope, none whatsoever. ;)

by oboe on Mar 3, 2011 1:52 pm • linkreport

@oboe: the problem is, you are holding Gray under a microscope that Fenty never was. What are the scandalous corruptions that everyone is up in arms about? Quid-pro-quo hiring, and the navigator situation.

Did you really expect that any incoming Mayor was going to put an ad on monster.com for every position and only hire people with zero connections? Would that even be a good thing?

What did Gray have to do with Brown's idiocy?

You aren't just holding Gray to a vastly different standard than you do Fenty. You're holding him to one that is absurd.

When Gray starts writing $500K checks to his frat buddies, then we'll talk.

by Jamie on Mar 3, 2011 1:58 pm • linkreport

@ Jamie: Two months or no two months, Mr. Gray is a career politician and should not need any time to transition into his new job. He has been in DC politics almost all his life. He is not going from being a Senator to a President which does require a different mindset, skill and grasp. While my feeling may be that you did not like Fenty and are bitter at anyone who sides with him; they same could be said about me...and it would be fair. Fenty was the best thing this city had in a long, long time. In dealing with the DC mindset, you almost have to be dictatorial in order to get anything accomplished. And more importantly, Fenty did not go handing out jobs to unqualified people in Wards 7 and 8. Call it what you will, it is the truth. Gray won because of those wards and now they want their payback...starting with the ex-Hizzhoner!

by sick of 'em on Mar 3, 2011 2:06 pm • linkreport

"Fenty did not go handing out jobs to unqualified people in Wards 7 and 8. " You're right, they were from Wards 1 and 5, or in some cases from Great Falls, VA.

"Mr. Gray is a career politician and should not need any time to transition into his new job."

Basically, you're saying that a new mayor should have his finger on the pulse of every single process in a huge bureaucracy before the ink is even dry, down the the microscopic level of a councilmember buying something he wasn't supposed to. Should we start routing those office supply requests to the Mayor's desk, too?

Yet, under Fenty, we had some kids at OTR writing themselves $20 million in checks, but that didn't reflect badly on him? Why, because he wasn't a career politician? Actively circumventing legal procedures for contracts to direct them to his buddies?

Come on. Double standard.

by Jamie on Mar 3, 2011 2:12 pm • linkreport

@Jamie, it sounds as if you're defending or excusing crappy stuff going on in Grays office because another mayor did crappy stuff too. Are you? Why would you let someone get away with bad behavior just because a third person was also bad? Why not hold the current mayor and current council chair and C/Ms to the highest standards? I think its a waste of time to rehash what ex-mayor/CMs/C-Chair did. Whats important now is to hold current (and every succeeding "current") office holders to the highest standards.

by Tina on Mar 3, 2011 2:36 pm • linkreport

You aren't just holding Gray to a vastly different standard than you do Fenty.

I'm holding Gray to the standard his supporters held Fenty. Because my concern is that Gray will do the exact same things that every politician does (i.e. dole out a certain amount of patronage), but that he'll also open the city's coffers to every interest group, and go back to awarding contracts on the basis of charity rather than whether the work will ever be performed.

Gray campaigned explicitly on the promise that this sort of drama was going to be a thing of the past. Skeptics have a right to wonder whether we've been rooked.

When Gray starts writing $500K checks to his frat buddies, then we'll talk.

Better that than giving $5 million contracts to "deserving" bidders that are incapable of getting the job done--which is how we did it in the pre-Williams days. I don't care if Gray writes checks to a pink Koala bear, if the bear can make sure the work gets done, in a reasonable timeframe, and somewhat on budget.

by oboe on Mar 3, 2011 2:42 pm • linkreport

"Why would you let someone get away with bad behavior just because a third person was also bad?"

This isn't about letting Gray get away with anything. We absolutely should criticize his missteps.

I am complaining about the rhetoric from the cadre of people still bitter about Fenty's loss, constantly comparing him to Barry, and bemoaning our doomed future, because of these missteps, while at the same time forgetting that Fenty was up to his ears in the same load of manure.

By all means, let's keep the administration accountable, as we should any administration. Let's point out his missteps. But it's unbelievably disingenuous to lament the departure of Fenty on this basis. My comments are entirely in response to this sort of rhetoric:

"For all of you who thought Fenty was the anti-christ and Gray the savior...well think again. It is Marion Berry all over again. I hope you are happy"

Why yes, I am happy, because I thought Fenty did a lot of things wrong. Do I think Gray has done a perfect job so far? Not by a long shot. But there's absolutely nothing that's happened so far that indicates Gray is any more like Marion Berry [sic] than Fenty was.

by Jamie on Mar 3, 2011 2:46 pm • linkreport

"Better that than giving $5 million contracts to "deserving" bidders that are incapable of getting the job done--which is how we did it in the pre-Williams days."

Please see my previous comment. Your premise seems to be that because Gray isn't absolutely perfect, then he must be Barry. At the very worst, you can accuse him of the status quo. How come you didn't bemoan that Fenty would bring us back to the Barry days? His administration was downright opaque compared to Williams'. Why weren't you holding him to that standard?

by Jamie on Mar 3, 2011 2:49 pm • linkreport

Your premise seems to be that because Gray isn't absolutely perfect, then he must be Barry. At the very worst, you can accuse him of the status quo. How come you didn't bemoan that Fenty would bring us back to the Barry days? His administration was downright opaque compared to Williams'. Why weren't you holding him to that standard?

Right but there are two components to Barry: call them the legitimate and illegitimate sides. The illegitimate side is the corruption, which is what we often focus on. But there's a critique to be made about the "legitimate" side of Barry-dom: to Barry and his partisans, the highest and most proper use of local government was to create as high a number of government make-work jobs as possible. To have a functioning government was never even close to a priority.

So it's not enough to say, Gray won't be Barry: he's clean (though we're debating that now). The real critique of Gray is not that he'll be on the take, but that it'll be a return to the priorities of the old days, when so long as jobs were being created--elevating people to the middle-class so they could escape the city for the suburbs--it didn't matter if city government "worked" or not. The city government was basically in the business of manufacturing life-preservers--jobs so folks could move out of the city--not in the business of fixing the ship.

The fundamental critique for all but a small subset of Gray's supporters (the "good government" folks) was not that Fenty was corrupt, but that he was a) in the pocket of developers; and b) leaving some people behind.

That's what I'm primarily concerned about--not that Gray will be on the take. It's just a bit galling that Gray's first weeks in office are already putting the good government angle in question, while the elephant in the room is whether Gray will make good on his campaign promises of reverting to the "legitimate" policies of Barry's heyday.

I'm hoping that was just stump-speech lip-service, but given the transition report, etc, I'm starting to have my worries.

by oboe on Mar 3, 2011 3:24 pm • linkreport

preface: I'm not defending the "bad Barry". This however is a mischaracterization: to Barry and his partisans, the highest and most proper use of local government was to create as high a number of government make-work jobs as possible. To have a functioning government was never even close to a priority.

The highest priority was to break down the defacto and historic "no blacks allowed" barrier to government employment and contractors. Early "good" Barry broke down that barrier. What happened later in the addiction years deserves criticism but the first action was needed and just and one reason Barry is beloved to this day.

by Tina on Mar 3, 2011 3:36 pm • linkreport

Couple suggestions of facts and my own opinions.

1. Take a pay cut -- I would mention/cite last month's news that city council members are 2nd highest paid in the country -- However, we must always mention the pseudo-disclaimer, "Unlike the other cities, the District fulfills the functions of state, county and city governments." Pew report here.

2. Credit checks if you want to be on city council or even ANCs -- license to steal. This might sound absurd, right? No, because the City Council wants to "make credit checks by most employers illegal." Granted this was introduced by Graham, but would Barry, Michael Brown, and Kwame Brown be able to pass a rudimentary credit score? I doubt it. And I would wager that at least one if not more have questionable credit scores.

3. Fix your face and hold your head up as a coach or teacher might say to a young person who is down on themselves -- to city council members fix your punk a$$ attitude and demeanor. They feel like they are big fish in a very small pond. It is really outrageous sometimes. Not sure if I read or heard somewhere in the news that the "city council has a reputation as being more of a clown court than a deliberative body" (w/ Congressional oversight.) This is a powerful city where who is President and what party is in control of House / Senate really runs things. As a native Washingtonian I am sensitive to our beef with Congress, voting rights, etc. and I love my city from the Alabama Ave to Wisconsin Avenue but our city council members are so petty. They think theirs doesn't stink. And it does! This is not new. It has been going since (before) I was kid in the early 90's when I remember I couldn't understand how the city re-elected Barry as Mayor. This problem is emblematic of anyone who works in our city and interacts with many of our residents -- from teachers to social workers to cops -- they all say the same thing. DC has a real, and I mean real, problem with a get-over, entitlement, give me mine attitude. From the person on the lowest level of our city who demands rental assistance, energy assistance, transportation assistance, free child care, and a stipend to attend the free job training program they are to our city pols -- what is the difference? There is none!

by John Muller on Mar 3, 2011 4:33 pm • linkreport

@Tina:

The highest priority was to break down the defacto and historic "no blacks allowed" barrier to government employment and contractors. Early "good" Barry broke down that barrier. What happened later in the addiction years deserves criticism but the first action was needed and just and one reason Barry is beloved to this day.

I think my characterization was unnecessarily, um, "pointed", but yes, I agree with you. Barry essentially created a black middle class, out of a long history of Jim Crow and general apartheid. He should get a lot of credit for that.

Having said that, a very, very high number of those folks packed up and moved out of the District where they remain to this day. The general dynamic is DC spends a lot of money lifting folks into the middle-class, whereupon they move to MD to become productive taxpayers.

"More than 50 percent of D.C. government employees do not live in the District:

18,444 District government employees live in Maryland
3,720 District government employees live in Virginia
18,593 District government employees live in the District
Source: D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi"

http://www.wtop.com/?nid=25&sid=2129682

Should hardship befall residents of MD and VA, they're more likely to move into the city for the strong safety-net we provide, where the cycle starts all over again. This obviously imposes a massive cost to the District, and is a direct subsidy from city residents to their suburban neighbors in general.

by oboe on Mar 3, 2011 4:53 pm • linkreport

Nat Gandhi lived in Betheda before Tony made him buy a condo in DC.

by charlie on Mar 3, 2011 4:56 pm • linkreport

@oboe -i understand what you're saying about the history of leaving DC and disproportionate poverty and the burden to DC. I just wanted to give Barry some dap for an important thing he did.

by Tina on Mar 3, 2011 5:11 pm • linkreport

@Mitch Wander: The bottom line is that the Council (and Mayor) should not be receiving tickets as gifts from for-profit businesses that regularly have tax and regulatory matters under consideration by the DC government. Donating the tickets to community groups doesn't resolve the issue because it enables incumbent Councilmembers and the Mayor to leverage their office to do favors for selected constituents.

Give me a break. I don't think elected officials should get free tickets as a perk, but there's nothing the least bit wrong with them using their position to help community nonprofit groups. The attitude that helping nonprofits serve the community is a form of illicit favors, goes way, way too far.

by David desJardins on Mar 4, 2011 12:04 am • linkreport

@ Jamie: I think we are both being tone deaf. However, I will just come out with it...Fenty served the Northwest part of the city, the part of the city that pays taxes. Gray, via Barry will serve everything south of the Anacostia via the taxpayers of Upper Northwest. That is the problem I have. If you wish, I will use a rather crude word to make it easier for you to understand.

by sick of 'em on Mar 4, 2011 8:12 am • linkreport

@sick of 'em, say whatever you want, you won't offend me, you just make yourself look ignorant.

First, if your measure of how good a mayor is for you is where he spent your Upper Northwest tax dollars, then you should have hated Fenty, since he spent money more or less equally across all Wards. On the basis of tax revenues, that heavily favored the wards you despise so much:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/05/AR2010060503976.html

Do you love the streetcar, pricetag around $2B? How come? That's all about SE and NE.

Second, your entire "argument" continues to be based on the idea that "Gray = Barry". If you have any actual facts to support this notion, then please present them. So far you have only supported this notion by continuing to repeat it with no evidence. How many new government jobs has Gray created? How many of them went to people from Anacostia? How does that compare to Fenty?

Every single thing you have said is rhetoric with no basis in fact. You really must enjoy the taste of sour grapes because it's hard to believe you're still sucking on them.

by Jamie on Mar 4, 2011 8:30 am • linkreport

I have been watching District politics since 1991. There is no question that the hiring of unqualified people to carry out little work, at high pay (also paying dead people) has been the most damaging long term problem. If that is what we are seeing, it is true that the sky is falling and many of the District's gains in the past decade are at risk.

by Jules on Mar 4, 2011 9:08 am • linkreport

@Jules,

This has become increasingly toxic as the recipients of this public largess have moved out of the city. It was one thing when it was primarily DC residents who were larded with jobs--that money stayed in the community, and those who made enough to pay taxes paid those taxes to the DC Treasurer.

At last count 55% of DC's public employees live outside the District, so pay no income tax whatsoever. Whatever benefit was once gained by inflating the rolls of public servants has long since dissipated.

As far as I'm concerned, this is one of the great, unexamined problems we face in making DC a great city. We may as well just be making lump sum payments to VA and MD residents.

by oboe on Mar 4, 2011 9:26 am • linkreport

Just wanted to say, (@Jamie) I don't think this issue is unique to Gray or Fenty (or Barry) either. There just seems to be a kind of institutional momentum that keeps things going as they are, regardless of how toxic they may be. Not sure how you address this, though there's been a few minor moves to try to separate the interests of public employees who are DC residents from those who aren't. (i.e. Evans' chatter about introducing legislation that will propose a 10 percent pay cut for all government employees who live outside the District.)

by oboe on Mar 4, 2011 9:31 am • linkreport

"We may as well just be making lump sum payments to VA and MD residents."

Honestly, I don't understand why we worry about this one way or the other. On the one hand, we've got people who worry about handouts to DC residents. Then we've got people who worry about the lack thereof (the jobs going to non-DC residents). Then you've got people who want to tax the hell out of commuters.

What difference does it make? We're not the Vatican City. We are not a sovereign nation. The interests of our city cannot be extricated from the interests of the metropolitan area. In fact, this concern is the cause of a great many problems, such as the difficulty in getting everyone to pony up "their fair share" for Metro.

So what if non-DC residents work for the city government? Likewise, so what if non-residents come and work in DC? So what if DC residents work for Montogomery County? It goes both ways. Any effort to create restrictions or financial penalties on nonresidents will just cause a new set of problems: limiting the pool of applicants, potential backlash from MD & VA.

The pay cut idea is idiotic. I'm also confused by the paradox of this whole debate. There seems to be a lot of concern, generally, about the idea that our government would hire people from DC to fill its jobs, because this is like the Barry days. Then there's concern that not enough of DC government jobs are held by DC residents. Those seem like completely contradictary concerns. None of this matters in the big picture, and efforts to mold the situation to our financial betterment will simply be washed out in the big picture. At the margin, if we cut pay for people who don't live in DC, then that just makes DC gov a less competitive employer than it is now, meaning the applicant pool will be worse, and we will get what we pay for. It's a zero sum game.

by Jamie on Mar 4, 2011 9:52 am • linkreport

@Jamie: Then you've got people who want to tax the hell out of commuters.

Are you talking about some kind of punitive surtax? I think most people just want to collect the regular income tax on income that commuters earn in DC. Just like virtually every other place where commuters commute across state lines and so impose an impact on cities and states and are expected to pay for it.

by David desJardins on Mar 4, 2011 10:31 am • linkreport

At the margin, if we cut pay for people who don't live in DC, then that just makes DC gov a less competitive employer than it is now, meaning the applicant pool will be worse, and we will get what we pay for. It's a zero sum game.

This is only relevant if the DC public service sector is fat-free. For essential jobs, I agree with you. But there's a long history of public sector job creation as a form of welfare. 55% of every non-essential job that's funded out of DC's treasury is a direct subsidy to MD and VA.

What difference does it make? We're not the Vatican City. We are not a sovereign nation. The interests of our city cannot be extricated from the interests of the metropolitan area. In fact, this concern is the cause of a great many problems, such as the difficulty in getting everyone to pony up "their fair share" for Metro.

This just seems incredibly naive to me. You are absolutely wrong to think that the interests of our city cannot be extricated from the interests of the surrounding municipalities. That's exactly what happened over the last half century. Bad schools, rampant crime, and general decay were the result.

Where our interests dove-tail with those of the suburbs, we should cooperate. Where they don't we should do whatever we can to find an advantage.

by oboe on Mar 4, 2011 10:32 am • linkreport

"I think most people just want to collect the regular income tax on income that commuters earn in DC"

Yawn. I work in Maryland and pay taxes in DC. I have never filed a Maryland tax return. They don't get a nickel from me. How unfair!

by Jamie on Mar 4, 2011 10:33 am • linkreport

@oboe: 55% of every non-essential job that's funded out of DC's treasury is a direct subsidy to MD and VA.

Did these states multiply their income taxes by a factor of 10 when I wasn't looking?

I think you must mean 5%.

by David desJardins on Mar 4, 2011 10:34 am • linkreport

I think most people just want to collect the regular income tax on income that commuters earn in DC. Just like virtually every other place where commuters commute across state lines and so impose an impact on cities and states and are expected to pay for it.

What would that prove? Putting that money in DC's coffers would just mean less money for Fairfax country schools, and repaving MD roads. We're all in this together, dammit!

by oboe on Mar 4, 2011 10:35 am • linkreport

@Jamie: Yawn. I work in Maryland and pay taxes in DC. I have never filed a Maryland tax return. They don't get a nickel from me. How unfair!

As you know, there is tax reciprocity, but there are a LOT more people who live in Maryland and work in DC than the reverse, so you're right, it's unfair. States can voluntarily enter into tax reciprocity agreements, and negotiate their terms, which is fine. Having such terms forced on DC is not fine.

by David desJardins on Mar 4, 2011 10:36 am • linkreport

@oboe: Putting that money in DC's coffers would just mean less money for Fairfax country schools, and repaving MD roads. We're all in this together, dammit!

You're joking, right? I never can tell.

Maybe we should give all of the local tax revenue from the DC area to California. "We're all in this together." And CA sure could use the money.

by David desJardins on Mar 4, 2011 10:39 am • linkreport

Why, exactly, do you think it is unfair? Of all the services provided to people in DC, fire, police, schools, public works, what percentage of them would you say benefit residents, versus commuters?

How much money do commuters spend each day in DC? What is the value of having a million people working, eating, and shopping in this city? What is the net economic impact of these people being here, compared to them *not being here*?

Funny all along I thought that the vibrancy of a city was made possibly by the basic fact that people come and work here. Why would we give a business a tax break to locate in DC, and then try to squeeze that money back from the workers?

by Jamie on Mar 4, 2011 10:41 am • linkreport

Did these states multiply their income taxes by a factor of 10 when I wasn't looking?

I'm talking about the full salary, not just the income tax. People pay MD property tax with their salary, they pay (predominately) MD sales tax in their communities, they spend money at merchants, etc, etc...

by oboe on Mar 4, 2011 10:41 am • linkreport

Maybe we should give all of the local tax revenue from the DC area to California. "We're all in this together." And CA sure could use the money.

Right, that was the point I was trying to explain to Jamie. They whole point of segregated municipalities is that we *aren't* in this together. Once DC realizes that, we're well on our way to long-term solvency.

by oboe on Mar 4, 2011 10:44 am • linkreport

Excellent work constructing a straw man. Nearly everyone in DC, southern Maryland, and northern Virginia spends time and money in all three of those areas. I don't go to California very often.

by Jamie on Mar 4, 2011 10:45 am • linkreport

@Jamie,

As I said, we'll just next year's DCPS budget to MCPS. One for all; all for one!

Anyway, I think you want "reductio ad absurdum" rather than straw man. One's a legitimate critique, the other's a fallacy.

by oboe on Mar 4, 2011 10:50 am • linkreport

@oboe: Wikipedia. "To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position"

That is exactly what was done. Similarly, you have done it again by saying we should give money to MCPS.

My point is that there is a high degree of economic interaction, as well as mobility, in the metropolitan area. If you enact policies with the goal of negatively impacting one part of this area, to the benefit of another, the effect will be that, at the margin, people and business will simply react and equalize the proposition.

For example, imposing an income tax on people who work in DC would have the immediate effect of making DC a less desirable place to work for MD and VA residents compared to competitive positions outside DC, since it would pay less. The obvious result that some people will chose non-DC jobs who would have otherwise worked in DC. This will make it harder or more expensive for DC-based businesses to hire, ultimately making DC less desirable than MD or VA as a place to locate a business. Considering that DC already has a well-deserved reputation as being an expensive and unfriendly climate for businesses to locate, it is impossible for me to understand why you think this could be a net positive.

A DC-based business or resident cannot easily relocate to California.

by Jamie on Mar 4, 2011 11:00 am • linkreport

Jamie: That's not how the income taxes work, though. You get to deduct that income tax from your home state, so basically people would pay less tax to MD and VA. It would hurt MD and VA budgets, thus MD and VA Congressional reps aren't interested in allowing it.

This is how things work in other states without reciprocity, like NY and NJ. If you live in NJ and work in NY, you pay some tax to NY and deduct from NJ, so NJ gets less than they would if Congress prohibited NY from taxing income at its source as it does for DC.

by David Alpert on Mar 4, 2011 11:03 am • linkreport

Jamie: "Why, exactly, do you think it is unfair? Of all the services provided to people in DC, fire, police, schools, public works, what percentage of them would you say benefit residents, versus commuters?"

Thank you! I've always wondered this, too, when people mention the reciprocity issue. I'm not saying I know the answer, I just think the analysis should be done to see if it's really a net drain on DC. Can anyone here point us to this kind of study?

by Arnold on Mar 4, 2011 2:10 pm • linkreport

It's not unfair when it comes to essential personnel. When it comes to the much documented historic bloating of the public workforce, anything above a lean, efficient group is a subsidy to the burbs.

I guess your argument is that there's no fat or inefficiencies in DC's public sector?

by oboe on Mar 4, 2011 2:28 pm • linkreport

Oboe your point is a separate issue. Jamie and I are asking if it's actually true or just assumed that people who work in the city but live elsewhere are a net fiscal drain on the city. The argument is that the city pays for services but these people pay taxes elsewhere. Jamie points out, and I second his point, that many municipal services (eg schools) do not support these people. So I'm asking if an analysis has been done of the flows of services and taxes in relation to non-resident workers.

by Arnold on Mar 4, 2011 5:12 pm • linkreport

@Arnold: So I'm asking if an analysis has been done of the flows of services and taxes in relation to non-resident workers.

I don't really know how to do that. How do you decide what share of police costs they should pay, or street cleaning, or running the courts and prisons, and all of the other things that local governments do?

by David desJardins on Mar 4, 2011 7:09 pm • linkreport

It would certainly involve some educated guesswork (and would include the effect of DC residents working elsewhere). I don't think it's impossible - but my point is let's use data instead of assumptions, and if it is impossible (and/or until it's done), people shouldn't make the claim that it's a net drain on DC.

by Arnold on Mar 6, 2011 11:19 am • linkreport

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