The Mayor vs. the Council Chair

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D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown & D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray
D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown & D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray

A healthy dose of skepticism between the Council and the Mayor’s Office is good but the relationship doesn’t always have to be adversarial and acrimonious.

A big question is what role the Council Chair sees for himself? It often appears that he wants a more adversarial one. It seems that he and his staff are looking to grab headlines rather than working with the Administration to do what is right for the people of the District. Two years ago, the D.C. City Council had one of the highest positive ratings of any legislative body in the nation. That wouldn’t be the case today.

Recently the Council Chair introduced emergency legislation requiring the Mayor to notify council members of any capital budget reprogramming requests of less than $500,000 so they are aware of any funding they lose from projects in their wards and it would give the Council the opportunity to stop the action. The mayor sent a letter “strongly opposed” to the move because it could delay “the timely implementation of projects.” Councilmember Wells wisely warned that the Council was taking an “offensive act” and it may be prudent to take a step back on the action which ultimately the Chairman did and withdrew the proposal on the dais.

The entire dance played out over the supplemental budget was seen by most as a political game. Spending pressures calling for a supplemental budget are not unusual but what everyone needs to recognize is that under Mayor Gray these pressures are at the lowest they have been since the Control Board took over the City’s finances. We are in good financial shape in this City and political gamesmanship is not good government.

The mayor proposed that we pay city workers for the four days they were furloughed last year. He did so because the furloughs went into effect based on indications that the city needed money to balance the budget. Since this turned out not to be the case he wanted to give that money back to the workers. The premise being that is the fair thing to do and that workers will be more responsive to such requests in the future if it is really needed. Some Council members had other things they wanted to do with the money and some even suggested that because some city workers don’t live in the District they shouldn’t get this money. That is absurd. If you are eligible to be hired to work here you should be viewed like every other worker and judged on the job you do not where you live. As of now, this part of the Mayor’s supplemental budget, along with money for D.C. Public Schools and other needed funds has not been passed.

The Council should debate what the Mayor has suggested in his budget but can’t fault him on how he succeeded to bring balance to the District’s budget and ensure that the rainy day fund spent down by the last administration has been replenished.

It is time for the Council Chair to take a step back from the adversarial way he is working with the Administration and move forward rather with a skeptical eye to the future. The Council needs to debate and approve a budget, introduce legislation and continue strong oversight of city agencies. If they focus on those things without all the sturm and drang, they could again gain the public’s confidence and support.