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MAKING OUR VOTES COUNT
Responses of Councilmember David Catania
July 28, 1998
|1. Name your three committee choices. Select one and explain how your
being on that committee will contribute to that area of public life. What, if any,
legislation do you feel is needed in the area? Why? What would be the first bill you would
Committee on the Judiciary Committee on Education and Libraries & Recreation Committee on Human Services.
I currently serve on the Committee on Human Services. If re-elected, I plan to continue the work that I have already initiated. Among other matters, I have been involved in the following:
School-Based Health Programs
I am interested in improving the performance of the school-based health program within the DC Public School system. Presently, the program involves part-time nurses. I have had discussions with officials from George Washington University's School of Public Health regarding the creation of a partnership between GW and the District. Specifically, I envision GW developing a school-based health pilot program which would involve a minimal fee for service so that the District could access Medicaid dollars for the program. In my view, GW has the public health expertise, the billing expertise and the public health professions to do the job well.
As part of this initiative, I would like to see the following issues receive attention: mental health, STD education, pregnancy prevention, substance abuse education, nutrition, and availability of basic vaccinations.
Office of Womens Health Issues
I have called on the D.C. Department of Health to establish an Office of Womens Health Issues to coordinate the delivery of health services with public health expertise. I have had discussions with Dr. Kelly on this matter. She has appointed a Womens Health Coordinator as the first step in this process. This office will assist women in accessing the available care and information necessary to meet their health needs. The office is born out of the knowledge that women face different challenges concerning substance abuse, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, etc.
At my request, the Administration for HIV/AIDS (AHA) created and filled a position to focus on the epidemic as it relates to women.
I will continue to demand rigorous oversight of the health-related aspects of our government. Since joining the Council, I have insisted on, and-actively participated in, oversight of AHA and the Addiction, Prevention, & Recovery Administration (APRA).
I have also asked for a re-evaluation of our Medicaid expenditures so that treatment of life threatening diseases comes before other less important matters.
2. Identify an agency, over which your chosen committee has oversight, and assume you are in charge of the confirmation hearings for the newly appointed director of that agency, briefly summarize how you would structure the hearings.
The Committee on Human Services has jurisdiction over the Department of Health. An interim director currently heads the Department of Health. As a result, this question is especially timely.
Prior to the hearing, it is crucial to submit to the nominee a list of questions so that he/she will have an opportunity to submit answers prior to the confirmation hearing. The confirmation hearing should focus on the nominee's answers to the questions along with any follow-up questions.
The questions would focus on the key skills necessary to manage the Department. Specifically, questions should relate to management training and experience, personnel management and experience, procurement and contracting knowledge, facilities management, etc. Importantly, the questions should explore the nominees background in public health.
During the confirmation hearing, members of the public and representatives of interested public health organizations would be encouraged and permitted to comment on the nominee. At all times, the nominee would be required to remain at the witness table so that he/she could answer questions directly, as well as address concerns raised by the public witnesses.
3. If you serve on a committee that has oversight over an agency in which the post of the Director remains vacant for six months or more or a board of commission that has trouble functioning because of vacancies, what, if any action will you take?
The Mayor has the responsibility and the authority to make nominations to fill these positions. As a result, Councilmembers are unable to do much in this regard. However, I would certainly encourage the Mayor to act as expeditiously as possible.
4. Under what circumstances, would you vote against the confirmation of a mayoral appointee?
During my brief tenure on the Council, I have already voted against the confirmation of several mayoral nominees. I will not vote for a nominee that lacks the skills, qualifications, and integrity to serve. Moreover, I believe that nominees need to have a healthy respect for the opinions of the community, especially Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, and established neighborhood and civic organizations.
5. Budgets for the District of Columbia agencies are often vague and fail to explain the relationship between expenditures and program objectives. If you feel the budget for your chosen agency fails to reveal enough about the services the taxpayers are buying, what, if anything, will you do?
I favor detail in budgets within the context of the Department of Health. I have been outspoken in my demands for qualitative and quantitative details regarding how its budget is spent. The budget process is the logical mechanism for ensuring that sufficient details and performance benchmarks are made available.
9. Are you in favor of making greater use of the District of Columbia auditor, if not, why not. If so, what are the first two investigations the auditor should undertake during the next session of the council?
Yes. We must demand greater accountability for the way in which tax dollars are expended in the District. I would like to see the D.C. Auditor conduct an investigation into Medicaid expenditures and the D.C. Public School system.
10. Will you support making staggered hearings standard practice?
I have no objections to scheduling Council proceedings to accommodate expanded public participation.
11. Should the charter of the District of Columbia be revised? If not, why not? If so, how? What action(s) will you take to make it happen?
Yes. During last years campaign, I advocated the creation of an Attorney General of the District of Columbia. In March, I introduced a Sense of the Council Resolution which would establish an elected Attorney General of the District of Columbia. Six Councilmembers co-sponsored my resolution.
At present, the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia is responsible for prosecuting the Districts felonies and major misdemeanors. The D.C. Corporation Counsel is responsible for prosecuting minor misdemeanors, juvenile offenders, and representing the District government.
Under such a system, the District government is unable to prosecute, among other important matters, issues of public corruption, voter fraud, and D.C. tax evasion. I believe that a government that is unable to protect itself is not a whole government. Therefore, the resolution that I have proposed would take the D.C.- Corporation Counsels Office out from under the Mayors jurisdiction and would put it under the control of an elected Attorney General. At the same time, the powers of the office would be expanded to permit the District's chief prosecutor to protect the integrity of our system.
12. What should be the Councils relationship to the federal and federally mandated powers that be? In the short term, how should the council work with the Control Board? What, for example, would be your response if the Control Board took an action you oppose? What do you think the Districts relationship with the federal government should become? What steps should the Council take to achieve that relationship?
Because of the powers that the Control Board has over the District, the Council must work with the Control Board. However, the Council's efforts should be directed at performing the tasks necessary to eliminate the Control Board, namely, producing four consecutive balanced budgets.
If the Control Board takes an action that is contrary to the majority position of the Council, I would favor approaching Congress to reverse the action of the Control Board in favor of respecting the decision of the Council.
The Districts relationship with the federal government is the most important relationship that the District has. During my brief tenure on the Council, I have attempted to engage members of Congress on behalf of the District. I employ a person whose job is to inform the relevant Congressional representatives of the Districts interest and positions. This work has been successful. During this years budget process, I successfully persuaded the Congressional leadership to refuse to include many riders on the District's budget. In addition, I was able to obtain $1.2 million in extra federal funding to initiate an Office of Civilian Complaint Review which will restore civilian oversight over the Metropolitan Police Department.
13. What will you do to see that the next Council does a better job than the current and previous Councils did of protecting the rights of District Government Employees, including their right to bargain collectively, while honoring the rights of DC voters and taxpayers to have a quality work force?
I believe that a deal is a deal. Consequently, I would urge the District government to keep its promises to its workers.
14. The Citys approach to economic development in the past has been a focus on downtown and such big-ticket items as the Arena and Convention Center. Do you think that approach should be continued for the most part? How much attention should be given to the city's blighted neighborhood commercial strips? Should the next head of the Department of Housing and Community Development have a strong track record in the neighborhood economic revitalization? Or would you expect the new National Capital Revitalization Corporation to take the lead in revitalizing neighborhood commercial strips?
I believe reliance on big-ticket items alone is not a sound approach to economic development. I opposed both the Childrens Island project and the Convention Center at Mount Vernon. I think we should focus on economic growth that is meaningful.
In my opinion, the Council needs to revisit the business tax structure. Currently, the city taxes its businesses at a combined 9.975% rate. This rate is considerably higher than the 6% of Virginia and the 7% of Maryland. The higher cost of doing business in the District has contributed significantly to the exodus of jobs out of the city. I favor establishing a business tax rate that is competitive with our neighboring jurisdictions so that we can begin to retain jobs in D.C. and lure other businesses here.
The Districts neighborhood commercial strips are crucial to the quality of life of our residents. My proposal to lower business taxes should make it easier for these commercial strips to thrive.
The new NCRC will not have the anticipated $50 million in federal dollars. As a result, its true effectiveness remains to be seen.
15. How will you foster efforts to make DC residents more employable and to develop jobs?
As a member of the Committee on Government Operations, I have been one of the most outspoken critics of the Department of Employment Services (DOES). DOES has done a terrible job of administering the Districts Jobs Training Partnership Act (JTPA) federal grants. I have demanded that more of the JTPA grant dollars be spent on meaningful job training and not on administration.
I recently introduced legislation which will put teeth in the city's existing First Source Employment law, which is supposed to give unemployed D.C. residents priority for new entry- level jobs created by government-assisted projects. I have amended the legislation to require that 51% of new entry-level jobs created by government-assisted projects be given to D.C. residents. Moreover, I have included a penalty provision equal to 10 percent of the contract for failure to meet this target.
16. What role should the Council play in making sure that the Districts public education system prepares the citys young people to support them adequately and to take their place in the 21st century work force? Will the University of the District of Columbia be involved? If so, how?
The Council has a duty to exercise diligent oversight of the public school system. This oversight should include the establishment of performance benchmarks and student performance targets. Among other initiatives, I support comprehensive management training for our principals followed by greater autonomy over the schools.
The University of the District of Columbia has an important role in providing District residents with affordable higher education.
17. What role should the Council play in making sure the city has accessible master school facilities plan?
During the budget process, the Council should provide the funding for the development of a master school facilities plan. In addition, the Council's Committee on Education and Libraries & Recreation should schedule periodic hearings to monitor the progress of the plan, as well as its implementation.
18. What role should the Council play in making sure the school budget spells out what the taxpayers are getting for their $545 million dollar investment in public education?
The Council should establish a series of performance standards relating to student performance, teacher retraining, and facilities management in order to demonstrate the success of the school system.
19. What, if any, steps should the Council take to make sure the Department of Human Services implements welfare reform? Should such support services as childcare, transportation and appropriate adult education be available to people trying to move from welfare to work?
The Council is taking steps to implement welfare reform consistent with federal requirements. In order for welfare reform to be successful, there must be childcare, affordable public transportation and adequate adult education.
As a member of the Human Services Committee, I have been working with Chairperson Allen for an increase in the subsidy the District pays for child-care. Prior to these efforts, D.C. child-care providers were struggling to keep their doors open due to the low amount of the subsidy. In addition, as I mentioned previously, I have been working with DOES to improve the administration and success of the District's JTPA program, which should lead to more meaningful job training for our welfare recipients.
20. Are you in favor of having a prison in the city that will house adult district residents who have felony convictions? If so, where? Under what conditions? Should it be public or private? If private, should the city have a say in selecting the contractor and in monitoring the performance of the contract?
I have not studied the issue of prison location very closely. However, I am inclined to be against building a prison in the District. If one were built, I would prefer that the District manage it.
21. What action will you take to make sure the buried tanks and unexploded munitions are removed from the Camp Simms/Oxon Run Target Range?
I would ask for an analysis from the Department of Public Works and the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs regarding the most appropriate way to proceed. I would then ask for the Federal government's assistance in removing the items, which were placed there at its direction.
22. What is your position on privatization of METRO Bus Service?
I have not seen any analysis of the impact of such a move. As a result, I do not have a position on the privatization of METRO bus service. Simply put, I am not in a position to make an informed answer on the subject. However, I would resist any efforts that sought to trim METRO service. Affordable and accessible public transportation is central to quality of life and independence in the District.
23. What should the Council do to improve the effectiveness of solid waste management in the Department of Public Works? How important is recycling?
Solid waste management is only one area of the Department of Public Works in need of serious review and improvement. We need to make trash collections predictable.
Recycling is very important. The District is moving forward on a new recycling contract and it should resume in the near future.
24. What, if any, actions should the Council take to see that emergency regulations on buffer zones around solid waste transfer stations are enforced and made permanent? Do you consider this legislation to be overly burdensome? Would you welcome its expiration?
I favor permanent legislation that would require a 500-foot buffer zone between trash transfer facilities and residential property. Naturally, I believe that DPW should enforce the regulations regarding these stations. If left unmanaged, trash transfer facilities have a corrosive effect on communities. I have fought to keep the 500-foot barrier and have called for hearings on the respective permanent legislation.
25. Do you favor discharge petitions for transfer station and tobacco and liquor advertising legislation?
Yes, I favor discharge petitions on both-subjects. I have joined in a letter with Councilmember Ambrose asking for the discharge of the trash transfer issue from the Committee on Public Works.
26. D.C. Citizens get surprised by budgetary demands for major maintenance items that were put off, such as schools and police stations. What should the Council do to see that the District of Columbia has a capital budget that provides for maintaining the city's infrastructure?
Deferred maintenance is an enormous problem facing the District. I believe the Council should require annual maintenance reports with a corresponding plan. As part of the budget process for each District agency, the Council should insist on facility maintenance plans.
27. Year, after year, the citys stock of affordable housing declines. What, if any, strategies do you favor to stop the loss of and increase the stock of affordable housing? Support retention of rent control? Adopt and implement a comprehensive affordable housing strategy? Commit to a specific number of affordable housing units during each year of the next Council session? If so, how many? Promote employment and social service programs that will enable people who received housing assistance to become as economically self-sufficient as possible? If so, what agencies would be providing these services?
I favor the use of tax credits to induce builders to provide low and modest income housing. In addition, I favor governmental efforts to increase home ownership opportunities for low and modest income residents. This can be accomplished through low-interest loans or rent-to-own arrangements.
28. Identify two recommendations of the tax revision commission, other than the commuter tax, with which you agree and explain why. If there are not two that you favor, identify two problems the tax commission attempted to address and suggest alternative recommendations.
I oppose the enactment of a Business Activity Tax (BAT) as well as the repeal of the homestead exemption. The BAT would tax business activities including compensation, interest, and dividends. As such, a business is taxed regardless of whether or not a profit is made. I am fundamentally opposed to a business tax on anything but profit. The practical effect of this tax would be to push many of our professional corporations out of the District, which means a significant exodus of jobs. I would rather the District establish a corporate tax rate that is competitive with the surrounding jurisdictions. I believe the elimination of the homestead exemption would serve as a disincentive to home ownership in the District.
29. The District of Columbia's experience with federal grants is very disappointing. It fails to obtain and, in many cases, even apply for grants that could provide urgently needed funds. Even worse, contracting and grant-making operations in some agencies, such as the Department of Health, are so inadequate that the city is unable to spend grant money it does receive. What will you do as a member of the Council to turn this situation around?
The District governments inability to manage the federal grant process is extremely troublesome. In my capacity as a Councilmember, I have insisted on answers to this problem. Especially in the realm of HIV/AIDS and substance abuse, the District desperately needs these scarce resources. I have performed my own research into available federal grants in the areas of substance abuse and brought them to the attention of the interim administrator of the Addiction, Prevention, and Recovery Administration I believe the District s grants management office is slowly improving.
30. Many district children and youth seem to be without opportunities for constructive activities. Cutbacks in recreation services and programs make it very difficult to help youth stay out of trouble. Can the city afford to correct this situation? Can it afford not to? What, if any, role should the Council play in expanding after-school and recreational programs, particularly in underserved areas of the city.
I favor expanded after-school programs in the area of computer training. The District should enter into public-private technology partnerships, similar to that between Garfield Elementary and AT&T.
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