Seine or Inseine?
If I was still writing the Northwest Side Story, this would be my January lead. And if I was still writing the Story, you can bet that the following would be professionally edited.
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Also, stay tune for part 2 of this preholiday missive that is loaded with community news. Jeffrey Itell
Is it Singapore on the Potomac or the District on the Seine?
In this mornings papers, Union leader Joselyn Williams has taken to referring to the District as Singapore on the Potomac because of the "authoritarian" leanings of the Financial Control Board ("AUTHORITY"). Whats the beef? Ostensibly, its as trivial as Newt being relegated to the back of Air Force One when he wanted to wage a budget battle with a President still in mourning over Rabin. "The AUTHORITY has not shown proper deference to Williams and the unions concerns," says Williams. "Hey, we just invited the unions up for a cup of tea," says John Hill, executive director of the AUTHORITY. So much for posturing for the press.
The unions are going to be the big issue of late 1995 and early 1996. All of their contracts are up for review by the Authority and, if the Authority has its way, major changes in work and employment rules are in the offing. Sweetheart union work rules are one of the sweetest places the AUTHORITY can go fishing for dollar savings. The unions know this and are digging in.
Check the world news today if you would like a preview of the Districts next few months. The new French government thought it had a mandate to go after French unions (a move that most of Europe thought was necessary to maintain the pace of European Union) but the government has now all but caved in to union (and public) resistance and the smell of two-weeks of dirty trash in the street. Fortunately (in an ironic sense), the D.C. workforce does not provide much in the way of public services, so it may be difficult to tell if they stage a job action. If DPW workers failed to pick up the trash, who would notice? Blocking the intersections of Thomas Circle (where we house the AUTHORITY) are the type of stunts D.C. unions pull to garner attention. And there are certainly more stunts in the Joselyn Williams bag to play.
We ought not to discount union workers serious grievances. Workers sacrificed significant pay this year and are not looking forward to more give backs. In addition, if you worked under District management, you would have serious grievances as well. Even though they are among the highest paid local government workers in the country, they also live in one of the highest cost areas. City decisionmakers (if you can find one) ought to focus on productivity, not just pay. You know, a good days work for a good days pay, and all that Calvinist work ethic stuff.
Heres the rub, however. City workersand the unionshave always been the mainstay of support for the citys political leaders. One could argueand I will somedaythat Marian Barry, Dave Clark, and most of the city leaders have run the city for the benefit of union workers to the detriment of city residents. With the mayors and city councils de jure powers eviscerated by the control board legislation, Barry and company can only effectively participate in the political process by becoming Luddites against reform. Previously, when cities came under the control of a financial authority, the city government, unions, and the financial overseers hammered out their differences in private over cappuccino. However, in the Districtwhere everything is sadly differentthe administration and workers seem more eager to throw monkey wrenches into the process than cooperate. Thus, its going to take that much longer for the District to get its house in order.
Last Decemberif you remember--the Neville Chamberlain Trio was preparing to march up to Wall Street for a $250 million loan after swearing that the citys books were solid and that this loan would bring financial solvency in our time. A month later, we received Mayor Barrys schocking news that city was $722 million in debt. Of course, we learned that the reality was somewhere in between. But through obfuscation, delay, denial of reality, and Ludditism, the administration has managed to pass a year without making substantial reforms. The District is only marginally healthier today than it was a year ago, and thats only because of the restraints the control board legislation has put on our elected officials. At the end of 1995, another year has been shot to hell.
Many observers have laid that lack of progress on the doorstep of the Authority. Thats unfairfor the time being. The Authority has only been fully functional since October 1 and two key elements of Congresss control planthe naming of a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Inspector Generalwere so delayed by Mayor Barry that the Guinness record people were contemplating a new category for foot dragging. Under the AUTHORITY legislation, the CFO assumes virtually all of the mayors financial responsibilityalthough CFO Tony Williams might have a hard time believing this since the Mayor and his associates not only refused to let him pay vendors and hire his staff, they didnt even give him a key to the executive wash room (complete with stalls, Im assuredunlike many city schools). Will Williams fights for his power of the purse or will he be the mayors lapdogand the AUTHORITYS sacrificial lamb if they fire him for not performing his job? We are faced with the same dilemma with the new inspector general, who comes to office with few credentials and without the junkyard dog attitude needed to root out mismanagement. Without the CFO and Inspector General performing their Fifth Column jobs within the government, the AUTHORITY will have a difficult time succeeding. Which means that Representative Jim Walshs committee staff will get their wisha capital city to administer.
Two final thoughts. As we have argued many times, the City Council could be taking the opportunity to stand by the Authority, hold hearings on government mismanagement, or even balance a budget. Why, they council could even help the AUTHORITY by holding hearings on Joselyns illegal job action and whether there was any complicity within the mayors office. But non-D.C. native Harry Thomas is too busy throwing invectives at Kathy Pattersons non-D.C. nativity to contemplate anything as radical as oversight. On this issue, I recommend the excerpt from Pattersons speech, which appears on the follow-up email message.
Second, there is a movement afoot for the AUTHORITY to balance its "draconian" powers with efforts to search for additional city revenues. The Rivlin and the McKinsey Reports both mentioned the need for additional city revenues to "fix" the city. While many city officials believe that more revenue is most of the answer (and if Congress adopts Medicaid changes, additional revenues will become a front-burner issue), members of the Control Board dont seem to see the lack of revenues as being a crucial issue. The issue is a chimera because Congress will not allow the city to raise additional revenues until it sees that that the District Government (Walshs staff?) can dispose of its revenues with some modicum of prudence. Union rights and the need for additional revenue are going to be the noisiest rallying cries over the next several months. Dont let that noise distract you from the main agendagovernment reform.
Jeffrey Itell Publisher dc.story Tel: 202.244.4163 P.O. Box 11260 Fax: 202.362.1501 Washington, D.C. 20008-0460 "For People Who Live Inside the Beltway... But Outside the Loop."
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