THE BARRAS REPORTJul 8th, 2013 | By jonetta rose barras | Category: Guest Voices
The Main Event—CHANGING ELECTION RULES
IT used to be that members of the D.C. Council vigorously sought to preserve the powers and prerogatives of committee chairmen. That seems to be going down the tube this week.
Chairman Phil Mendelson is expected to introduce emergency legislation Wednesday to change the date for the primary election from April 1 to June 10, 2014. That maneuver comes after it became apparent there was insufficient support for the measure within the Committee on Government Operations, chaired by Kenyan McDuffie.
Essentially, Mendelson would be effecting a “discharge” of legislation, bypassing the normal procedure. In the past, committee chairmen have fought similar efforts by their colleagues. They have argued that action strips them of a key power: determining when legislation is presented to the full council.
But McDuffie, who was hand-picked by Mendelson to serve as the council’s chairman pro tempore, has yet to cry foul. (He did not return TBR’s request for comment.) Perhaps he hasn’t considered the slippery slope on which he would step, if he allowed the discharge. Maybe McDuffie believes he owes the chairman for the leadership position bestowed on a first-term legislator.
Some council members, including Muriel Bowser and Mary Cheh, have expressed concern about making changes during an election season. Already three legislators—Bowser, Tommy Wells and Jack Evans—have announced their candidacy for mayor. Mendelson and McDuffie are up for reelection, as are Cheh, Jim Graham, Anita Bonds and David Catania.
The original legislation was co-introduced by Mendelson, Evans, Wells, Bonds and McDuffie. Nine votes would be needed, however, to consider the emergency.
Mendelson has said the April primary would mean candidates would have to circulate nominating petitions during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Moreover, they would be forced to campaign during winter months.
I’m not making this up. If the chairman only wants to campaign during balmy weather, he may consider moving to the Caribbean or other parts south.
Mendelson also said he has talked with several individuals who support the move. He mentioned D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Mayor Vincent C. Gray.
Has Gray said he is running for reelection?
TBR voiced opposition to this legislation when it was first introduced in May. Those views have not changed.
Voters are the most important people to consider in the decision about this primary election. They are not harmed by the April 1, 2014 date. They would arrive at the polls during the spring.
Sideshows and Souvenirs
IT appears the controversy over the scratch off lottery contract may not be resolved after all. Councilman Evans, chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenues, which oversees the operations of the chief financial officer and the lottery, had said that Scientific Games would have to meet the legally required 35 percent subcontracting with District certified business enterprises. During a recent public hearing, he chastised CFO staffers for the way they handled the nearly $10 million contract, asserting it should be rebid.
But days later, Evans said he was waiting for a report from Robert Summers, head of the Department of Small and Local Business. The CFO asked Summers to provide Scientific Games a waiver, after the company claimed it was unable to find sufficient numbers of qualified CBEs to meet the 35 percent mandate.
Last week, in the absence of such a report and despite his statement during his public hearing, Evans sent a memorandum to Mendelson asking to have the contract placed on the council’s agenda for Wednesday’s meeting. That action signals his intention to move the issue forward, regardless of complaints from business leaders and clear evidence the process was flawed.
MEANWHILE, TBR wondered about the status of the “national search” to replace CFO Natwar Gandhi, who resigned earlier this year. His resignation initially was effective June 1. But after there were concerns that the city did not have the authority to appoint an interim, Gandhi indicated he would remain until a successor was appointed.
A month ago, Congress, through legislation pushed by Norton, gave the mayor the power to name an interim CFO. Gray has chosen not to act, however.
“The search committee for the new CFO that the mayor appointed is hard at work. We expect to have an announcement this fall when the Council returns from recess,” mayoral Chief of Staff Christopher Murphy told TBR via email. He said the mayor opted against an interim appointment because he wanted “a seamless transition between Dr Gandhi and his successor.”
Those sighs you hear are residents, civic leaders and others ready for Gandhi to go.
MULTIMILLION DOLLAR LAND GIVEAWAY IN FOGGY BOTTOM
By L. Asher Corson
Alarm bells are ringing in Foggy Bottom. Neighborhood leaders are objecting to a major public land giveaway. Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, with the support of Chairman Phil Mendelson, seeks to give for free a public alley valued at $2.8 million (valuation from DC Surveyor) to George Washington University.
Foggy Bottom leaders have expressed support for both the alley closing and the GW project that necessitates it. But community objections stem from the fact that the giveaway will represent a huge financial loss for the District without appropriate compensation.
Simply put: giving the land away for free is a terrible for District taxpayers.
The Foggy Bottom Advisory Neighborhood Commission had previously been given assurances by both Evans and his staff that he would support the community in asking GW to contribute $700,000 towards a new entrance for the Foggy Bottom Metro in exchange for the alley closing. But, at the last possible minute and after the public hearing, Evans reversed himself and decided that GW should get the land for nothing.
This is a reckless proposition. It squanders $2.8 million of District resources.
The $700,000 that is being requested by civic leaders seems like small price to pay for $2.8 million of land. It is not surprising that GW would prefer to pay nothing. Nonetheless, Evans and his colleagues on the council should protect District taxpayers by ensuring that we get a good value for our public land.
L.Asher Corson is the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for ANC2A-03. He can be reached at 2A03@ANC.dc.gov
In Case You Missed It
D.C.’s children don’t have time to wait
The D.C. Council sometimes overcomes its collective myopia, narcissism and operational dysfunction to enact visionary public policy that changes the lives of citizens for the better. Last week was not one of those times.
*TBR introduces a new section: Guest Voices written by civic leaders and others writing about important issues in their communities around the country.
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