If you want to see your District government at work, tune into the local government access channel (Channel 13 for Comcast cable subscribers in the city.)
For years, council members have been meeting behind closed doors in the days leading up to the final budget to iron out the details of their proposed spending plan. Even though all 13 council members usually attend, council members have historically shut the media and public out of the meetings, arguing that the city's open meetings law didn't cover such behind-the-scenes bartering.
Last year, council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) allowed reporters into the room to document some -- but not all -- of the deliberations. Lobbyists and the public were still excluded, even though members were making major decisions on how to spend billions of dollars. Within the span of 48 hours, the council also agreed to raise the cigarette, sales and gas tax out of public view.
But Gray, a Democratic candidate for mayor, has gone even further to let more sunshine into the budget negotiations this year. Responding to a formal request by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, and other advocates to open up the proceedings, Gray agreed to have them televised on the government access channel. Gray has been trying to make open government a key theme of his campaign against Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who has come under criticism for being too secretive.
If last year's budget talks are any indication, viewers will probably be able to see council members shout at each other and trade insults as they jockey over how to spend tax dollars.
The negotiations, which could once again result in higher taxes for some residents, are expected to last through at least Friday. But, since the council is entering new territory for openness, it's possible that the negotiations could drag on for a while, with the added element of possible grandstanding for the cameras.
-- Tim Craig