Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has blocked legislation allowing the University of the District of Columbia's board of trustees to operate with a reduced quorum, setting up a direct challenge with his chief rival in the mayor's race, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray.
Fenty (D) and Gray are squabbling over appointments to the 15-member board, leaving only eight members on the panel that governs the university. Currently, if one member is absent the board lacks the quorum required to operate.
In June, Gray (D) and the council approved emergency legislation allowing the board to operate with only four voting members present.
But Fenty, who says the council has been to slow to act on his nominees to the panel, used a pocket veto earlier this month to derail the legislation. When the council is on recess, emergency legislation dies if the mayor fails to sign it.
In recent months, Fenty and Gray have been locked in an intense struggle over the composition of the board. Despite repeated efforts to broker a compromise, Gray has challenged the qualifications of Fenty's nominees.
"The concern to me is having people who are capable and competent to fill those positions," Gray said at a debate sponsored by TBD, formerly NewsChannel 8. "Again not to be glib about this but I think we need people with influence and affluence on that board and we haven't had nominees in my opinion from the mayor who fit those criteria.''
Fenty, who will be at UDC today for the opening of the temporary Wilson High School in a university building, countered he has put "qualified people" before the council.
"If the council would have voted them down I would have accepted it because that's their role," Fenty said. "My problem is that on most of the occasions they haven't even gotten a vote at either the committee level or the full council. As mayor I believe my nominees deserve an up or down vote."
Since becoming chairman in 2007, Gray has steered millions of dollars to the university, and university officials appear to line up behind the chairman in the debate over appointments to the board.
At a groundbreaking three weeks ago for a new plaza at the university, UDC President Allen L. Sessoms told students and faculty members that "I can't say enough about the council's and Vincent Gray's leadership" in support of the university.
"It's a statement of fact and folks just have to deal with it," Sessoms said.
When the council returns from summer recess next month, Gray is expected to re-introduce his legislation. If it is approved as permanent legislation, council will be able to override a Fenty veto with nine votes.
"Our board of trustees is doing the best it can under what are very trying circumstances," said UDC spokesman Allen Etter.