Last year, the council term began with headlines about bitter infighting, including members cursing at each other in public. Members’ woes only deepened this year when Harry Thomas Jr. resigned his Ward 5 seat in January after he was charged with stealing $350,000 from taxpayers. Six months later, the council’s chairman, Kwame R. Brown, stepped down after he was charged with bank fraud and campaign finance violations.
“This has been the most disappointing council period in my entire tenure on this council, and I’m looking forward to the sun setting on it,” said council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), a member since 1997.
But several potential legislative battles loom before the council ends its 19th period under home rule.
During a tense hearing Thursday, council members Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) outmaneuvered Chairman Phil Mendelson to approve a bill in committee that would grant new anti-discrimination protections for ex-offenders seeking work. Mendelson had opposed the measure, which now goes to the full council.
“I used the legislative process that allowed me, where I sat, to do what I did,” said Barry, who chairs the committee that was considering the legislation. But Mendelson on Friday called the move a “serious” breach of protocol.
The episode sets the stage for a potential fight over the issue Tuesday that could spill into other areas of council business.
After reports that the city generated $178 million in traffic fines last year, including $85 million from speed cameras, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) signed an executive order lowering a speed camera fine for going 10 mph or less over the speed limit from $75 to $50.
The new regulations also reduced $125 tickets for going 11 mph to 15 mph over the limit to $100 but raised fines for going over the limit by 25 mph or more to $300.
But Mendelson and council members Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) are pushing for lower fines, citing concerns about the city’s growing reliance on revenue from tickets. The council will consider separate proposals that reduce fines for traveling between 11 to 15 mph above the limit to $75 as well setting a maximum $250 fine for exceeding the speed limit by 25 mph or more.
Gray and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer have said the council plan could cost the District tens of millions of dollars and adversely affect the budget. Mendelson and Cheh dispute the estimates.