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A Tale of Two Councils

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, November 25, 2006

The D.C. Council:

Unhappy with your salary? You can give yourself a raise if you serve on the D.C. Council, one of the most self-absorbed, chutzpah-filled legislative bodies in the region.

Whatever the 13-member council wants, it gets. Right now the members want more money -- lots of it.

They've been thinking about a salary hike for months, but they didn't act on their self-enrichment plan until after the election. Now safely beyond the reach of the voters, the council has decided the time is ripe to get it while the getting is good.

Unfortunately, the members made a little misstep last week. They had planned to use the post-election legislative session to portray their salary increase as an "emergency" and attach it to an emergency bill to fund the transition teams for Mayor-elect Adrian Fenty and council Chairman-elect Vincent Gray. (Fenty's team gets $250,000 and Gray's, $150,000, all public dollars, no questions asked.)

The council had hoped to enact the raises without a public hearing. The transition funding bill passed without dissent, but the pay boost stalled when civic watchdog Dorothy Brizill blew the whistle and a Post editorial blasted the money grab.

The council's deviousness was matched only by the excessive amount its members tried to award themselves. Their scheme called for the mayor's salary to be boosted from $152,000 to $200,000, the council chairman's from $142,000 to $190,000 and the salaries of the 12 other council members all the way from $92,530 to $140,000 -- a mind-blowing 51 percent raise.

Mind you, under the Home Rule Charter, only the mayor and the council chairman are considered full-time employees.

Caught in the act, they tabled the raises. But greed dies hard. The measure is coming back on Tuesday for a public hearing. It will be a pro forma affair, because the council is determined to pass the increase this year. Why?

The law prevents members from receiving raises during the same term in which the raises are voted on. Delay the vote until next year, and today's members can't pocket the loot. Hence the need to get the dastardly deed done now.

Their justification for making themselves the highest-paid council members in the region is as flimsy as their need to draw huge salaries. They say the District functions as a state as well as a city.

How absurd! What state must send its enactments to Congress for final approval?

What state is prevented by federal law from taxing income earned within the state by nonresidents? What state needs permission from Congress to spend locally raised tax dollars? And when Congress calls, the D.C. Council chairman comes running.

State? How about colony?

Still, city lawmakers have never met a perk to which they didn't feel entitled. To wit:

· Parking. Being a D.C. Council member means never having to worry about illegal parking. Well, almost never. Parking in front of a hydrant is a no-no. But if the car has council plates and is otherwise parked illegally, the owner is presumed to be on city business and is thus free to disobey parking laws.

· Free tickets. Want to take your kid to a baseball game or soccer match? Get in line to buy your ticket -- unless you happen to be one of the Golden Thirteen. Did you know that each council member gets two free tickets to every Washington Nationals and D.C. United game at RFK Stadium? They can use the tickets any way they want: for themselves, campaign contributors, folks they want to impress, etc.

And when the new $611 million baseball stadium is built, guess who will have a special box all to themselves.

That's not to mention other freebies: plays, concerts, banquets, receptions. No council member ever need fix breakfast or dinner at home or pay for lunch unless there's a desire to do so.

Despite the perks, it's a hard life for these pols. That's why they are giving themselves a raise. Meanwhile, as they look out for themselves, there is . . .

The Federal City Council:

Contrary to what the conspiracy theorists say, the Federal City Council is not a clandestine outfit. The half-century-old, business-supported, nonprofit group does, however, work quietly behind the scenes on city issues, including the public school system. So, as the D.C. Council plots to raise its pay, the Federal City Council:

· Has let it be known that a broad swath of the business community is unhappy with the performance of schools Superintendent Clifford Janey (as is Fenty).

· Is managing an effort to raise more than $100,000 in private money to support the development of Chairman-elect Gray's multiyear strategy for the D.C. Council.

· Is raising more than $400,000 for the Fenty transition to fund search firms seeking candidates to fill six positions in the mayor-elect's cabinet and support Fenty's high-level study of the public school system and takeover strategies.

· Is sending off its own chief operating officer, Victor Reinoso -- who is also a school board member -- to serve as Fenty's deputy mayor for education.

Adrian Fenty and the Federal City Council. Who woulda thunk it?

Now, which of the two councils is the real mover and shaker?

kingc@washpost.com

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