A Showdown Between the Mayor and Council Over Filling a Crucial Board

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

THE D.C. COUNCIL will be within its rights today if, as predicted, it vetoes Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's nominees for the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB). Where the council oversteps its role is in trying to pressure the mayor to make new selections from a list prepared by unionized labor. So intent are some council members on usurping Mr. Fenty's authority that they are prepared to make a fundamental, and troubling, change in the operation of this important board.

PERB is the independent agency that hears labor-management disputes involving government employees. It has been unable to conduct business since June because of an impasse between the mayor and council that has left four of five seats unfilled. By law, one seat is reserved for labor, one for management and three are supposed to be neutral. Historically, the board has tended to favor labor, the result of previous mayors letting organized labor have a hand in all the appointments. Enter Mr. Fenty with the laudable goal of restoring some balance. He erred, though, in selecting people who were controversial because of their personal ties to him and who couldn't pass muster with a council oversight committee.

Mr. Fenty should have withdrawn the names and not insisted on today's vote. Only now is he readying a list of alternative nominees. More worrisome, though, are efforts to force the mayor to name candidates from a list of 11 names prepared by Joslyn Williams, head of the Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO. If Mr. Fenty refuses and there is no agreement, the council is threatening to pass emergency legislation proposed by council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) that would allow the five-member board to operate with a quorum of one. It would be the height of irresponsibility to permit the member who sits in the seat reserved for labor to decide unilaterally whether the city was right to fire crooked police officers, whether the social workers who failed so miserably in helping the four daughters of Banita Jacks should get their jobs back or -- if there were an impasse in contract talks with public school teachers -- the shape of public education in the District.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company