D.C. Council Needs Transparency in Hiring

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, July 11, 2009

I was heartened on Wednesday afternoon when an e-mail arrived from D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray's communications director, Doxie McCoy, advising me that the chairman would be issuing a statement of council procedures in light of media requests for comment on council member Marion Barry.

Earlier in the day, I had used my weekly WTOP radio commentary to call upon the council and Barry to step up to the question of "who will be made to pay for Barry's rip-off of D.C. taxpayers." I was referring to The Post's story reporting that Barry gave his then-girlfriend, Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, a $5,000-a-month city contract from his taxpayer-funded office budget.

Some folks may have laughed their heads off about Barry "tree boxing" (slang for checking on the girlfriend without stalking) Watts-Brighthaupt while she was with her ex-husband. But getting over -- or getting even -- with a love interest on the public's dime is no laughing matter.

So I looked forward to what Gray might have to say about this sordid affair.

Turns out, the statement he issued, "Gray Outlines Actions Underway to Improve Council Procedures, Rules and Standards," amounted to next to nothing as far as Barry is concerned. It may have been an attempt to blind the public with fancy footwork. But Gray produced a slow-drag without the music.

What's worse, there were a couple of lines in his statement that should have jerked taxpayers out of their chairs, to wit: "Each Council office is an independent entity that answers to the constituents whom they serve," and, each council member's office is accorded "autonomy" as "a designated independent personnel authority."

"Each Council office is an independent entity"? Independent of what?

"Autonomy"? Who said so?

And what's with this "answers to the constituents whom they serve" business?

The council wasn't created to serve "constituents."

The council is an elected body with authority delegated from Congress to act as agents of the people of the District of Columbia. The council is entrusted with powers to use public money on matters that further the public interest, not the council member's own interest. Council members are independent of nothing and totally dependent upon the people who put them in office and pay for their upkeep.

"Independent personnel authority"? Independent, my foot! That's exactly what allowed Marion Barry to get away with putting his then-girlfriend on the public payroll, then taking her off after a spat, then putting her back on after kissing and making up, then . . . aw, forget it. It's something out of the Mystic Knights of the Sea Lodge Hall.

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