Alexandria Mayor James P. Moran refuses to support a plan by D.C. Mayor Marion Barry to strengthen the region's economy and improve employment opportunities for D.C. residents. Some Prince George's County officials reportedly also are troubled by Barry's plan and his call for adoption of a resolution supporting it.
So much for cooperation among local government officials. Parochialism is alive and well in metropolitan Washington.
Resistance to Barry's plan, no matter how slight, strips away the veneer of regionalism. It also exposes a potentially harmful myopic view of the region's economy.
Last month, Barry unveiled a seven-point plan to make jobs in the suburbs more accessible to D.C. residents. The plan includes provisions for free screening and referrals by the D.C. Department of Employment Services (DES), meetings with suburban employers to ascertain their needs, cooperative arrangements with state employment commissions, transportation to job sites, and establishment of a regional jobs council.
The plan was developed in the DES as a response to a relatively high unemployment rate in the District and serious labor shortages in some suburban areas.
After announcing the plan in June, Barry offered it for consideration by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments two weeks ago.
In his remarks to COG officials, Barry noted the existence of "severe cases of labor shortages" and warned that unemployment is "threatening the very foundation of suburban economies."
With few exceptions, unemployment rates in major Washington-area jurisdictions outside the District fall between 2.2 percent and 3.5 percent. Only Alexandria (4.3 percent), Fairfax City (4.1 percent) and Falls Church (4.7 percent) have higher unemployment rates. Those jobless rates are still substantially lower than the District's 8 percent level, however.
But extremely low jobless rates in the suburbs can be misleading. Euphoria triggered by low unemployment levels can blur one's perspective of the area's total jobs picture.
"If you cannot find workers at the variety of skill levels to meet your employment needs, your economic bubble is bound to burst, eventually," Barry warned COG members.
Barry's pitch is aimed, of course, at lowering unemployment in the District by convincing suburban employers that the city has a large, untapped labor pool, a large percentage of which consists of highly skilled workers. It's not necessary for suburban employers, he argues, to "run all over Pennsylvania and North Carolina finding workers to meet their employment needs."
Thus, Barry is convinced that his plan is the equivalent of "a textbook case of how regional cooperation can solve a mutual concern." Without their active participation and support, he told COG members, "we really have no plan at all."
Moran apparently wasn't persuaded, insisting that it would be "inane" to give priority to unemployed D.C. residents when Alexandrians "need jobs desperately." Indeed, Alexandria has more low-income job seekers than jobs, Moran maintains.
Moran not only missed the point but exhibited an incredible unawareness of recent employment problems in his own city.
It wasn't too long ago that operators of the new Radisson Mark Plaza Hotel in Alexandria were struggling to fill 450 positions before opening day.
Even though all of those low-income job seekers in Alexandria desperately needed work, they couldn't fill the Radisson Mark Plaza's needs.
The issue here is not so much a proposal to secure jobs for D.C. residents or Alexandria residents but cooperation in developing a plan that will strengthen the region's labor force, thereby enhancing its economy.
The District's seven-point plan is little more than a discussion paper at this juncture. Barry has suggested that it become the region's seven-point plan, an obvious invitation to modify the proposal in a way that benefits all jurisdictions.
Barry also has stated his commitment to working with other officials in the area "in building the strength of the Washington metropolitan area labor force."
That will require some serious thought about the future of the region's economy and less parochial political posturing by all parties involved.
It might mean, for example, that the District may have to modify its hard line on residency requirements for certain local government jobs. And it might mean that suburban officials will finally come to accept the District for what it is, notwithstanding a decline in jobs -- the center of commerce in the region's economy.