Edward Irons's resignation this week as the first superintendent of the District's Office of Banking and Financial Institutions should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed his turbulent tenure in office.

A beleaguered Irons had hinted some time ago that he might return to academic life, but he had also expressed a strong desire to complete the job of organizing the agency before seeking employment elsewhere.

But the longer Irons stayed on as banking superintendent, the more difficult it became for him to be effective in an office that has no practical regulatory function. It is an office that remains meaningless and powerless in a political vacuum created by the District's executive and legislative branches. After four years, the two branches of government have yet to agree on the regulatory function and scope of the office.

Ostensibly, the agency was created to regulate D.C.-chartered banks and enforce the District's interstate banking law that permits out-of-state institutions to own banks in the city. Under D.C. banking laws, those institutions are required to make certain investments in the city in exchange for being allowed to operate banks here. In theory, the Office of Banking and Financial Institutions could initiate proceedings to force a company to divest its D.C. bank if it failed to comply.

But Irons repeatedly ran into legislative brick walls in the city council. He also found himself constantly at odds with local bankers, who continue to resist attempts by outside investors to establish District-chartered banks. Local bankers fear new District-chartered banks would have a competitive advantage. Like state-chartered institutions, District-chartered banks would have broader authority to diversify into such fields as securities brokering and insurance.

All but one D.C. bank -- Industrial Bank of Washington -- has a federal charter. Like other D.C. banks, however, Industrial is regulated by the Officer of the Comptroller of the Currency.

The odds were stacked against Irons from the very beginning. The delay in his confirmation, after Mayor Marion Barry appointed him superintendent, set the tone for what would become a contentious relationship between Irons and D.C. Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis, who chairs the committee that has legislative oversight over banking matters.

Shortly after his appointment four years ago, Irons was asked if he was prepared to deal with the politics that were certain to engulf his office. He paused, smiled knowingly and assured a group of reporters and editors that he was quite familiar with the political climate in the District, having lived and worked here earlier.

But one sensed then that it would take more than Irons's familiarity with the political climate, his impressive credentials as an educator and his knowledge of banking to overcome the political pressures that would be brought to bear on his office.

As banking superintendent, Irons never really had strong backing by the mayor, publicly at least, in Irons's confrontations with Jarvis and local bankers. Although Barry had been an enthusiastic supporter of the notion that the District could become a major financial center, he never used the power of his office to seek approval of legislative initiatives that might have made the office a viable agency. Thus, Irons effectively became a lame-duck administrator long before Barry was forced to deal with his own personal and legal problems that are at the heart of his current trial on drug and perjury charges.

In truth, Irons was left to twist in the wind some time ago as the Barry administration came under increasing pressure to deal with more widely publicized problems, including a soaring budget deficit and an alarming increase in drug-related crimes.

Irons, meanwhile, is no closer to winning approval for a bill that would enable his agency and his successor to charter and regulate banks. His attempts to obtain information about banks' compliance with investment provisions in the District's flawed interstate banking law have been ignored by the banks in question. Yet it was Irons who was publicly rebuked when the banks failed to provide that information.

Clearly Irons's situation had become untenable in recent months, if it hadn't at least three years ago. Barry's recent announcement of his decision not to seek reelection as mayor effectively ended Irons's tenure as banking superintendent. Like all cabinet and agency heads appointed by Barry, Irons served at the pleasure of the mayor. Irons had already seen the handwriting on the wall, however, and quietly began preparing for his exit.

"I was going with some university here or in Atlanta before my term {as banking superintendent} expired," Irons acknowledged shortly after submitting his resignation. "I had given a lot of thought to it."

Thus, when he received an offer to be dean of the business school at Clark Atlanta University in Georgia, where he had taught banking before taking the job in the Barry administration, Irons decided to accept. "My tenure is a fixed one and I served it," he said, with a trace of relief mixed with regret.

One may be tempted to ask Irons, what took him so long? Perhaps the more relevant question at this point is: Why would he or anyone else want to be the District's banking superintendent? That's a question prospective candidates to succeed Irons need to consider carefully before making what could be a disastrous career decision.

Irons at least was fortunate in that he was able to return to academic life with his professional reputation intact.