In a move to deflect political fallout from a critical Labor Department report, the D.C. City Council voted yesterday to draft a new set of rules for hiring and assignment of council employes who are paid under a federal jobs program.
The move was proposed by Council Chairman Sterling Tucker, a mayoral candidate, whose campaign treasurer's wife was hired for a council job under the CETA program in a way the Labor Department found to be improper.
CETA, the Comprehensive Education and Training Act, provides payroll funds for about 60 council employes.
The Labor Department, in a report last week, said it found widespread abuses and favoritism in CETA hiring. It recommended that 37 employes who work for council committees be fired because their ties to political officeholders are too close.
In a five-page statement distributed to council members yesterday, Tucker said CETA workers are indispensable to council operations as long as Congress refuses to appropriate enough money to put an adequate staff onto the city's own payroll.
Under his proposal, the clear new rules for hiring and assignment would be adopted before Aug. 17, when the city must file its official reply to the Labor Department allegations.
"If the original decision (to use CETA employes on committee staffs) is determined to have been wrong, it was a collective decision (of the whole council) and we should carry our share of the burden for it," Tucker wrote.
His proposal touched off the first council discussion of the Labor Department report, including a strong defense by John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2) of the council's use of CETA workers.
"There is total misunderstanding (in the community) . . . that we had all this money . . . and hired all our friends," Wilson said. "Well, I didn't hire a single friend. I hope they're my friends now . . . I have not hired a single campaign worker (of mine)."
Supporting Tucker's move, Wilson added: "The longer it (public suspicion) lingers, it's going to have a devasting effect (politically)." Wilson, with two more years to run on his term, is not a candidate this year.
Tucker also called on the council to establish stronger procedures for procurement of goods and services, including a review of actions taken in that area by council staff officials.
Tucker raised the procurement issue after the Washington Star reported over the weekend that Robert A. Williams, secretary and chief administrator of the council, had recommended a computer contract with a firm represented by a brother-in-law. The city has paid $112,000 to the firm since 1975.
Williams has denied any impropriety.
Yesterday, Sam D. Starobin, director of the D.C. Department of General Services, asked Acting Corporation Counsel Louis P. Robbins to investigate "possible improprieties in handling this contract." Robbins agreed to do so.